smow blog compact IMM Cologne 2015 Special: Rui Alves

January 20th, 2015

Our favourite Portuguese designer TM Rui Alves is making his IMM Cologne début this year, with a new prototype under his own name and an old smow blog favourite being launched by Danish manufacturer Menu.

Premièred as “Tailor Sofa” at Salone Satellite 2013 and now renamed Lounge Sofa by Menu the work initially caught our attention on account of being a “deliciously effortlessly reduced down piece [which] combines a turned wooden frame with a pressed felt seat to create a sort of simplified domestic sinkhole in which to vanish of an evening. Or Sunday morning.

In addition to the good news that Rui has found a producer for such a competent piece of design what is particularly pleasing is the Menu have kept the delicate lines and sympathetic construction of Rui’s original, have however replaced the pressed felt covers with a high quality, highly durable Kvadrat fabrics thus adding luxury to the comfort.

As we noted in 2013 the sofa has and had a very Scandinavian charm and so it should be no surprise that a Danish producer has picked it up. Although in conversation with Rui in Cologne we did learn that a major Italian manufacturer was also interested: and that despite losing out that same Italian producer will also be dropping by to view Rui’s latest prototype, an armchair provisionally titled Bridge.

Crafted from wood and featuring deliberately over proportioned upholstered set and back rests, Bridge isn’t as instantly accessible as much of Rui’s work. Making use of several familiar, standard, furniture and architectural forms the result is an object which formally goes its own way without being arrogant or overly oppressive. When viewing furniture one, automatically, attempts to create references to other products, eras or designers, largely to help you anchor your deliberations. With Bridge, there is very little to refer to, maybe a little from some of the more overblown works by Wegner or Juhl, but in the end we settled on deciding that there is something early 1980s about it, a sort of “discos over, where do we go now?” feel.

If we did have one criticism it would be that for us the frame could do with being a touch thinner, a little less industrial. And we’re still not 100% certain about the connection between armrests and frame.

But otherwise, and as ever, a competently realised project which once again underscores both Rui Alves’ technical abilities and his understanding of wood as a material for furniture construction.

A few impressions.

smow blog compact: Matter of Life. Growing new Bio Art & Design at MU Gallery Eindhoven

January 19th, 2015

For a town which, we would assume, boasts the highest density of designers in Europe, and which hosts one of the continent’s more eclectic Design Weeks, Eindhoven in January is a very lonely place for the design devotee looking for an exhibition in which to wile away a spare afternoon.

Fortunately those exhibitions which are running “out of season” offer enough substance to keep you curious, questioning and satisfied for many a January to come, exhibitions such as Matter of Life. Growing new Bio Art & Design, currently showing at MU Gallery.

Matter of Life Growing new Bio Art Design at MU Gallery Eindhoven

Matter of Life. Growing new Bio Art Design at MU Gallery Eindhoven

It may not be happening under the glare of popular publicity reserved for “sexier” aspects of design, but globally ever more artists and designers are turning their attention to biological systems; something which is as inevitable as it welcome.

The future will, without question, see man making ever more interventions into, on and with living systems; not just in terms of genetic engineering to increase crop yields but also in terms of, for example, combating disease, improving energy efficiency, reducing resource usage and, we suspect and fear, “increasing personal security.”

Currently such work is predominately carried out by scientists, and scientists work according to scientific principles and with scientific goals.
However, if the technology that scientists develop is to be optimally applied it needs non-scientists to explore the practical nature of the associated problems and advantages, to develop useful presentation forms and consider possible extensions into other areas.
Suitably trained designers are well placed to be those non-scientific experts.

Curated by author and art historian William Myers, Matter of Life. Growing new Bio Art & Design presents nine projects which in their own, individual, ways are all challenging the accepted borders between art, design and life sciences; and a collection of projects which when viewed together not only highlights the wide variety of work currently being undertaken, but also the challenges that lie ahead. Both technical and ethical.

Technical challenges such as those faced by, for example, the project Naval Gazing by Špela Petrič which is seeking to develop a robust yet simple platform which can be released into the sea and on which maritime fauna can grow, and thus allowing for resource light, globally accessible marine farming.

Ethical challenges such as those highlighted by, for example, “Invisible (The Future of Genetic Privacy)” by Heather Dewey-Hagborg which explores a future where we can “hide” our DNA as easily as our IP address and thus make ourselves genetically “invisible” and so untraceable and undefinable. But is that good? Always?

And projects which combine technical and ethical challenges such as, for example, “The Economics of Evolution: The Perfect Pigeon” from Studio PSK and the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies at the University of Groningen which predicts the use of specially bred pigeons as living databanks for storing and transporting commercially sensitive bio-technological and pharmaceutical information. Carrier pigeon is the pun we assume led to the choice of bird; but homing pigeons rarely fly into the wrong loft. Regardless how much bird seed the opposition may tempt them with.

In addition Matter of Life presents Common Flowers – Flower Commons by Shiho Fukuhara & Georg Tremmel, Fatberg by Mike Thompson and Arne Hendriks, A Simple Line by Jalila Essaïd, ‘Et in Arcadia Ego’ by Charlotte Jarvi and the absolutely delightful Fungi Mutarium, a project developed by Vienna based designers Julia Kaisinger and Katharina Unger in conjunction with the microbiology department of the University of Utrecht and which proposes transforming plastic waste into food with the help of microbes.

