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Job Smeets Speaks About the Infamous Gate Fiasco

Where is the border between design and art? Does it exist? Job Smeets reflects on the project that went terribly wrong and says he learned something first-hand about that so-called boarder from the scandal surrounding his infamous fence. 

By Editor / 15-08-2013

Eighteen months ago design duo Studio Job created controversy in the Netherlands by presenting on public television a gate design with references to the Holocaust. Job Smeets, the 42-year old who started his studio 15 years ago with Nynke Tynagel, claimed artistic freedom.

The border between design and art started to narrow when a whole generation of designers began producing limited editions and saw their work being collected by museums.

“There’s always been this question in my mind, ‘Is it possible in design to make a statement similar to the way it’s done in art?’” Job Smeets said in a summer interview with Dutch national newspaper, NRC Handelsblad.

Two years after the controversy he now adds his conclusion: “Now it’s been proven one can’t.”

The pillars of Job's gate were smokestacks and on a bell was a Latin version of the text on the entrance gate of the Buchenwald concentration camp: "Jedem das seine" (To each his own). "The uproar was enormous," Smeets told NRC Handelsblad. "As if we were Nazis." 

Smeets’ motivation to design such a fence stemmed from his early dislike of traditional design goals. “When we started out,” he said, “functionality and mass-production were the highest achievable goals for a designer.  I never understood that.”

Then he discovered that palaces like Versailles were filled with pre-industrial, hand made showpieces. “That is when I really started to understand creative freedom [in design]: unique masterpieces no one would dare to throw out with the garbage,” he stated.  “We started to make the same. My parents were antique dealers, and sometimes I see myself as producing the ‘new antique’.”

Bureaucracy and public discourse, according to Smeets, proved the limits of design. A construction object like a gate, even when built on private property, needs a licence from local authorities. The local authorities withdrew the licence for the gate as the controversy in the media erupted. They claimed the drawings submitted earlier were different from the design with holocaust references shown on television.

The fate of the gate is still not clear. The man who ordered it objects to the ruling of the local authorities and has taken the battle to court.

Photo impression of the Studio Job fence and gate by Erik Haverkorn.

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