Design Museum Gent
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Vereniging voor Nijverheids- en Decoratieve Kunsten
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Design Museum Gent is the only museum in Belgium with an international design collection. The museum complex, situated in the heart of the tourist centre of Ghent, comprises an imposing 18th-century mansion and a modern wing. The museum possesses a comprehensive and trend-setting collection of Belgian design, supported by international top-class objects. Its collection includes everything from the Art Nouveau of Henry van de Velde to contemporary avant-garde design.
Design Museum Gent originates from a private initiative of a group of industrials and art lovers who united themselves in 1903 in the ‘Union des Arts Industriels et Décoratifs’ and created a ‘Musée des Modèles’. Initially, the collection consisted of some hundred fine examples of furniture, complemented by extensive subcollections of ceramics, copper and bronze, furniture fragments and a large textile collection. These models were housed in the Ghent municipal academy, situated in the Sint-Margrietstraat.
Owing to purchases in the various pavilions during the Ghent 1913 World Exhibition and further extension of the collection, a new accommodation became a necessity. In 1922 the museum moved to Hotel de Coninck on the Jan Breydelstraat, which the city of Ghent had bought a couple of years earlier. In 1951, under the leadership of a new director, Adelbert Van de Walle, three shows called the National Salons for Modern Social Furniture were organised. These took place in 1955, 1956, and 1957. They invited local manufacturers to exhibit their furniture showcased in rooms as fictitious domestic environments and to take orders placed by visitors, thus facilitating the distribution of modern, affordable design. By 1958, the financial burden had become too much for the Association of Industrial and Decorative Arts, and the city of Ghent took over the administration and management of the museum. Between 1958 and 1973, the museum was closed due to renovation works. Its reopening was followed by an expansion plan, ensuing in the inauguration of a new wing in 1992, which accommodates both a selection of the modern and contemporary design collection and temporary exhibitions. The new extension was designed by architect Willy Verstraete and was officially opened in May 1992. In the modern part of the building, a huge hydraulic lift in the central section can be used to make the floors adaptable. The current policy of the museum puts greater focus on Belgian design from 1970.
The museum collection has evolved from 17th and 18th century applied arts towards modern and contemporary design from 1860 till now. The objects prior to 1860 provide the historic basis on which modern and contemporary design are engrafted. Design Museum Gent prefers to use a broad definition of design, based on a series of criteria that can - to a more or lesser degree - be found in a design product: contemporaneity, innovation, ergonomics, durability and aesthetic relevance. Both serial products and unique objects can comply with these requirements. Innovation can relate to form, function, material and production techniques. Purchases and exhibitions are focused on 20th century and contemporary creations.
Extension of the collection
The collection of Design Museum Gent took shape in three phases:
- In a first phase, between 1903 and 1930, the museum possesses a collection and a corresponding library in view of a 'Musée des Modèles', paying close attention to a large variety of furniture types dating back to 1600 - 1800 and some particular subcollections such as Art Nouveau, Asian objects, textile and French Art Deco.
- Between 1930 and 1974, the museum collection is barely extended, not in the least owing to its closure between 1958 and 1973.
- The third and final phase between 1974 and 2013 is characterised by an impressive expansion of the international design collection with major purchases and donations. From 1977 onwards, the then museum curator (and later museum director) Lieven Daenens acquires significant Belgian Art Nouveau ensembles designed by Henry van de Velde, Victor Horta and Paul Hankar. In 1987, interior and furniture designer Pieter De Bruyne bequeaths his archives as a designer and lecturer, along with a comprehensive library and various furniture. In the same year, the passionate collector N.F. Havermans legates his rich collection of Art Nouveau and Art Deco glassware, ceramics and silver. Between 1980 and 2000, the collection is significantly expanded with national and international designers. The Italian radical design by the designer collectives Alchimia and Memphis (including Mendini, Branzi and Sottsass) constitutes a major extension of the museum collection. The appointment of Katrien Laporte (2013 -) as new museum director initiates a catching-up process with regard to the 1970 onwards collection of Belgian design.
Profile of the collection
In the period starting from 1975, the collection has been expanded to nearly 22,000 objects. The collection includes applied arts and design dating from 1450 to present, is regionally, nationally and internationally diversified and highly consistent. It is the only collection in Belgium to display an intelligible and coherent image of trend-setting design starting from Art Nouveau. Moreover, it includes several unique top-class objects of national and international design. The historic subcollection (1450-1900) stands out because of its broad range of 18th century furniture. The proto-design from 1860 onwards is the step-up towards the modern design collection, which is initiated by the impressive Art Nouveau collection and continues till today. The collection mainly includes Western European design, with a distinct presence of Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Scandinavia and Italy. The collection focuses especially on interior-oriented design from private residences and offices.