Which certainly sounds more favourable than the unpalatable, socially irresponsible fare currently being served to the rich and foolish under the guise of Cuisine.

What the exhibition sadly doesn’t show is the ever monumental Spore Vase by Paulo Sellmayer, or the charmingly named follow-up “Dead”. But then you can’t have everything.

Essentially presenting artistic and design research much of what is on show appears at first sight as unnecessarily abstract, the sort of creative tomfoolery its all to easy to dismiss as youthful exuberance. But then at this point in time it can’t be anything else, it is largely theoretical work. Hypothetical even.

In a few years however one or the other project could become reality, or at least have helped shape the path towards a new reality.

Consequently, those of us who start considering the themes involved now will be the best placed to help ensure the future which ultimately arises is the one we really want.

Matter of Life. Growing new Bio Art & Design is an excellent place to start exploring.

Matter of Life. Growing new Bio Art & Design can be viewed at MU, Torenallee 40-06, Strijp S, 5617 Eindhoven until Sunday March 1st

Full details can be found at

Passagen Cologne 2015: Rem Koolhaas – OMA: Tools for Life at Ungers Archiv für Architekturwissenschaft

January 19th, 2015

Following on from system design at the MAKK and the more autonomous product design featured at Objects in Between, we bring you an exhibition in Cologne presenting a third product design category: the collection.

Whereas systems require a connector, a universal node, collections can be considered a series of related products which although created in the one context need not have a connection. Other than having been created in the same context.

For their Passagen Cologne 2015 exhibition Ungers Archiv für Architekturwissenschaft are presenting the Tools for Life collection by Rem Koolhaas & OMA for Knoll.

Passagen Cologne 2015 Rem Koolhaas OMA Tools for Life at Ungers Archiv für Architekturwissenschaft

Rem Koolhaas - OMA Tools for Life at Ungers Archiv für Architekturwissenschaft

Premièred at Milan 2013 the Tools for Life collection marks Rotterdam architecture bureau OMA’s first foray into commercial product design and was realised in response to a Knoll brief for a collection of products which exist between an office and domestic environment and which allows for working at a range of different heights.

The result is a collection of tables, chairs and shelving with a very, very unique form language and aesthetic.

Although the exhibition at the Ungers Archiv should be presenting the products Counter and Coffee Table, “logistics problems” mean that only Counter is present.

Something that while regrettable, is perhaps not that disastrous.

The exhibition space in Ungers Archiv isn’t very big, the Tools for Life Counter is. And so it is, all things considered, probably for the best that the Coffee Table is not on show as it gives Counter the space it needs to fully reveal its character.

In essence composed of three beams which can be individually moved and positioned, Counter is intended as an object for both allowing individuals to work either sitting or standing as well as a location for facilitating informal team meetings.

In our original post from Milan we noted in context of Counter that “Innovative and interesting as the functionality unquestionably is, we’re just unsure who actually needs or wants such. And certainly in an object that stands around one metre high and two metres long.”

Having seen it again in Cologne we maintain our position. Whereas we fully accept the need, importance and sense of allowing for flexible meeting and working arrangements, and also understanding that in addition to a variable counter it also serves as a static room divider, we just don’t get this shifting and repositioning such a monolith. For us it is a little too ungainly. Asks too much of the user rather than assisting the user.

But then we also don’t do team meetings. The idea of standing around with colleagues, informally discussing a project is as alien to us as it is terrifying.

And so maybe we just lack an understanding of the context to be able to fully appreciate it:  “it isn’t you darling, it’s us”, as it were.

Passagen Cologne 2015 Rem Koolhaas OMA Tools for Life at Ungers Archiv für Architekturwissenschaft

Tools for Life Counter by OMA for Knoll.... open.

Aside from the chance to get to grips with Counter one of the real joys of the exhibition is that, as ever with Ungers Archiv exhibitions, a large part of the presentation is devoted to explaining the design development process; products are all well and good, but development processes are fundamental to understanding products and in the Ungers Archiv exhibition one can clearly follow the development of the Tools for Life project from the original Knoll brief to the finished collection.

Something achieved particularly well in context of the absent Coffee Table where one can see how the initial attempt to create a table from various elements which could be manually repositioned became the final, mechanical, version.

In addition the Ungers Archiv is presenting an object, albeit in only in model form, which wasn’t shown in Milan and doesn’t feature in any of the publicity for the programme: the so-called Perch, a height adjustable rocking stool which resembles a Minion from the film Despicable Me, and which just like the playful Minions looks very much like something worth getting to know a little better.

Passagen Cologne 2015 Rem Koolhaas OMA Tools for Life at Ungers Archiv für Architekturwissenschaft

Perch, as seen at Rem Koolhaas - OMA Tools for Life at Ungers Archiv für Architekturwissenschaft

In our 2013 post from Milan we commented that the Tools for Life collection was for us more Haute couture than prêt-à-porter, a collection in which the focus on technology has been allowed to dominate to the determinant of the form and aesthetics; but also that the collection contains “enough genuine technical innovation and interesting new thinking” to indicate that some very good, off-the-peg, products could also be realised.

Speaking in Cologne with Antonio Barone from the OMA product design team and lead designer on the Tools for Life project, it appears that having cut their teeth on the Knoll collection there is interest at OMA in realising further commercial furniture design projects, and reading between the lines that could mean new products which have the potential to be more universally accessible than the Tools for Life collection.

