Throughout 2015 some thirty European museums and cultural institutions will mark the 125th anniversary of Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh’s death with a series of exhibitions, events and cultural exchanges.
As previously noted, just as we have an innate mistrust of “lifetime achievement awards” for the living and lively, so to do we find “celebrating” deaths somewhat macabre. Especially in the case of Vincent van Gogh given the gory and tragic circumstances of his passing.
But we famously don’t make decisions as to what should be celebrated when. We just report on the resultant festivities.
One of the participating institutions is the Noordbrabants Museum in the magnificently monikered town of ’s-Hertogenbosch, and until April 26th the Noordbrabants Museum are presenting the exhibition Design from the Country of The Potato Eaters – Designers meet van Gogh.
The exhibition title takes its inspiration form van Gogh’s 1885 painting “The Potato Eaters” and rather than setting itself directly in a dialogue with Vincent van Gogh and his works the exhibition presents some 85 works by contemporary Dutch designers which the organisers feel reflect three central features of Vincent van Gogh’s oeuvre: simplicity, farmland and nature.
The “Design from the country of” part of the exhibition title comes from the fact that not only was Vincent van Gogh born and raised in the Noord-Brabant region of the Netherlands, of which ’s-Hertogenbosch is the municipal capital, but “The Potato Eaters” and related works were inspired by the peasant life of the region, and as such in addition to marking van Gogh’s passing one of the museum’s aims with the exhibition is to present the diversity and quality of design work currently being produced in the region, and so stimulate interest in local designers amongst both a lay and a specialist public. A noble undertaking, and of course exactly what regional museums should do. Yes, we’d be the first to complain if a museum got all parochial and only presented works by local designers and if they only did so in context of blatant marketing exercises rather than positioning the objects in a relevant and interesting discourse. However, it is important that museums and cultural institutions interact with and react to the talent that surrounds them.
Against the background of this double brief exhibition curators Yksi Ontwerp have created a very open and accessible exhibition concept in which the three subjects are handled in individual sections and with a very pleasing, self-confident simplicity; and an exhibition concept which is also a wonderful, if in our opinion incomplete, who’s who of designers in and from the region – largely, and as to be expected, Design Academy Eindhoven graduates and Eindhoven based designers.
In addition to established smow blog favourites such as Steven Banken, Arnout Meijer, Dirk vander Kooij or Daphna Laurens, Design from the Country of The Potato Eaters also features works by the likes of, for example, Piet Hein Eek, Ma ‘ayan Pesach, Paul Heijnen, Lex Pott, Sander Wassink, Maarten Baas, Studio Job, or Earnest Studio & Emilie Pallard, thus creating a very pleasing mix of established and establishing designers and also an excellent mix of disciplines and design approaches: from the pure industrial over fundamental experimental research projects, explorations of innovative approaches for future technologies, reinventions of traditional crafts and onto projects we’d technically class as art.
The result is an exhibition which although guided by the unseen hand of Vincent van Gogh and his passion for the natural and simple, is much more about the natural, simplicity of the objects on show, the design processes which led to them and the motivation for producing them, and which thus makes Design from the Country of The Potato Eaters an excellent starting point for all looking to understand and experience contemporary Dutch design.
Up until now tributes to Vincent van Gogh had been largely restricted to tat: be that inappropriate and ill-advised replications of his most famous paintings or inappropriate and ill-advised records about Starry Starry Nights
Design from the Country of The Potato Eaters – Designers meet van Gogh may not be a direct tribute to Vincent van Gogh per se, but in so effortlessly transposing the themes of his works to the contemporary world it beautifully illustrates not only how relevant the themes of van Gogh’s work remain but how van Gogh viewed and understood the world around him, van Gogh as a man looking for answers rather than one looking to capture the beauty of what he saw. And thus reminds us that his was a talent, an understanding and a life worth celebrating
Parallel to Design from the Country of The Potato Eaters, the Noordbrabants Museum is also presenting “Hockney, Picasso, Tinguely and Other Highlights from the Kunstsammlung Würth”, an exhibition which does pay much more direct tribute to the man and his work, including the fascinating “Three Trees near Thixendale” chronological timescape by David Hockney, a series of paintings which not only underscore Hockney’s talent but also more than honour the memory of Vincent van Gogh.
Design from the Country of The Potato Eaters – Designers meet van Gogh runs at Het Noordbrabants Museum, Verwersstraat 41, ’s-Hertogenbosch until Sunday April 26th
Hockney, Picasso, Tinguely and Other Highlights from the Kunstsammlung Würth until Sunday May 17th
Full details can be found at: www.hetnoordbrabantsmuseum.nl