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A good design debate

Timo de Rijk can always be counted on to ignite a good design debate.  His latest piece on Marcel Wanders does just that.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 14-03-2014

A healthy design debate has erupted in the Netherlands over critics’ reaction to Marcel Wanders “Pinned Up” exhibition in the Stedelijk Museum. Design.nl's earlier interview with the designer is here.

“The Stedelijk has completely lost its way,” was the headline last week in de Volkskrant. Professor of Design Culture & Society Timo de Rijk lashed out at the venerable institution for organising the major exhibition on "Marcel Wanders: Pinned Up at the Stedelijk. 25 years of design." Within a day Jeroen Junte, the newspaper's own design critic, lashed back.

Wanders only ever had one interesting idea claims De Rijk: his Knotted Chair that catapulted him into fame in 1996. “An influential experiment,” De Rijk acknowledges. But since then Wanders chose to produce “indigestible amounts of pseudo-beauty which made him a major entrepreneurial success.”

De Rijks argument is that Wanders claims to be a hero in a battle that is non-existent. “He positions himself as an anarchistic loner fighting a lifelong battle against modern design fundamentalists with a preference for transparency, sobriety and progress. But this is ridiculous of course as those opponents retired years ago. So this made up controversy which benefits Wanders, is less than a rear guard battle.”
The Stedelijk should never have taken Wanders seriously, says De Rijk. “Without any critical perspective it lets itself be used for something that looks most like a trade fair presentation.”

Jeroen Junte disagrees. Wanders shows “harsh reality”, shows a world where human actions are ruled by “a lust for spectacle, urges like pride and greed.” Wanders work is a sign of the times. But De Rijk, doesn’t like these signs, says Junte. De Rijk has different taste.



“De Rijk’s crusade against Wanders is solely based on taste, not on facts,” says Junte. “Fact is that Wanders is one of the most influential designers in the world.” Wanders is not progressive, Junte readily admits, but he understands what people want an has thus created successful designs. “Wanders represents a new generation of designers: smart entrepreneurs rather than problem solvers. The designer as new business tycoon: is that what the world was awaiting for? No, but it’s reality.”

“The Stedelijk Museum has shown it is in touch with reality. And, very important, that it has guts. [..] Of course we can question the intellectual depth of Wanders’ design, and everybody does. Also the Stedelijk is simply showing Wanders as he is in his baroque, mardi grass style excess.  It is not acting like a schoolteacher and this is also a sign of the times. The masses, liberated from modernism, won’t be told what good taste is by a museum. Or by a design professor.”