Restorer of Lost Design Gems

Dutch designer Bas van Beek, best known for his pieces that ‘reverse engineer’ unrealized archival designs, strives to revive and improve designs lost in history. His first American exhibition, Shameless at the Wolfsonian-FIU, presents works that meet the Wolfsonian’s extensive collection, such as a design for a Frank Lloyd Wright porcelain coffee set that was never made and a tapestry that fuses various grid patterns from the German designer Little known Wilhelm Poetter. There are also earlier works, such as a series of vases inspired by the tulip vases by Dutch ceramist Jan van de Vaart, which previously featured in exhibitions at the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and the Kunstmuseum Den Haag. .

The arts journal: What works from the Wolfsonian collection have attracted you?

Low van Beek: I have a weakness for teapots and coffee makers, especially the ones that come as a set, with cups, a sugar bowl, a milk jug and maybe a tray. [Wolfsonian-FIU curator] Silvia Barisione gave me a book on a past Wolfsonian exhibition, Modern Dutch design, which contains a drawing of a teapot by designer JL Mathieu Lauweriks which immediately caught my attention. The teapot was never made, so it was the first item I started working on.

The strong geometric lines characteristic of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright are found in his design of a coffee service made by Bas van Beek in 2007 Courtesy of the artist, The Wolfsonian-FIU

How did your research process go?

When I start exploring a collection, I usually don’t have a predetermined plan. I need to develop a somewhat unhealthy obsession with an object before I start working, because it takes a long time to figure out what the designer or artist wanted. A drawing is usually very different from the actual object. In the case of the Lauweriks teapot, it was a combination of fear, irritation and jealousy. I wondered why it had never been made: was it too complicated or too expensive? Was the design so ahead of its time that it couldn’t be done in the first place? And what was the thought in creating something so elegant and fancy, and why am I not able to do it?

You said that the Wolfsonian collection is unique in that it preserves works of “often overlooked cultural value”.

Most museums are busy exhibiting their masterpieces and collecting more from the same renowned designers and artists, and in the process ignore and discard boxes of old sheets of paper with scribbles of unfinished or never produced designs by artists. people no one has heard of. It takes a lot of courage to acquire and keep such works, as it is an expensive operation and most will never be exhibited. The reason I moved to Rotterdam was because of the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum and its collection. I vividly remember visiting an exhibition where a series of prototypes of Verner Panton’s “S” chair were displayed alongside the mass-produced ones. It gave me a better understanding of the often messy development process, which takes some of the mystery and status away from the intimidating masterpiece. At the same time, it challenges you to start playing with plaster and fiberglass.

The show features bronze tiles inspired by Verner Panton and Frank Lloyd Wright. Why these two?

I’ve been researching Frank Lloyd Wright’s work for a decade now, ever since a curator at the National Glass Museum in Leerdam told me he had designed a series of cups and saucers that had never been made. . You understand his work better by not seeing it as that of an isolated genius. The work connects to an axis that covers the whole of human civilization, starting with Egypt, Rome and Mesoamerica to the Gothic cathedral, Richard Wagner, William Morris and Panton, not to mention name a few. From this point of view, we can say that Panton continued the work of Wright but also that of the Colosseum, then adapted it to his time. To show this sequel, I merged the designs of the textile blocks with the vacuum forming tiles in between. In one, I dubbed two Panton models. The design of the Freeman textile block, upon closer inspection, did not follow the predetermined grid lines. I repaired it and, in doing so, I redesigned it; what you see is an “improved” version.

The tapestry 5xWP (2021) you made is inspired by Poetter, a little-known modernist designer. Why?

The title refers to the five designs by Poetter that I found in the collection and merged into a single textile pattern. If you look at these patterns separately, you slowly start to see the common threads. He made different designs using different shapes that have similar angles that all repeat in different ways. You could say they all have a familiar resemblance. At least that was the intuition I had when I started working on it. The relationship they have with each other and how it all would connect was still a mystery. At first it started to look like the effect of a computer problem right before your computer died. How was that possible decades before the invention of the computer? Does the graphics card work the same as the Poetter grid? He leaps into a universal understanding and use of form, transcending the boundaries of technology and civilizations. The design is executed in three different versions: mechanically woven cotton; polyester; and as a hand-woven tapestry. Each technique has its own specific limitations and qualities. By showing them side by side, you experience the possibilities of design.

Bas van Beek: Shameless, Wolfsonian-FIU,
Miami Beach, until April 24, 2022

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