The Origin of Things

10 May – 27 July 2003 in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

From idea to final product. That, in short, is what the exhibition ‘The Origin of Things’ is about. This broad, international survey begins with nineteenth-century fabric and wallpaper designs by William Morris and ends with Rem Koolhaas’ recent interior design for Prada’s flagship store in New York. In total around thirty extremely varied projects have been selected, which elucidate the backgrounds to their designs.

Cardboard models held together with adhesive tape, hypermodern computer animations and design sketches are just as important as the finished products in this exhibition. They are taken from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen’s rich and varied collection of design prototypes, drawings and other archival material, a relatively recent addition to the museum’s collection. Works from the collection are supplemented with loans from the Netherlands and abroad.

The exhibition has a very broad scope. In addition to charting the design process of ‘classic’ products such as chairs, lamps, typewriters and vacuum cleaners, it also examines less obvious cases such as Raymond Loewy’s corporate identity for Shell (1967-71); Wim Gilles’ fold-up scooter (1958-64); Wim Crouwel’s ‘New Alphabet’ typeface (1960s); and fashion designs by Christian Dior Haute Couture (1997) and Martin Margiela’s ‘Stockman’ collections (1997). There are historical designs by H.P. Berlage, Theodor Bogler, P.H.J. Cuypers and T.A.C. Colenbrander, but also products by international contemporary stars such as Konstantin Grcic, Jasper Morrison and Marc Newson and the Dutch design avant-garde such as Hella Jongerius, Marcel Wanders and Dick van Hoff.

The exhibition features the development of products made from a single material: from Gerrit Rietveld’s wooden Zigzag chair to Verner Panton’s single-piece plastic chairs and Grcic’s folded sheet-metal side tables. It also includes products that approach design perfection such as Wim Gilles’ DRU kettle from 1954 – which boils water faster than any other kettle – and James Dyson’s DC02 vacuum cleaner from 1995 – which has stronger suction than all its predecessors. And for those who may think that design is simply a matter of fashion, there are a number of ‘timeless’ case studies such as the development of the paperclip – an anonymous design from the second half of the nineteenth century – and the model for the Odol mouthwash bottle, which has remained unchanged since 1893 and which still looks entirely modern today.

The most spectacular exhibits are the cars. Richard Buckminster Fuller’s visionary ‘Dymaxion Car’ with an ultra-small turning circle survives only in the form of a film, in which it performs elegant pirouettes. Its hypermodern counterpart is to be found in the Ford ‘021C’ concept car by the Australian, London-based designer Marc Newson, which has been specially flown over from Detroit for ‘The Origin of Things’.

The renewed Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam.

Thanks to the new addition to the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum, old and contemporary art can overlap and challenge each other to a greater extent than ever before. The architects’ agency Robbrecht and Daem from Ghent has added about 5000 square metres of new space, weaving it into the existing structure. It involves exhibition areas, an entrance and courtyard, a library, offices, a print cabinet, workshops and a depot. Moreover, approximately 1300 square metres within the existing building have been renovated.


Director Chris Dercon is leaving the Boijmans van Beuningen Museum