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Reaction to Smashed Design Reveals Current Dutch Mentality

Depending on one's perspective, fake art or high-end design by Hella Jongerius was smashed in an accident last weekend.  The response from some media reveals a lot about current Dutch thinking.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 16-12-2010

This past Saturday a woman fell ill and collapsed directly onto “Coloured Vases Series 3,” a part of the "Misfit" exhibition by Hella Jongerius currently showing at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam.  The woman recovered and is now doing well.

“Everybody is shocked," says a spokesman of the museum. "It was a risky set-up. We knew that much. That's why they were on a raised platform and why a security guard was present."

Curator Louise Schouwenberg, who design.nl spoke with last week, said that compromises had already been made to ensure safety.  “We didn’t really want platforms or anything to be roped off,” she says. “But with that many visitors and everyone wanting to touch things, it is impossible not to.”


“It's a fantastic accident,” Jongerius tweeted from her atelier in Berlin.  “I've been looking at the pictures and those fallen vases are like fish on land desperately trying to breathe,” she told Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad

Jongerius also told NRC that she estimated the damages to be around 20,000 euros.  One reader who was at the museum during the accident wrote, “The sound of falling vases was heavy and dark. It was a shocking experience.”

GeenStijl, an extremely popular political and social blog, responded to the incident with its typical panache and elevated vocabulary.  

“Woman Almost Dies Due to Over-priced Fake Art” ran the headline.  “No, don't be shocked. This is art. 300 coloured vases in a circle. But is it art? Functionality: zero. Fun to watch: zero. Artistic relevance: zero. And it imitates life for not a single f*cking second. Just 300 vases without flowers dumped on a floor with some bullshit story.  Garbage was never before so much garbage.”

“Geen Stijl” means no style, but is used here in an ironic reference to the rude and obstinate behaviour that defines the Dutch stereotype. The blog has proudly appropriated the term to boast its anti-intellectual and anti-elitist stance on most issues.  The so-called inner-city cultural elite are their target and enemy.

I only mention the blog’s response here for the benefit of our international readers.  It reveals much about the current social climate in Holland and the mentality cultural organizations face in this Wilders era of promised funding cuts – an issue design.nl will look more closely at in the new year.  To ignore opinions like these is starting to look more and more dangerous.


“Damage: several tens of thousands of euros,” continues the article.  “WTF? For a few tulip-vases? If you have a problem, if nobody else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the GeenStijl Restoration Team.  We buy our vases here, add a bit of paint from here and ready. No babyboomer will notice the difference.”

“Coloured Vases Series 3” was developed last summer in cooperation with Royal Tichelaar Makkum and is a continuation of Jongerius’ self-stated enthusiasm for working for commercial and accessible companies like Ikea and Vitra.

The vases are about colour and experimenting with ways to reenergize and personalize the way colour is used in design and interiors.  “The paint industry only produces colours that stay the same under any circumstance,” Jongerius told Arjan Ribbens in an interview published prior to the "Misfit" opening.  “They sell it as quality, but in fact it is a protection of their brand to prevent being sued.”

Jongerius thinks that consumers want what is not yet available - beautiful and interesting colours that breathe with the light.  “Due to standardization, however, those colours do not exist - colour recipes have become very simple,” she says.

“One hundred years ago, colour was a cultural artifact.  Look at our own Dutch painting - that richness is all lost.  In recent years, I have tried with old recipes to bring something of that old culture back.”

This week Schouwenberg and the museum technical staff rearranged the remaining vases - minus the damaged 40 - into a new formation that will be on view for the duration of the exhibition.

"Misfit" runs to February 13 at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen.   


Images:  small from top top two of coloured vases by Gerrit Schreurs Fotografie and bottom two of the Misfit exhibition by Lotte van Stekelenburg.

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