We’ll be sure and keep you updated.

And for all in or near Cologne and wanting to learn more about the Tools for Life collection, Rem Koolhaas – OMA Tools for Life runs at Ungers Archiv für Architekturwissenschaft until Sunday January 25th.

Full details can be found at

Passagen Cologne 2015: Objects in Between

January 19th, 2015

The nature of product design, and for all furniture design, being what it is, we all have a predisposition to categorise products and objects.

Tea pot.
For example.

Yet, quite aside from the fact that we all invariably use products for purposes other than than that intended, the chair as the makeshift step ladder, the wine glass and makeshift candle holder or the Biro as makeshift knife, why should a product only have one function?

Can it not have two or more without adversely affecting the form and usability? Would we all be horribly confused by a product which stood “in between” various functions and uses?

Taking such considerations as there starting point Karoline Fesser, Kai Linke & Thomas Schnur have followed on from the success of Objects for the Neighbour in 2013 and 2014′s Objects and the Factory, by inviting a selection of young international designers to create a work around the subject “Objects in Between”; the results of the designers deliberations are currently being presented in a very engaging exhibition in Cologne.

As ever with such “Objects” projects, all designers were free to interpret the brief in their own way: and as ever all did.

Some such as Karoline Fesser with here project Hide, Thomas Schnur with Station or Miriam Aust and Sebastian Amelung a.k.a Aust & Amelung with their tellingly named Table and Bowl, created objects which deliberately set out to combine numerous functions in objects that remain as reduced and unobtrusive as possible.

Others such as Kai Linke with his project T(ubo), Torsten Neeland with VOID or Meike Langer with Assemblage took what one could term a more theoretical approach and respectively explored the subjects of in between sitting and lying, in between two walls of glass and in between design and architecture.

In addition, Laura Strasser’s Porcelain Butler project with its porcelain table top-cum-tray sits nicely in between tableware and a table, Amaury Poudray’s Wood and Wool in between functional and decorative, between design and handwork, while with her side tables Mars and Pluto Joa Herrenknecht has created objects where copper and silver mesh are fixed within, in between, acrylic glass to create an almost textile like surface. Or at least textile like surface effect.

The exhibited furniture objects are nicely complimented by a series of photos by Sven Lützenkirchen depicting apartment block lobbies – a location which of course stands exactly between outside and inside.

What is particularly appealing about the combination of photos and objects is that it is at first disarming; you expect to find the objects in the photos, think the photos are somehow part of the presentation strategy.
And when you realise that is not the case your reaction is, “well OK, but we could well imagine them in that location”. A situation which for us stands as testament to the mature nature of the works displayed, despite the fact that they are largely still in development.

Quite aside from the individual qualities of one or the object on display the real joy of Objects in Between comes from the realisation that good product design needn’t start with the aim of creating a product for a particular category, but of creating something for a particular function and/or a particular space.

Not least because at the end of the day it is going to be misappropriated anyway……

Objects in Between can be viewed at Körnerstraße 48, 50823 Köln until Sunday January 25th and fuller details can be found at

Passagen Cologne 2015: Zu Tisch bei smow Köln – ASCO Tables

January 18th, 2015

Following on from the success of smow Cologne‘s Passagen Design Week début in 2014 with the USM Haller exhibition Facetten, 2015 sees a presentation of tables from the German manufacturer ASCO.

Established in 1998 with the aim of developing tables which radiate a timeless elegance, the ASCO collection combines table tops in a range of hardwoods with bases constructed from wood, metal or concrete to produce objects that are as domesticated as they are rustic and individual as they are universally accessible.

And often as practical as they are aesthetically appealing: many featuring as they do inbuilt extension mechanisms for all those occasions when “a couple” of extra guests drop round unexpectedly.

In addition to developing their own designs in-house ASCO also work with a roster of external designers including Jan-Dirk Sinning, Studio Vertijet and Cologne based studio kaschkasch a.k.a. Florian Kallus and Sebastian Schneider, thus ensuring a continual stream of fresh ideas and new perspectives are fed into the company’s creative processes.

And whereas the wood for ASCO’s tables is sourced globally, all tables are constructed by hand in the company’s workshop in Rheda-Wiedenbrück near Dortmund, thus enabling ASCO to back up their individual designs with the quality guarantee that is German craftsmanship.

Zu Tisch bei smow Köln can be viewed at smow, Waidmarkt 11, 5067 Cologne until Thursday February 5th

And for all who can’t make it, a few impressions.

SYSTEM DESIGN. Über 100 Jahre Chaos im Alltag at the Museum für Angewandte Kunst Köln

January 17th, 2015

The history of civilisation is in many respects a history of man understanding natural systems, for example, the inner workings of the human body, the principles of evolution or the nature of the solar system.

Each understanding bringing us further forward and opening new possibilities.

Similarly the history of industry and economics is the history of man developing systems.

Back in 1895 William Painter, head of the Crown Cork & Seal company gave King Camp Gillette the advice that if he wanted to get rich he should, “invent something people use and throw away“. The result was the disposable safety razor blade. And a very, very rich King Camp Gillette.

What William Painter actually meant was, “if you want to get rich, devise a system”: for well designed systems were and are the basis of our modern industry and as such represent one of the best examples of the value design brings to traditional crafts and engineering.