The museum possesses a small collection of objects designed by Christopher Dresser. The furniture of the Vienna furniture companies Thonet and Kohn are at the dawn of modern design as well.
Design Museum Gent is internationally praised for its excellent collection of Belgian Art Nouveau made by Paul Hankar, Gustave Serrurier-Bovy, Victor Horta, Henry van de Velde, Philippe Wolfers and Alfred William Finch. These Belgian designers are accompanied by foreign top designers such as Louis Majorelle, Emile Gallé, René Lalique, Daum, Richard Riemerschmid, Josef Hoffmann, Otto Wagner and Georg Jensen.
Next to French glassware by Daum, Lalique, Marcel Goupy, Maurice Marinot, Jean Sala, Charles Schneider, Gabriel Argy-Rousseau and copper vases by Jean Dunand and Claude Linossier, the museum also possesses ceramic vases of Llorens Artigas, Fernand Rumèbe and services by Jean Luc and Georg Jensen. Quite peculiar is the rich furniture collection conceived by the unsurpassed Ghent architect Albert Van huffel, designer of the renowned Koekelberg Basilica. The museum also hold his archives. Another remarkable collection item is the ‘Gioconda’ service designed by Philippe Wolfers in 1925 for the exhibition ‘Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et lndustriels’ in Paris. Services of the companies Wolfers and Delheid belong to the top-class of Belgian Art Deco silverware.
The modernism of Le Corbusier, Alvar Aalto, Marcel Breuer, Christa Ehrlich, Poul Henningsen and Wilhelm Wagenfeld is diametrically opposed to the sumptuous Art Deco. The Flemish architect-designers Gaston Eysselinck and Huib Hoste are worthy companions among this select international party.
The collection also includes a fine selection of modern design dating from the period 1945 - 1965 with furniture of Belgian designers such as Willy Van der Meeren, Alfred Hendrickx, Emiel Veranneman, Pieter De Bruyne, Jules Wabbes and Christophe Gevers, of American designers Charles and Ray Eames and Florence Knoll and of the Scandinavian designers Arne Jacobsen, Hans Wegner, Verner Panton, Yrjö Kukkapuro and Kristian Vedel. The Netherlands and Scandinavia are well represented by glassware of the companies Royal Leerdam Crystal (Andries Dirk Copier), Orrefors (Sven Palmqvist), Venini and Iittala (Tapio Wirkkala). Henning Koppel (Georg Jensen), Carlo Scarpa (Cleto Munari) and Lino Sabattini (Christofle) put elegant silverware on the table. The Belgian headquarters of Tupperware Europe, with chief designers Bob Daenen and Vic Cautereels, are responsible for countless solid kitchen objects.
The museum possesses an extensive ensemble of the Italian Anti-Design collectives Studio Alchimia and Memphis, represented by Ettore Sottsass, Alessandro Mendini, Michele de Lucchi, Matteo Thun, Marco Zanini and Nathalie Du Pasquier.
The first postmodern piece of furniture, the 1975 Chantilly cupboard designed by Pieter De Bruyne, is an icon in the Belgian design collection. Reputed foreign designers such as Michael Graves, Bořek Šípek, Richard Meier, Hans Hollein and Aldo Rossi make the picture complete.
Renowned designers such as Ron Arad, Toyo Ito, Hella Jongerius, Peter Opsvik, Barbara Nanning, Marc Newson, Philippe Starck, Marcel Wanders and Frantisek Vizner give an international allure to the collection.
Modern and contemporary Belgian design
Design Museum Gent boasts a range of more recent and contemporary Belgian designers such as Maarten Van Severen, Hans De Pelsmacker, Lachaert & d'Hanis, Marc Supply, Xavier Lust, Pol Quadens, Quinze & Milan, Fabiaan Van Severen, Weyers & Borms and Dirk Wynants. Ceramics in the contemporary collection are by Piet Stockmans, Tjok Dessauvage, Arthur Vermeiren, Rik Vandewege and Ann Van Hoey. Glassware is coming from the ovens of the Antwerp collective L'Anverre and Carine Neutjens. Silverware is designed by Jean Lemmens and Siegfried De Buck, Nedda El-Asmar and David Huycke. Samsonite (designer Erik Sijmons), Hedgren and Kipling (designer Xavier Kegels) luggage is also included in the collection. Recent acquisitions of the younger Belgian generation, represented by Muller Van Severen, Maarten De Ceulaer and Ben Storms, cast a glance at the future.
- Gimeno-Martinez, Javier; Verlinden, Jasmijn (2010). "From Museum of Decorative Arts to Design Museum: The Case of the Design museum Gent". Design and Culture. 2 (3).