This is Rietveld

Gerrit Thomas Reitveld was born on this day, 24 June 1888, here in Utrecht. The son of a joiner, he would go on to become a world-famous architect, designer, and principal player in the development of De Stijl artistic movement.

In celebration of his birthday, I thought I’d share a few (okay, probably a lot of) photos of his work. Although you can find numerous works of his on display at the Centraal Museum here in Utrecht, you can see a wide array of his architectural works here in Utrecht and throughout the country, and you’ll often be surprised when you learn it’s a Rietveld.
This is a Rietveld
Side View
… but this white building is also a Rietveld.
Oudkerkhof
This is a Rietveld
Chauffeur's House 65.365
… and this is a Rietveld. He even lived on the upper floor for a while.
Colourful Rietveld
These are all Rietveld.
Gerrit Rietveld Meubelen
Take a Seat
Gerrit Rietveld Meubelen
Rietveld Steltman Chair
Lego My Chair
These are also Rietveld:
Warm Glow
Gerrit Rietveld Meubelen
Gerrit Rietveld Meubelen
Even this is Rietveld:
Van Gogh Museum

As always, it’s a joy to celebrate the birthday of this tremendously talented artist and native of Utrecht.

Rietveld Chairs on Display at the Centraal Museum

Gerrit Rietveld MeubelenIn December of last year, the Centraal Museum was able to purchase the Prototype Low Chair (center) by Gerrit Rietveld’s at a Sotheby’s auction. The iron chair, which dates to c.1946-1950/52, was an experimentation by Rietveld in working with metal, using some of the techniques he had worked out in his usual use of molded plywood. Although the chairs go for large prices these days, they, like the designs by Ray and Charles Eames, were meant to be affordable through easy construction.

The Low Chair was one of a series of chairs that Rietveld exhibited in Denmark in the early years after World War II, and it was this exhibition that led to the overall design of the chairs being known as Danish chairs. The technical drawings for the Low Chair suggest that it was intended to be massproduced, but in the end, that particular design was not manufactured. However, the Danish chairs (the two flanking chairs in the photo) were produced.Gerrit Rietveld Meubelen
The Prototype Low Chair was recently put on display at the Centraal Museum, and having read the news stories about the purchase, it was nice to get to see the chair in person. It’s on display in a small room often dedicated to one or two individual Rietveld pieces.

However, there’s another room in the museum, the Van Baaren Zaal (Van Baaren Gallery), which features additional examples of Rietveld’s furniture designs. Amid the paintings in the room, which were collected by the Van Baaren family, the museum has placed examples of some of Rietveld’s furniture. The simple, modern shapes form an interesting contrast to the often traditional paintings in the collection. Take for instance, two variations of Rietveld’s Zigzag Chair that sit amid portraits and florals.Gerrit Rietveld MeubelenOther pieces currently on display include a sideboard/buffet piece that I am particularly fond of and would love to own a reproduction of someday. There are also additional chairs, and even a child’s wagon on display. Although only a small sampling of Rietveld’s work, it’s a nice selection of pieces.Gerrit Rietveld MeubelenGerrit Rietveld Meubelen
The Prototype Low Chair is on display until 13 April 2014. You can see all of the pieces in situ in this video from the Centraal Museum (in Dutch).

The Rietveld Steltman Chair

Rietveld Steltman Chair
A number of people visit my blog on a regular basis after searching for “Rietveld chairs”. Although I usually talk more about his architecture, I do have a few posts about his chairs. I saw examples of most, if not all, of them during the special Rietveld Year exhibit at the Centraal Museum, but it’s always nice to come across them individually, even as part of another exhibit at the museum.

That’s what happened Friday when I visited the Centraal Museum to see the Vrede van Utrecht exhibit (more about that in the future). Before seeing that exhibit, I took a look through another exhibit featuring art and artists related to Utrecht through the ages. There were some painting of Utrecht I haven’t come across before, as well as others that I’ve only seen online.

It wasn’t all painting, though. There were also pieces of furniture and even some clothing, including a pair of shoes that I am still coveting. Not surprisingly, though, there were a few Rietveld chairs on display. As well as the obvious Red-and-Blue Chair, they also had the Steltman Chair (pictured above).