For their major spring 2015 exhibition the Cologne Museum of Applied Art, MAKK, are presenting SYSTEM DESIGN. Über 100 Jahre Chaos im Alltag – SYSTEM DESIGN. A 100 Years of Daily Chaos – an exploration of the history of system design and the variety of systems that have arisen.

SYSTEM DESIGN Über 100 Jahre Chaos im Alltag at the Museum für Angewandte Kunst Köln

SYSTEM DESIGN. Über 100 Jahre Chaos im Alltag at the Museum für Angewandte Kunst Köln

Before one can organise an exhibition about system design, one must obviously be able to define systems in a design context.

“A system”, according to curator Dr René Spitz, “is a man-made construction with which we bring order to chaos in that we connect things which for us belong together in such a way that it has a meaning for us”

An understanding of systems which of course places the connector, the joining element, at the centre of systems, or perhaps better put reduces systems down to a basic element, be that King Camp Gillette’s safety blade or, for example, the connecting ball Fritz Haller developed for his USM furniture system, your bank card which forms the node of a global payment system or the nipples on LEGO blocks which differentiate the LEGO system from a simple collection of plain, flat, building blocks which can be stacked, but not connected.

Featuring some 150 objects from 80 designers, companies and institutions, System Design presents everything you’d expect to find in such an exhibition, including, for example, Wilhelm Wagenfeld’s Kubus system of glass storage jars, the Swiss Army knife, a London Underground map or the String shelving system, in addition to a surprisingly large number of objects you perhaps wouldn’t have expected, including, for example, a Nespresso capsule – representing the universal node in a global business system – the film 10 x 10 by Charles and Ray Eames with its endearingly simple representation of the natural systems that make us and our world what they are, and Otl Aicher’s guidelines for correctly using the graphics system he developed for the 1972 summer Olympics in München and Kiel – here the guidelines themselves are the connection and ensure the system functioned as Aicher intended.

Which it famously did.

SYSTEM DESIGN Über 100 Jahre Chaos im Alltag at the Museum für Angewandte Kunst Köln Guidelines and Standards for the visual design otl aicher münchen 1972

Guidelines and Standards for the Visual Design for the 1972 summer Olympics by Otl Aicher, as seen at SYSTEM DESIGN. Über 100 Jahre Chaos im Alltag, Museum für Angewandte Kunst Köln

Although many of us automatically think of furniture systems when thinking of design systems, for René Spitz design systems have a much wider history, “the development of the idea of systems developed parallel to the development of design as a key component of industrialisation”, he says, “starting with, for example, Peter Behrens and his work for AEG in the 1920s where he deliberately set out to connect the various aspects of his graphic design, product design and architecture work into a unity in which the system had more value than the sum of the individual components.” As industrialisation developed so to did the number and variety of design systems, for all furniture systems and media systems - Marcel Breuer‘s steel tube furniture, the ESU system from Charles and Ray Eames and the associated “Eames House”, Ferdinand Kramer’s furniture for the Neue Frankfurt urban regeneration project or the ADD system by Werner Aisslinger, to name just a handful of those furniture systems featured in System Design. In the 1980s Post-modernism did what Post-modernism did best and tried to derail the accepted logic of systems in design, but you can’t derail design ideas, only give them fresh impetus, and so since the 1990s the system has continued it’s development, albeit freed from the conservative formal restrictions of yore.

The logical consequence of system design’s shadowing of industrialisation is that it has followed industry into the post-industrial age and in our modern, digital world components of systems and the connectors which link them have largely ceased to be tangible products and instead tend to be abstract concepts. iTunes software may allow you to play the same song on any number of end devices. But who truly understands how it works? Certainly a lot less people than understand the String shelving system.

SYSTEM DESIGN Über 100 Jahre Chaos im Alltag at the Museum für Angewandte Kunst Köln String edition suhrkamp

The String shelving system and a selection of books from the edition suhrkamp range, as seen at SYSTEM DESIGN. Über 100 Jahre Chaos im Alltag, Museum für Angewandte Kunst Köln

Given that the exhibition is about systems and design, the exhibition design is somewhat unsystematic. But not chaotic.

“Arranging such an exhibition chronologically makes no sense”, explains René Spitz, “and so instead we decided “all objects are equal” and took a much freer approach to the organisation, largely arranging the rooms according to questions of space, dimension or lighting requirements”

The result is an exhibition design which does take a little bit of getting used to – in exhibitions one is used to a given “structured” layout, be that thematically or chronologically, and when that isn’t there one does stand about a bit like an astronomer’s apprentice on their first evening, staring, forlornly, at the endless bright points in the sky and hoping to find some form of orientation; however, once you start working your way through the three exhibition rooms, a natural logic does arise.

And with it comes the understanding that what we each individually understand as a system depends on our individual perspective and perception. Systems exist in manifold forms, and often aren’t instantly obvious. At least not without the necessary knowledge. Whereas, for example, some will instantly understand the Heckler & Koch HK G36 machine gun as a piece of system design. Others will just see a gun.

SYSTEM DESIGN Über 100 Jahre Chaos im Alltag at the Museum für Angewandte Kunst Köln Thonet

Marcel Breuer for Thonet, as seen at SYSTEM DESIGN. Über 100 Jahre Chaos im Alltag, Museum für Angewandte Kunst Köln

A very well conceived and executed exhibition System Design presents an interesting mix of objects and genres and provides the necessary background information to allow all visitors to clearly understand the exhibits status as systems in a succinct yet thorough manner which is often lacking in other exhibitions.

