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Maarten Baas and his curiosity cabinets

For his first exhibition in a Paris museum, Maarten Baas has been given a free hand to curate his own space in the contemporary gallery of Les Arts Décoratifs.

By Katie Dominy / 20-10-2011

Designed in the style of the curiosity cabinets of the 16th century, in which cabinets were rooms rather than pieces of furniture, Maarten Baas has divided his exhibition into four ‘vignettes’. On entering, the space is pitch black, the only article on view is a single red chair from the Clay series of 2006, created from synthetic clay hand moulded over a metal frame. As you walk around, the displays are viewed though large glass windows.

The first room set is arranged as a Victorian drawing room, complete with Piano from the Smoke series, given half-burnt down candlesticks as an ironic touch – and also from Smoke, the padded leather armchair. Smoke was Baas’ graduation project at the Design Academy Eindhoven in 2002 and led to pieces from this collection being taken up by the design studio Moooi.

Opposite the piano stands Grandfather Clock from Real Time in 2009, whose clock face is in fact a screen showing a video of a man drawing the hands of the clock in real time and at the back of the room the oversized wood wardrobe Sculpt from 2007. On the floor sits Animal Skin #1, a bear-crocodile mix with first shown at Milan in April.

Dominique Forest, the curator of the modern and contemporary department of the museum, who worked alongside Baas in the creation of the exhibition, says of the designer: “Through his experimental work which arouses controversy, Maarten Baas overturns our preconceived ideas. He has built his own universe, happily knocking down the boundaries of design to show another reality made up of strangeness, effects optical effects, illusion and playfulness. In this he is in line with the Dutch group Droog Design, which first laid the foundations for a subversive and iconoclastic design.”

Forest explains how Baas has “designed a theatrical environment composed of several interiors in which he mixes anonymous pieces his own works to create surreal scenes out of his imagination.” For example, in the Victorian tableau mentioned above, the non-Baas pieces are all sprayed pale grey, as if covered in a lifetime of dust – from a potted fern and ashtray stand to a series of empty frames.

This mix of the designer’s work with the anonymous extras works best in the display that features three of the Chankley Bore series, produced with Established & Sons in 2008. Colourful, with a retro-cartoon spirit, the pieces sit in a scene from an abandoned office, with three identical desks, office chairs, keyboards and desk lamps – all covered in grey dust. On the wall runs the Triptych of World Clocks video, eerily overseeing this empty room. The third space shows an extremely cluttered workshop-cum-garage packed with objects, dominated by the large bright green fan from the Clay series. Around the edge sits a desk and storage unit from Grey Derivations, designed in 2010 for the Mitterrand+Cramer gallery in Geneva and dotted around are the tiny stools from the Mutations series in 2008, in which a wooden stool gradually becomes plastic. Wedged all around are dusty grey miscellaneous items – old bicycle wheels, oil cans, cooking pots and even a stapler.

The last smaller window is more minimal, showing the Empty Chair designed for Amnesty International this summer opposite a much smaller white metal chair from the Sculpt collection. On the wall sits the Sweepers Clock from Real Time in which people create the hands of the clock by sweeping rubbish.

For an understanding of the designer’s work over the last decade, this exhibition is a good introduction and the rather theatrical staging is in keeping his dramatic surreal spirit.


Maarten Baas, les curiosités d’un designer continues at Les Arts Décoratifs until February 12 2012.

Image credits: (c) Luc Boegly - Les Arts Décoratifs

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