Allie Farlowe currently works as a metalsmith and jeweler. She received a BFA in jewelry and metalwork from the University of Georgia and an MA in the history of American decorative arts from Parsons School of Design in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution. She was formerly the assistant curator of the Mint Museum of Craft + Design, in Charlotte, North Carolina. At the Mint, she coordinated many traveling shows and curated exhibitions such as Attitude and Alchemy: The Metalwork of Gary Lee Noffke and Masters of Disguise.
The exhibition Emmy + Gijs + Aldo (30 October 2010 - 15 May 2011) at the Zuiderzee Museum in Enkhuizen, the Netherlands, sparked my curiosity. Since I was unable to see the exhibition or the associated film, I hoped the accompanying catalog bearing the same name would suffice. I have admired the work of Dutch designers Emmy van Leersum, Gijs Bakker and their son Aldo Bakker for many years. Therefore, this concept of exploring the connections between and the designs of each of these individuals intrigued me. Before my father’s death my family had often discussed an analogous project encompassing my parents’ and my work. We envisioned an exhibition of my mother’s paintings, my father’s paintings and sculpture and my jewelry and metalwork. This was to be not just a sentimental undertaking. In assembling our work in one space we could thoroughly examine our similarities and differences. Had we influenced each other? Would significant, undetected genetic links reveal themselves? These same questions surfaced as I began exploring the catalog Emmy + Gijs + Aldo.
This 96-page paperback, written in Dutch and English, focuses on key examples of Emmy, Gijs, and Aldo’s jewelry, product and furniture designs. This project was curated by Jan Boelen, a colleague of Aldo’s at the Design Academy in Eindhoven. In a one-page introduction Boelen provides a concise overview. He reveals that he utilized the ‘principle of “design process - object – use”’ in object selection for the catalog, exhibition and film. While he offers very little additional information about the exhibition and film, Boelen does explain that the catalog emphasizes the trio’s sources of inspiration, sketches and the history and context of their work. (Boelen states in the catalog’s introduction that the film, directed by Rik Zang, includes photographs that focus on ‘the use, handling, and the relationship of objects to the human body.’ There was no additional information available in the catalog, on the Zuiderzee Museum’s website or the internet.) He states that it was these specific areas where the connections between mother, father and son were most evident. Throughout the catalog, in brief passages, Boelen explores these commonalities as well as individual characteristics. For instance, the family shares an interest in the relationship between an object and the human body. While Emmy and Gijs often created ‘joint-like objects’ or what was called by Benno Premsela ‘a new kind of body art,’ Aldo has had a different approach. His designs ‘form extensions of the body.’
My initial reaction to the publication was that it had the feel of a small sketchbook or scrapbook. In the introduction Boelen asserts this was the precise intention of graphic designer Geoffrey Brusatto. Pages are rich with photographs of the trio’s work, sketches, detailed drawings, newspaper clippings, interviews, quotes and examples of sources of inspiration. All these materials are loosely arranged into sections that focus on mother, father and son. A two-page visual essay corresponds with each section. These essays combine archival materials and actual objects in a horizontal arrangement. I like this concept of placing key works in a larger context and the fact that these essays contain unpublished material from the designers’ archives. However, in my opinion, Emmy + Gijs + Aldo is strongest on pages where the trio’s work is combined, creating striking pictorial associations. Scattered across a couple of intriguing pages are numerous examples of Emmy’s laminated PVC and acrylate bracelets, two of Gijs’s blotting paper and PVC necklaces and selections from Aldo’s Glass-line. Here the family’s sensitivity to and inclination towards similar materials is apparent. Additionally, the viewer is free to further ponder what makes each of these designers distinctive.
For the jewelry and design-lovers, the Emmy + Gijs + Aldo catalog features some expected works. Boelen includes a selection from Emmy’s Broken Lines (Gebroken lijnen) series, numerous bracelets in metal, plastic and paper in addition to collaborative works such as an undulating aluminum armband created with Gijs in 1966. There are examples from Gijs’s repertoire as well; his stainless steel Point Welded Bracelet inspired by a Bruno Munari bowl, brooches from his Real series and clever works like his necklace Johnny Awakens just to name a few. On the design front, Boelen focuses on pieces such as Gijs’s Flow Fruit Bowl and incorporates creations from Aldo’s Urushi series and Copper Collection. Of course all the jewelry, product and furniture designs are combined with an array of drawings with notes, images of models and other supporting materials. This presentation provides, at times, exciting historical insight and information about creative process, but I yearned for more jewelry, especially some of Emmy and Gijs’s iconic collars from the early years. For that matter, I craved additional product and furniture designs as well. There is such a wealth of objects available, especially from Gijs, who is widely known as the co-founder of Droog Design.
Another noteworthy complaint involved the size and clarity of the text and photos. I found myself straining to read label information and decipher images. The font, at times, appears to be in the single digits. I speculate that this reduction is motivated by the inclusion of relatively small images. Photographs, which are reprinted multiple times throughout the catalog, are sometimes smaller than a United States postage stamp. Furthermore, there appears to be a dullness that could be the result of the paper choice. These clarity issues are particularly problematic with the visual essays where numerous images have been reduced to fit on two pages. Perhaps this diminished scale is intended to reinforce the scrapbook effect. I think it affects the impact.
As a stand-alone publication, I believe Emmy + Gijs + Aldo lacked the depth that I anticipated. While the text covers the subject matter and provides some exciting visual associations and thought-provoking points of comparison, it does so within restricted parameters. I think an expanded coverage of this material, which is rich with possibilities and some concluding remarks could have added significant value. Although it may be difficult to address, I would have liked to have read Boelen’s thoughts on whether there was evidence of a genetic link here. Furthermore, I am curious about the exhibition and associated film since there was very little information available. What was on view at the Zuiderzee Museum? Were the same objects utilized or did Boelen make edits? There is no checklist included in the catalog to answer this question. In the end, I really wish I had seen the exhibition and film. Perhaps these experiences combined with the catalog would have answered my questions. If you decide to explore Emmy + Gijs + Aldo, my suggestion is to think of it as a launching point for your own investigation.