What System Design also makes very clear is that despite René Spitz’s universal definition of what constitutes a system, when one gets into details the “system” becomes such a vague, abstract concept that it more or less ceases to have any real universal meaning. Every system may require a connecting element, but beyond that there are no rules.

No connections, if you will.

Which doesn’t make the exhibition not worth viewing. Far from it, for this understanding forces you to analyse in more detail the things that surround you. And the more you look the more design systems you find, the more design systems you understand, the more everyday objects you understand as nodes in an economic system and so the more you begin to question design systems.

And ultimately you understand that in contrast to natural systems, design systems can be reconfigured, re-designed, to optimise their benefit.

And when you understand that, you have taken a step further forward and opened new possibilities

SYSTEM DESIGN. Über 100 Jahre Chaos im Alltag can be viewed at the Museum für Angewandte Kunst, An der Rechtschule, 50667 Köln until Sunday June 7th

Full details can be found at

Klaarhamer according to Rietveld. Craftsman, frontrunner and innovator at the Centraal Museum Utrecht

January 15th, 2015

As we noted in our post from the exhibition Der entfesselte Blick – Die Brüder Rasch und ihre Impulse für die moderne Architektur at the Marta Herford, the (hi)story of architecture and design is often more about the protagonists you don’t know than the ones you do.

Such as the pioneering Dutch architect and designer Piet Klaarhamer: an early teacher of and influence on Gerrit T. Rietveld, one of the intellectual forefather’s of Dutch modernism, and a man largely forgotten by history.

In an attempt to right this wrong the Centraal Museum Utrecht are currently presenting the exhibition Klaarhamer according to Rietveld. Craftsman, frontrunner and innovator.

Klaarhamer according to Rietveld. Craftsman, frontrunner and innovator Centraal Museum Utrecht

Blue Klaarhamer meets Red Blue Rietveld, as seen at Klaarhamer according to Rietveld. Craftsman, frontrunner and innovator, Centraal Museum Utrecht

Born in Zwiep, Holland on December 27th 1874 Piet Klaarhamer initially trained as a draughtsman and cabinet maker before establishing his own architecture and interior design studio in Utrecht. Greatly influenced by Hendrik Petrus Berlage Piet Klaarhamer was an early advocate of reduced, functional architecture; of buildings designed according to the practical requirements of the user and created using the latest technology and from the newest materials. As early as 1912, for example, Klaarhamer developed the concept of houses constructed from reinforced concrete and many of his architectural designs demonstrate a passionate commitment to ensuring the interiors received a maximum of natural light. In its day revolutionary thinking.

In terms of his furniture design Klaarhamer advanced a formally reserved take on Art Nouveau, creating furniture from simple woods and using simple construction methods to produce objects with an elegant rustic charm and which despite their solid nature present a very light, untroubled, character. In addition to producing furniture for his numerous interior design, shop fitting and architecture projects, Piet Klaarhamer’s furniture was also sold directly through the Utrecht department store Vroom & Dreesman, thus making him one of the best known Dutch furniture designers in the early 1900s.

Supplementary to his architecture and design work Piet Klaarhamer also taught drawing, to amongst others a young Gerrit T. Rietveld, a student who quickly became enamoured in and with Klaarhamer and his new ways of thinking about space, materials, furniture, architecture and design. The two worked closely together over many years and in 1915 Rietveld constructed numerous pieces of furniture for Klaarhamer in his father’s workshop: and so just as the Dutch Masters of yore learned to paint by copying the works of older Masters, so to did Gerrit T. Rietveld learn to understand the nature of modern furniture through constructing Piet Klaarhamer’s designs. Or as Rietveld himself phrased it following Klaarhamer’s death, “Personally I owe the foundations of my professional expertise to architect Klaarhamer, because I was one of the few who had the privilege of being his student for many years”1

What could, and indeed should, have been a close life-long friendship was irrevocably damaged in 1919 when, with Klaarhamer believing himself to be at the zenith of his creativity and influence, the magazine De Stijl – eponym of the influential 20th century Dutch modernist movement – published pictures of furniture by Gerrit T. Rietveld. And no pictures of furniture by Piet Klaarhamer.

A turn of events which, understandably or not, Klaarhamer had trouble accepting and which he allowed to sour his once close friendship with Rietveld.

While the publicity from De Stijl helped launch Rietveld on his rapid rise to international fame, the lack of acknowledgement from his peers saw Klaarhamer fall ever more into the shadows. And although Piet Klaarhamer did realise some interesting and valuable architecture projects in the 1920s, in 1933 he withdrew himself to rural Holland where he lived in near anonymity until his death in 1954.

Klaarhamer according to Rietveld. Craftsman, frontrunner and innovator Centraal Museum Utrecht

Piet Klaarhamer's living room featuring his own furniture, ca 1908, as seen at Klaarhamer according to Rietveld. Craftsman, frontrunner and innovator, Centraal Museum Utrecht

Presenting a nice mix of furniture, sketches, photographs and other documentation Klaarhamer according to Rietveld both introduces the work of Piet Klaarhamer and also helps explain his influence on and importance for the development of architecture and design in the first quarter of the 20th century, including, for example, elucidations of his understanding of space and room design, his experimental use of concrete for house construction and some of his more important architectural contributions in and around Utrecht. In addition to providing an excellent introduction to Piet Klaarhamer the exhibition is also a nice stroll through Gerrit T. Rietveld’s canon, featuring as it does many of his works, works which are neatly juxtapositioned with Klaarhamer’s and thus ably demonstrating how and where Klaarhamer’s influence can be found in Rietveld’s furniture design work.

