Just how exclusive is design, and why should design classics not be copied, adapted or extended? These are the kinds of questions that fascinate Bas van Beek (b. 1974), winner of the Stokroos Ceramics Stipend. His work, which touches on design, architecture, visual art and commerce, often causes a stir, and that is precisely what he wants: to unleash debate about the status of contemporary and historic design. From Berlage to Disney, and from disposable items to famous bodies of work, Van Beek copies, alters, adds to and expands, presenting them all on the same platform in his first museum retrospective.
Bas van Beek is something of an oddity in the design world. Unlike others, he never begins with a blank sheet of paper, but always builds on what is already there. The appropriation and transformation of other people’s designs is an essential part of Van Beek’s practice, a strategy for questioning the status of heritage and a way of enabling it to live on and acquire new meaning.
Overview exhibition Bas van Beek – Fire, Fire, Fire!. From the series JVDV 2014-2017.
The focus of the exhibition at Kunstmuseum Den Haag is Van Beek’s works in ceramics and glass, or ‘the arts of fire’ as former museum director Hendrik Enno van Gelder once referred to them, which are the basis of the museum’s applied arts collection. The title Fire, Fire, Fire! is a nod to this description, and also to Van Beek’s deliberately provocative work practice, as he regularly sets fire to industry conventions, adapting existing designs to convey his message.
Originality versus reproduction
In 2008, for example, Van Beek provoked a debate on the value of Dutch Design by combining the vase that Dutch designer Hella Jongerius created for IKEA with one of the cheapest vases from the Swedish retail giant’s range (Simulacrum (Hacking IKEA), 2008). He bound them together using packaging tape with the warning ‘fragile’, an explicit reference to two other vases by Jongerius, the Long Neck and Groove Bottles.
In his 2005 series Rip-offs Van Beek also criticised the Dutch Design phenomenon, whose marketing he finds highly pretentious, generating the false impression that it is exclusive. He reproduced ten designs by others (from an Empire Strikes Back teapot bought on eBay, to famous pieces by ‘Dutch Designers’ like Wieki Somers, Dick van Hoff and others), sprayed them with a monochrome layer of car paint in the standard colours of a CMYK printer, and offered them for sale at a standard price of 95 euros each. “Designers continually refer to each other, without revealing their sources”, says Van Beek. “I do reveal mine. This is about originality, and the debate about it in the art world.”
Bas van Beek, executed by Jingdezhen Pottery Factory, Missing Link, 2010, porcelain, h 14 cm, collection Design Museum Den Bosch. Photo: Pieter Vandermeer.
Layered and visually attractive
The exhibition also includes new work, including a coffee set by Van Beek, designed specially for Kunstmuseum Den Haag with the support of the Stichting Stokroos ceramics stipend. It is based on items from Kunstmuseum Den Haag’s collection and other museum collections, including a 1920s inkwell by De Bazel, and 1960s airline tableware designed by Joe Colombo and Ambrogio Pozzi. They provided the inspiration for three modular cups and saucers (for espresso, coffee and cappuccino), decorated with stylised ornamental designs by the museum’s architect Berlage, which will be introduced in the museum café in 2021, to comply with Van Beek’s wish to design something for a museum collection that is not “headed straight for the repository”.
The coffee set is a true Van Beek, layered and visually attractive. He has now amassed a large body of work featuring striking designs in which the original always echoes somewhere in the background. The retrospective at Kunstmuseum Den Haag will offer visitors surprising new ways of taking a different look at historical objects, particularly the museum’s collection of twentieth-century ceramics and glass.