Designers and artists often pull out all to stops to highlight their own personal talent and emphasize how unique their creativity is. Rightly so, of course, as it is their singularity and talent that make them stand out from the crowd. And what about designers that sprout from a really creative family? Do they see their family connections as an advantage or do these get in the way of their plans? How does their environment influence their work?
The questions above are the starting point of Le Labo des héritiers, the exhibition that Grand-Hornu Images is currently organising. A project that was not easy to put together, says manager Marie Pok, as rivalry, in addition to talent, ‘runs’ in these families through one, two or three generations, and the family relationships are sometimes somewhat strained.
The exhibition focuses on four significant cultural ‘dynasties’, each presented by a member of the younger generation. The museum curators gave the heirs carte blanche in staging the work of their families: linear, chronological, mise en abîme, indexed, etc. Their respective take on the subject is strikingly different.
The story of the Van Severen family starts with Maarten Van Severen, designer of the famous .03 chair for Vitra, which has been an international success ever since 1998, putting Belgium on the world design map. His furniture pieces, which he produced himself at his workshop in Galgenberg, Ghent, until 1998, are marked by simple, radical lines. As a child, Maarten often played at his father’s workshop, artist Dan Van Severen, a Flemish geometric, abstract painter. Elementary shapes like the square, the circle and the cross characterise the work of both Van Severens. Maarten’s two sons, an architect and a designer, have thought long and hard on how to best showcase their family’s different talents during the exhibition at Grand-Hornu Images. They finally decided to take some pieces outside the museum: they created a concrete wall in the courtyard of Grand Hornu and installed ‘skeletons’ of their father’s furniture in front of the wall, while putting the circle and squares on the wall as a link to their grandfather’s art. The installation further includes some objects that the latter had collected in the past, such as a stone cut in the form of a lion’s head and a rusty gate that had clearly inspired him for several of his compositions, as well as a couple of metal desks and low tables created by Hannes and his wife Fien Muller. Left outside to rust, on purpose, the metal pieces have somehow become timeless. The installation shows three generations squeezed together on a few square metres.
Another lineage also represented at Grand-Hornu Images: the three generations of Vermeersch. Grandfather José was a painter and a sculptor, well known for his ceramic statues. His son Rik was also a sculptor, as well as a photographer. Out of the four Vermeersch grandsons three are painters and sculptors (Robin, Tinus and Pieter) and one a designer (Lowie). “There’s a spiritual as well as a physical relationship; so that we can all be considered as a whole,” says Pieter..
The Vermeersch family decided to present one work each, in the vast Grand-Foin hall. In one big installation, we can admire the glazed ceramics made by Robin, who uses the same material as his grandfather and his father; Tinus’s plaster hanging sculpture, a strange, enchanting object that we find in his paintings, like a gimmick; and three spaces made by Pieter of panels of fine marble leaves. As a painter, Pieter’s oeuvre often takes the form of immense installations in dialogue with the environment. And last but not least, Lowie, who studied industrial design in Delft. He presents a 1/1 scale model of the concept car that he’s created for Alfa Romeo. The father and grandfather are only present in the form of the maxims they said and repeated as their artistic credo, which are projected on two screens framing the work of the four heirs.
The artistic Bakker family is a family of three designers – father, mother and son – all of whom work with noble materials: wood, metal and silver, like a common denominator between their designs;. Aldo, the son, had the honour of selecting the exhibited pieces. The presentation starts with a series of moving family pictures. Then we see Strip chair, a creation of father Gijs in 1974 which we recognise and a spectacular necklace-tie made by Emmy and Gijs in 1968. Albo’s solid wood stools are curved in ways reminiscent of his parents’ work. It looks as if they were all trying to find the ultimate, perfect, organic form. While Emmy uses her drawings of geometric studies to design a specific shape, her son is driven by an intuitive fascination for a finite shape.
Last but not least, we come across the oeuvre of the brilliant father and son duo that are Carlo and Tobia Scarpa. Carlo Scarpa, an architect and a designer of objects was a big name in 20th century Venice. Born in the Italian city in 1906, Scarpa honed his skills in the art of glassmaking in the workshops of Murano. Of his many architectural works we remember the Galleria dell’ Accademia in Venice and the Querini Stampalia foundation but also the sumptuous extension to the Palazzetto di Monselice, which he restored together with this son. The relationship between father and son was always under fire however: Tobia tried to measure himself with his father, as long as Carlo lived, and although Carlo Scarpa has now passed away, there were still embers of that rivalry and tension waiting to be reignited while Tobia was creating his installation.
Silver water and wine carafes, iridescent and mats vases or glass-blown bubble vases are presented in a dark décor that highlights the delicacy of the materials and tones. In one of the showcases we spotted a blue decanter with an opaque surface that Tobia created for his father, using a complex and sophisticated technique.
Le Labo des Héritiers
82 rue Sainte-Louise
Until 4 January 2015
Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 to 18:00