Beyond Klaarhamer and Rietveld the exhibition also looks at the nature of Klaarhamer’s relationships with the Dutch abstract painter Bart van der Leck and the architect Robert van ‘t Hoff, and so by extrapolation explains the influence these two men had on the development of Rietveld’s understanding of art, architecture and design.

What the exhibition, regrettably, doesn’t do is explain why De Stijl choose to ignore Piet Klaarhamer. Does however present some very strong clues; most notably from that fateful year of 1919.

For Piet Klaarhamer one of his most important and prestigious projects from 1919 was furniture for the bedroom of the sons of Utrecht industrialist Cees Bruynzeel. Yet while the so-called Bruynzeel boys’ room furniture is without question ahead of its time, challenging of its day and formally very interesting….. it just isn’t as ground-breaking, forward thinking or provocative as the works Rietveld was producing at that time.

Rietveld’s furniture designs of that period fitted the brave new world that De Stijl was preparing the Netherlands for. Klaarhamer’s in contrast still had one foot in the past. And didn’t look like it would have the bravery to move on.

And so one has to say that the De Stijl editors got it right.

Hard as that may have been for Klaarhamer to accept and disastrous as the consequences may have been for his personal life and future career.

On a related note, another aspect which the exhibition fails to explain is what role personal relationships played in decisions as to who appeared in De Stijl and who didn’t. We know that would mean going a bit off subject and looking in more detail at the internal politics of De Stijl, would however be a valuable, and we feel highly relevant, insight. Not least because it would help clear up the obvious question as to in how far Klaarhamer’s reaction to the publication of Rietveld’s work and lack of acknowledgement for his own was a childish tantrum, or if it was an understandable acceptance of a community against him, to a deliberate snub from a world which didn’t want him. And only when you know the answer to that question can you decide in how far Klaarhamer alone was to blame for his ultimate fate.

In which context one must also add that following events of 1919 Piet Klaarhamer didn’t do himself any favours when he made a near unforgivable error and began “copying” his former pupil. Whereas Klaarhamer’s furniture designs from before 1919 are self-confident pieces created to his understanding of design, many of those from after 1919 look like apologetic Rietveld imitations. There are admittedly some very, very nice pieces to be found; but, you don’t make your impact on a movement by creating homages to one of its leading figures.

Klaarhamer according to Rietveld. Craftsman, frontrunner and innovator Centraal Museum Utrecht

A Piet Klaarhamer chair from 1928. No honest, it is Klaarhamer...... Honest!

A well conceived, nicely paced, accessible and intelligently presented exhibition Klaarhamer according to Rietveld attempts to present Piet Klaarhamer as a victim of circumstances.  As a man robbed of his plinth alongside architecture’s greats. For us that is too simple. Much like Henry van de Velde Piet Klaarhamer recognised the spirit of the age, the need for change and the necessity of embracing technological advances for the benefit of society. And just like Henry van de Velde Piet Klaarhamer reached his own creative peak before the ideals he followed had reached, or indeed could have reached, their full maturity. Evolution however needs intermediary stages, moments when transformations aren’t complete but where the break with the former has been made and the foundations of the new laid. Piet Klaarhamer was such a intermediary, and should be celebrated as such and remembered for the invaluable contribution he made to helping others complete the process.

Despite the unfortunateness from 1919 Rietveld remained both grateful for what Klaarhamer had taught him and a keen admirer of the man and his work, and indeed following Klaarhamer’s death Rietveld wrote the only obituary for his for former mentor to be published. Rietveld ends his text with the words, “Some years ago I paid him a visit to ask his permission to write about his work. I cannot stop you, he told me, but be aware that you will do so against my will. I then respected his wishes, although it was not what I wanted.”2

Klaarhamer according to Rietveld. Craftsman, frontrunner and innovator is a more than fitting replacement for that unwritten text.

We’re sure Rietveld would agree.

And are equally sure Piet Klaarhamer would appreciate the fulsome, if somewhat overdue, celebration of his oeuvre.

Klaarhamer according to Rietveld. Craftsman, frontrunner and innovator runs at the Centraal Museum, Nicolaaskerkhof 10, 3512 XC Utrecht until Sunday March 22nd

Full details can be found at

1. “In Memoriam Architect P.J. Klaarhamer” by Gerrit T.Rietveld. Originally published in Bouwkundig Weekblad, 1954. Translated and reproduced in Klaarhamer according to Rietveld. Craftsman, frontrunner and innovator

2. ibid

Andy Warhol – Death and Disaster at the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz. Reprise.

January 13th, 2015

Until February 22nd the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz is presenting the exhibition Andy Warhol: Death and Disaster, according to the organisers “the first European museum exhibition devoted exclusively to this topic”

Correct. The first European museum exhibition.

But not the first European exhibition devoted exclusively to this topic.

