Centraal Museum Utrecht and Rietveld Schröder House, Utrecht, the Netherlands
Date of Visit: Spring Break, March 2004
Address: Nicolaaskerkhof 10, Utrecht
The 2010 International Rietveld Year concluded on January 30th but we’d like to reminisce about a past visit to the Centraal Museum and the Rietveld Schröder House. We realize that 2004 is ancient history—pre-Rietveld iPhone app and pre-virtual tour of Reitveld Schröder House—but the experience of actually visiting Rietveld’s work is probably pretty much the same.
We traveled by train from Amsterdam to Utrecht, a half hour trip that speeds by when you are traveling with a fellow designer who is an excellent conversationalist. Utrecht is a town dominated by the red brick buildings and orderliness. Nice buses ran on schedule but we opted for a taxi—time was short.
First stop was the museum, home of the world’s largest Rietveld collection. Upon entering we were awash in design: clean architecture, pretty banners and clear signage, all sorts of design touches including the Victor & Rolf designed denim suits worn by the staff.
Housed in a former medieval cloister, the museum consists of several buildings with a central courtyard. We made our ways through the well-organized displays, enjoying the almost visitor-free galleries. There were plenty of excellent examples of early 20th graphic design, De Stijl, Dada, etc. A number of design icons evoked a ‘so-that-is-what it-really-looks-like’ reaction. After seeing so many printed and digital reproductions we still feel that technology cannot replace personal observation.
How exciting it must have been to be part of the early 20th century avant-garde movement. A lot of energy and idealism was expressed through simple and cheap materials. There were pieces made from magazine and yellowed newspaper clippings that had faded—some of this work was made for the moment, not necessarily planned to be forever embalmed in a museum.
Professor Ocko’s eagle eye spotted a famous piece, usually attributed jointly to Kurt Schwitters and Theo van Doesburg, but here identified as solely as van Doesburg’s. The framing was a little suspect but who could question the attribution? Sorry the label is probably not legible; you’ll have to take our word for it.
Our main objective was to see Gerrit Rietveld’s work. The museum web site states that Rietveld “designed much more than only the classic Red-Blue chair and the famous Rietveld Schröder House. Rietveld realized more than one hundred buildings and many pieces of furniture.” Although currently an expanded exhibition, at the time of our visit there was less Rietveld. Most of the examples were from the 1920’s. The clunky appearance came partly from his use of standardized wood measures intended for mass production. His dual objectives of expressing the de Stijl philosophy and modularity were met—comfort appeared to be a lower priority. The big star, his chair, looks sweet and diminutive, like children’s furniture, especially as it was located near to his design for a child’s wagon.
Design Traveler & THE chair.
The chair is small but not as small as a recent reproduction by Maarten Meerman from Vancouver. (via Design boom)
Lunch was in the museum’s cafe—a combination sandwich/salad of smoked fish that you ate with a fork and knife — before hustling over to the Rietveld House. The building, commissioned by Truus Schröder-Schräder, is the only piece of architecture ever realized from the De Stijl movement. When we arrived we were disappointed to learn that the house was not open. We peeked into windows and photographed the outside, apparently the sort of behavior that Ms. Schröder-Schräder had to deal with endlessly when she inhabited the building. The house is situated at the end of a long block of traditional brick houses. I couldn’t help but wonder what the neighbors thought when they saw the radical new addition to their street. Fortunately we can see what me missed via a nice virtual tour. http://www.rietveldschroderhuis.nl/rondleidingEng.jsp
We returned to Amsterdam by train, energized like fans who’d seen one of their favorite movie stars. The day had been well spent . Some great images from the exhibition and house can be see on Designboom