Dutch Design changed but Richard Hutten has managed to stay as relevant and important as was in the 90s. And as to the whole limited edition industry falling out of favour with serious design thinkers? He neither knows nor cares what all the fuss is about. He just loves to design and leaves the critics to say what they will.
My phone flashes RICHARD HUTTEN. We have scheduled and appointment for five minutes ago in the bar of Design Miami/Basel.
“They won’t let me in,” he says.
“What?” I reply.
“They say it is for collectors only,” he answers.
I rush to the entrance past the clouds of expensive French perfumes.
Design Miami/Basel cannot be compared to any other design fair – the women are older and impeccably dressed. Wealth lingers in the air – a nice old European wealth that is comfortable in its skin. It’s an intriguing atmosphere.
“I love it here,” Hutten says after the entrance issue is sorted and we are now sitting back at the bar with a view looking out over the crowds of opening-day visitors.
“Everyone is well-informed and well-dressed, it’s a sophisticated lots. I really miss that in the design world. In Holland designers look like shit, which is annoying. I mean as a designer it is part of your job to look nice.”
This fair is designed for buyers – real collectors. They have their own private champagne lounge and eager gallery owners have mastered the subtleties of the discreet sale.
It’s both elitist and fascinating … to see where all the ideas, experiments, hard work, luck, failures, and exhibitions can sometimes lead to.
Not that any of it makes Hutten real money. “I do it as a hobby,” he admits. As an industrial designer his bread and butter comes, for example, from the 25 cents a piece he earns from his cult double handled cups. He has sold 250,000 pieces to date. “I might make much more per piece at an event like this, but of course I sell a lot less so if I am lucky, I’ll break even.”
Hutten doesn’t understand why people are so out of favour with the whole limited edition scene. “In the early days of Droog people were so annoyed that it was all in limited edition,” he says, “that the objects were not for mass production. And then the limited edition market emerges and Holland had that head start. We were doing crazy good work and I am not sure where that went wrong. You’d think Maarten Baas would be here. And Jurgen Bey too. Limited editions are the core of their work. We really are not leading this market and that is surprising.”
Hutten says he signed and numbered his first piece twenty years ago. “And people laughed at me,” he admits. But his inspiration was Rietveld. “He was making one, two or five of things, signing them and selling them at auctions just like it was always done in the art world.”
And Rietveld was fielding the same questions about the difference between design and art. “His response was that sometimes art escapes,” he says. “To me my work is art.”
I point down saying that I think there might be a piece by Joep van Lieshout. “But he is an artist,” I add.
“He is a designer,” Hutten quips. “I am the artist!” Hutten quips.
“What?” I ask.
“Nothing,” he laughs. “Just proving that your point is bullshit. It is all about ideas and creativity. Just because it is oil on a canvas doesn’t make it art, and just because it is a chair doesn’t make it design.”
Hutten seems to be thinking out loud. “Sometimes I do art, sometimes I do industrial design and sometimes I do limited editions …. But it is all art by nature.”
In this edition of Design Miami/Basel his “Playing With Tradition” rugs are being presented by Priveekollektie gallery and his Books Chair and Table by Gallery Judy Straten at the Scope, which presents purely art. His rugs were even picked up by the Daily Beast as an event favourite.
“I think the art world understands my work better and it seems to fit more there now anyway,” he says of his future.
On “Playing With Tradition” Huuten says the idea had been with him for a long time. “I realized a long time ago that Persian carpets are the best on the floor and nothing contemporary can beat them. I have an antique one at home and always wondered about modifying it. So I did and linked 2000 years of art history into one piece.”
And as to why Holland has so few galleries present at Design Miami/Basel Hutten says: “As a country we have a lot of good designers. We don’t have a lot of collectors though.”
Next up for Hutten is a project – yet to be revealed – with Droog that will copy the Chinese. “We are going to get them back,” he laughs.
Images of "Playing With Traditon" rugs and Hutten's Book chair and table.
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