On January 13th 1964 Andy Warhol’s first solo exhibition in Europe opened at Galerie Ileana Sonnabend in Paris. Although officially titled “Warhol”, the exhibition is more popularly known under its 1963 working title “Death in America”, and presented works such as Tunafish Disaster, Orange Car Crash and Electric Chair. It is also notable for seeing the very first public presentation of Warhol’s 1963 work Race Riot.

Equally notable is that the theme of the Paris show was chosen by Warhol himself, and realised despite initial opposition from Ileana Sonnabend.

Part of that opposition focussing on the question off what Pop Art actually was.

For many in the early 1960s Pop Art was about misappropriating commercial art as high art and about celebrating the light, easy banality of contemporary popular culture, the booming American economy and increasing economic and social security. It was fun. Silly even.

A state of affairs beautifully summed up in 1963 by artist Tom Wesselmann, “Some of the worst things I’ve read about Pop Art have come from its admirers. They begin to sound like some nostalgia cult – they really worship Marilyn Monroe or Coca-Cola. The importance people attach to things the artist uses is irrelevant”1

Following Warhol’s Paris exhibition however the wider public began to understand that Pop Art was about much more, or in the words of critic John Ashbery writing in the New York Herald Tribune, the Paris show “marks a turning point in the Pop movement. Hitherto Pop art [sic] has been greeted by its enemies with snickers and guffaws, but it is unlikely that Warhol’s new work will cause much mirth, sarcastic or otherwise”2

Interesting in this respect is that many of the works shown in Paris had already been included in Warhol exhibitions in America. Had however tended to be overlooked. Or just plain ignored.

We’re not going to claim to have read all reviews of Warhol’s American shows of 1962/63, but those we have read tend to focus on soup tins, dollar bills and Elvis Preslies rather than the violent.

A particularly good example of just how anonymous the works were can be seen from Stuart Preston’s New York Times review of Warhol’s very first solo “Pop Art” exhibition at the Stable Gallery New York in November 1962. “Shock value is built into pop art [sic]“, notes Preston, before adding confidently that “Andy Warhol, one if its stellar performers, capitalizes on just that in recent paintings at the Stable Gallery.”

The shock in question coming from “images such as coca-cola bottles; Marilyn Monroe’s radiant smile; and Elvis Presley’s sensual sulkiness [which] are repeated in rows as if the canvases had been sprayed by image-making machine guns”3 Stuart Preston obviously being less shocked by “129 Die” and its brutal depiction of a fatal air accident which shared the Stable Gallery’s walls with Messrs Presley and Cola. Yet is not deemed worthy of a mention in his review.

While there are invariably as many reasons for such blindness as their are gallery visitors, for us one of the best, most logical, explanations comes from Warhol’s contemporary Stephen Durkee. In a 1963 interview with ART news magazine Durkee was asked about Pop Art’s relationship to the unsavoury: “The Buddha said, “I show you sorrow and I show you the ending of sorrow”. Andy Warhol is having a show “The American Way of Death” That’s what it is, the interior representation of what he as a human feels. [Robert] Indiana is painting “DIE” or the circle with “DIE DIE DIE DIE” in it. Yet the true implication of these works is an opening of people to the madness and pain which surrounds them; most people will not really see it because they are not prepared to.”4

Following the Paris show and the concentrated, intense presentation of Warhol’s understanding of the modern world, more people were prepared to.

And for all wanting to understand the contemporary importance of the works, Andy Warhol – Death and Disaster can be viewed at the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz, Theaterplatz 1, 09111 Chemnitz until Sunday February 22nd 2015.

1. Tom Wesselmann in “What is Pop Art? Part II Interviews by G R Swenson”, ART news, Volume 62, Number 10, February 1964

2. John Ashbery “Pop Artist’s Horror, Pictures Silence Snickers,” International Herald Tribune (Paris), January 15th 1964.

2. Stuart Preston “Art: Drawings by Copley: Metropolitan Museum of Art Displays 19 Works of the Colonial Portraitist” New York Times, November 9th 1962

4. Stephen Durkee in “What is Pop Art? Part II Interviews by G R Swenson”, ART news, Volume 62, Number 10, February 1964

Skull (1976) by Andy Warhol, as seen at Andy Warhol Death and Disaster, Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz

Skull (1976) by Andy Warhol, as seen at Andy Warhol Death and Disaster, Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz

Andy Warhol Death and Disaster Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz Electric Chair 1971

Electric Chair (1971) by Andy Warhol. Here in yellow. As seen at Andy Warhol Death and Disaster, Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz

Andy Warhol Death and Disaster Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz Flash November 22 1963 1968

Detail from Flash November 22 1963 (1968) by Andy Warhol, as seen at Andy Warhol Death and Disaster, Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz

smow blog compact: Van stoelen bezeten at Gorcums Museum

January 10th, 2015

As many of you will be aware, back in November we struggled to find five design exhibitions opening in December for our monthly 5 New Design Exhibitions feature.

We’ve now, somewhat spectacularly, found a sixth.

In the highly unlikely setting of Gorinchem, a town of some 35,000 inhabitants in central Holland.

Under the title Van stoelen bezeten – Obsessed by Chairs – the Gorcums Museum in Gorinchem is currently presenting an exhibition of some 90 objects which according to the organisers help explain how the chair developed from a humble tool for sitting into the archetypal representative of contemporary design we know today. Curated by Frans Leidelmeijer, host of the Dutch TV programme “Tussen Kunst & Kitsch” – a Dutch version of Antiques Roadshow in which experts assess objects brought by the public and declare them either worthless tat or extremely valuable collectibles – Van stoelen bezeten was opened on December 22nd by Princess Margarita.

