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Toon Lauwen www.louiskalffinstituut.nl

A brief family history

By 16-08-2015

ONE WEEK ABOUT Product Design by curator Toon Lauwen

“Looks weird, is expensive and doesn’t work. That must be Dutch Design!” Ten years ago, Joost Elffers and I walked past Moss Gallery on the corner of Green Street and Houston. It was getting dark in New York and, curious to discover what was exhibited, we pressed our noses against the display window. For ‘Where There is Smoke’, Maarten Baas had blackened and casted the whole design canon of the 20th century in epoxy: Thonet’s No. 14, Rietveld’s Red-Blue, Mackintosh’s Hill House and Eames’s LCW. Your family will always be your family, but turning yourself against the previous generation is also a natural process, that’s what I understood from the subtitle ‘A Concise Family History’ which Maarten Baas had given the presentation.

Last year, this theme took on a new urgency for me during the preparation of a speech that Joust Elfers gave at the Wim Crowel Institute. Joost presented a brilliant reflection – laconically and lovingly – on Dick Elffers (1910-1990), his father. During the preparation, I came across a ‘key piece’ that put the break in 1938 between Dick Elffers and his teacher Paul Schuitema in perspective. The young Dick Elffers received his first monumental commission for a mosaic behind a fountain in the Rivièrahal at Blijdorp from Sybold van Ravesteyn. The imagery was figurative and similar to Elffers’ post-war posters that had been inspired by French painting.

I associated these development with the ‘Avezaath Discussion’ during which righteous functionalists banned Van Ravesteyn’s ornamental architecture. According to Joost, however, the break had no intellectual cause at all, but an emotional one: Dick Elffers had a relationship with Schuitema’s wife, who sorely missed the attention that Schuitema spent on ambitious film projects (and Socialism).

Historiography is wording in retrospect, Job Smeets was right there.