Stedelijk on criticism of Studio Drift: ‘We are not only here for difficult art’

According to Hans den Hartog Jager, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam contributes to the erosion of the visual arts (Why Studio Drift’s magic is hypocritical, NRC 15/9). According to him, the museum does this because “the design department (…) brings in consumer kitsch”. He refers, among other things, to the installation Volkswagen Beetle 1980 (2018) from the series materialism van Drift, who bought the museum.

The Hartog Jager is surprised by the small amount of material in the installation, compared to the size of the car. However, the work originates from a faithful material analysis. It also consists of more blocks than the work in the picture accompanying his article – the dandelightinstallation from the same series: 41 instead of 17.

Let’s clear up another misunderstanding right away. The Stedelijk no longer has separate departments for visual arts and design. And no separate shopping budgets, as seen in the article by Renée Steenbergen (Don’t confuse autonomous art with creative industry, NRC 22/9). In this way, the museum follows developments in art. There are conservators with expertise in a particular area, such as design in our case, but a decision to purchase is made with the entire content team and representatives from the collections management and development departments.

At all times

Crossing the boundaries between fine art, photography and design is timeless. Architect-designer Charlotte Perriand took pictures; graphic designer Cassandre painted; sculptor Donald Judd designed furniture. In recent decades, we have also seen more and more work that does not so much cross borders, but takes place at the interface between different disciplines. The work of the operation is an example of this, but also the work of the Bernadette Corporation, which takes the form of fashion and jewellery. Sarah Zapata’s sculptures consist of carpets, and an installation by Czar Kristoff includes brochures designed by him. These examples are all included in the Stedelijk’s collection.

Does it matter what training the artists or designers originally received? We don’t think so. Can creators combine a conceptual starting point with an appealing idiom that appeals to a large audience? Sure. Designers have been doing it since at least the Italian radical design this also applies to the work of visual artist Jeff Koons.

Can the museum display such a work and include it in the collection, or must the museum primarily support ‘difficult art’, as Hans den Hartog Jager argues? The Stedelijk wants to show a wide range of different positions and voices: from unruly art to more accessible work and from autonomous installations to tools. The function of the museum as a platform for discussion is also important. We therefore welcome this discussion.

Large audience

The museum works with creators from different backgrounds and does so for the widest possible audience. This can also be expected from a public institution. In any case, what the museum does not want is to categorize contemporary work, because the producers themselves do not do that either.

Regarding the commercial aspect, we are of course aware that displaying, collecting or even mentioning the work of certain producers can affect the acquisition of ‘prestigious’ commissions and the position of their work on the art market. That’s a given. That Drift would use this is not surprising, because who does not proudly mention exhibitions and purchases on their website.

It seems to particularly disturb Den Hartog Jager that they are now doing it in the context of visual arts. As you know, there is far more money involved in the visual art market than in design – after all, in the world of galleries, fairs and auctions, there is often still a strong division. The desire to penetrate it says at least as much about the hierarchy of that market as it does about Drift.

Open for debate The article by Renée Steenbergen argues that designers with a design or architectural background are increasingly commissioned in public space at the expense of visual artists (previously mostly sculptors). The question is whether it is a bad thing, but if it is to be changed, then more is needed than museums providing some space or not. For example, more discussion about the use of art subsidies, about art education and about the attention to art and culture at all political levels. As written, the museum remains open for debate, inside and outside the museum, on these and other questions. That way we can ‘keep each other sharp’.

Design curators

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