Yes, this is getting more bizarre the more we write. But also more intriguing and endearing.

Featuring objects loaned from museums and galleries in Amsterdam, Paris, Vienna, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Ghent, Van stoelen bezeten presents over 100 years of chair design history starting from the likes of Josef Hoffmann or Henry van de Velde and continuing over luminaries including Alvar Aalto, Eero Aarino, Jean Prouvé, Charlotte Perriand, Frank Lloyd Wright, Poul Kjærholm, Gerrit T. Rietveld, Joris Laarman or Shiro Kuramata before finally arriving at Dirk van der Kooij and his Endless chair project.

Which just sounds like the most delightful and engaging showcase, and not just for those who, like us, are van stoelen bezeten

As we believe we’ve said before, because everyone understands the chair it is the perfect conduit through which to present design theories and movements; using chairs allows you to focus on the peculiarities, novelties and developments without being distracted by questions of function or context.

Yet despite this ready accessibility most presentations of “classic chairs”, be that in exhibitions or books, tend to focus on a very small number of key moments; what is interesting about Van stoelen bezeten is that judging from the list of objects on show Frans Leidelmeijer and the Gorcums Museum have assembled an exhibition that goes a little bit further, and a bit deeper, than the norm. If, and admittedly only judging from the photos we have seen, the exhibition design concept would appear to make it difficult for the true lay visitor to fully understand the developments that are taking place as one strolls through the decades. For that there does need to be a bit more text. But maybe there is an accompanying booklet that explains the background in appropriate detail. As we say, we haven’t actually seen the exhibition.

However, regardless of such considerations all in all it sounds a truly excellent exhibition.

Probably not one worth travelling to the wilds of central Holland specially to view, but should you happen to be in Holland, well worth taking a detour for……..

Van stoelen bezeten runs at Gorcums Museum, Grote Markt 17, 4201EB Gorinchem, Holland until Sunday March 29th

Full details, sadly only in Dutch, can be found at

Van stoelen bezeten Gorcums Museum

Van stoelen bezeten at Gorcums Museum

smow blog compact IMM and Passagen Cologne 2015 Special: Preview

January 8th, 2015

Back at the end of 2014 we mused as to whether or not this might be an apposite moment to quietly remove ourselves from the high octane world of design blogging and seek out pastures new and a calmer, more sedentary, life.

The melancholy of those late December days still lingers, yet with the IMM Cologne furniture trade fair and Passage Cologne design festival standing afore us like some bright eyed, white toothed, flaxen haired vision of our famously promising youth, we have no option but to follow.

Consequently, just as Joshua Kadison once grabbed Moses and drove real fast to Las Vegas, Jessie and the hope of finding the life he once dreamed off, so to will we take the fast train to Cologne.

And yes. Even if that means sharing underground trains in Cologne with drunk middle aged men and women dressed as clowns and laughing riotously at jokes so unfunny, so painfully lame, they make you wonder if they don’t owe their origins to some form of medieval torture.

Fortunately carnivalisten and their ilk are barred from entering the Cologne Trade Fair complex, and so within its pre-fabricated steel walls we can relax at IMM Cologne 2015 and peruse the promised new products from amongst others Thonet, pulpo, Richard Lampert and Müller Möbelfabrikation. All companies who, much to our delight and approval, use IMM to launch new projects rather than waiting for the senseless bun fight that is Milan.

Away from the commercial furniture producers we’re also particularly looking forward to viewing the nominees in the Pure Talents young designer competition and also the so-called “prototypische Parade” of student chair design concepts which has been curated by Axel Kufus and Jörg Höltje from the Universität der Künste Berlin. And which promises to be one of the genuine highlights of IMM Cologne 2015.

We will however also have to venture outwith the security of IMM, for there, in the lands where the pointy hatted people roam, the Passagen design festival 2015 also promises a few delights. The Belgisches Haus, for example, follow up last year’s showcase of new works by Atelier Bonk and Cas Moor with an exhibition featuring projects from some two dozen Brussels’ based design studios, the Museum für Angewandte Kunst, MAKK, present System Design, their exploration of systems in design, while Ungers Archiv für Architekturwissenschaft will welcome the Tools for Life collection by OMA for Knoll. Or at least two objects from the collection, namely the coffee table and counter – and so sadly not the low chair, an object which, as we will never tire from repeating, is and was the highpoint of the collection. And that despite being a chair without legs.

Elsewhere we are particularly looking forward to the exhibition Reich der Hypernova by and from the self-proclaimed Bunker Kollektiv, to catching up again with Max Borka’s “The Mapping Toolbox” project and to viewing Objects in Between, the third exhibition from the collective behind 2013′s Objects for the Neighbour and 2014′s Objects and the Factory. And this year we promise to take a few decent photos from the exhibition.

You can follow our progress through and thoughts on both IMM Cologne and Passagen Cologne 2015 here in the smow design blog and also on the smow facebook and smowblog pinterest pages.

imm cologne

IMM Cologne and Passagen Cologne 2015...... Will it be a year to run up the flagpole and boast about? We'll soon know.....