This has always been one of my favorites, second only to the Utrecht chair. The various horizontal and vertical planes and the use of positive and negative space creates a chair that seems to shift and morph depending on the angle from which you view it. There’s a wonderful blog where someone has built a replica of Rietveld’s chair and he has a variety of photos showing just how much the chair changes, depending on the angle from which it’s viewed.

The chair is known as the Steltman Chair, because Rietveld built it in 1963 (shortly before his death in 1964) for the Steltman Jewelry Store in Den Haag (The Hague). In fact, Rietveld designed the whole interior of the Steltman showroom, the chair being just one aspect of it. You can see a photo of the Rietveld interior on the store’s website. You can also see one of the original chairs at the newly redesigned and reopened Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Celebrating Rietveld

Rietveld-Schröder HuisMost people familiar with architect/designer Gerrit Rietveld know his famous Rietveld-Schröder House, which was De Stijl made 3D. The principles of the art movement were brought to life in this unique home located just outside the old city center of Utrecht.

The iconic house was hardly the only building in Utrecht that Rietveld worked on, though. In fact, he was involved in a number of buildings right in the heart of the historic center. I’ve mentioned the building at Vredenburg, which was once a bioscoop/cinema, as well as Rietveld’s own home. However, he also worked on the renovation/facades of two buildings on the chic shopping street Oudkerkhof.

Oudkerkhof
The first is Oudkerkhof 27, the white building in the photo, which bears the distinction of being Rietveld’s first architectural assignment. He designed the shopfront for jeweller Cornelis Begeer. Particularly noticeable are the almost ornate, decorative details above the windows and on the supporting columns. The renovation was done in 1919, which fits the look of the decorative figures, who seem to fall between Art Nouveau and Art Deco.
Strictly Rietveld
Detail

Although this early building is a far cry from his later, more minimalist work, the building materials and construction do relate to his later work, such as the Chauffeur’s House. This jeweller’s shop project made use of an early type of prefabrication, which fit with many of Rietveld’s later construction ideals. Much of the facade was constructed in concrete in advance, based on a wooden mould.

A few years later, in 1924, Rietveld would remodel the Wessels & Zoon leather store shopfront just a few doors down at Oudkerkhof 15. The project involved uniting two separate building fronts into one unified ground level. With this project, we begin to see more of the characteristic Rietveld designs.
Wessels & Zn.
The Rietveld design was altered in 1950 to move the entrance to the middle, rather than the far right where he originally placed it. His design created a two-meter-high/eight-meter-wide front glass display, which was framed in bright blue and appears to be separate from the rest of the building. There was also a concrete beam at the center of the facade, which stuck out 50 centimeters. The ghost of that projecting beam remains, but now seems to be flush with the grey horizontal lintel. The now-grey lintel originally featured the name Wessels en Zoon in a font designed by Rietveld. The whole facade uses structural elements in a stylistic way to create a three-dimensional design that is both functional and visually interesting.

Here is what Rietveld’s original design looked like.
Rietveld Wessels en Zoon
(photo via Het Utrechts Archief)

All of this is my way of saying “Gefeliciteerd“, since Gerrit Thomas Rietveld was born here in Utrecht 125 years ago today, 24 June 1888. For more information about all of Rietveld’s building projects throughout the Netherlands, check out the Rietveld architecture app.

Time Travel: Rietveld’s Bioscoop

Vreeburg Bioscoop
(photo via Het Utrechts Archief)

One of my favorite Dutch words is bioscoop (cinema). It seems appropriate therefore that one of my favorite words should tie in with one of my favorite architects. You see, from 1936 until 1958, the top floor of this building is where Gerrit Rietveld lived. He was also responsible for the redesign of the building, including the fantastic facade.

The interior of the theater itself was glamorous neo-baroque, while the floor that the Rietvelds lived on was more in keeping with the Spartan simplicity of his preferred style. The facade is a fantastic modern design featuring light boxes covered in milk glass, which could be lit up each night to advertise the theater’s name: Vreeburg Bioscoop. The facade was both eye-catching and functional.

The building itself still stands, although the interior has been changed considerably. It no longer houses an ornate cinema and the Rietveld floor seems to have been taken over by a company called Internet Advantage. The ground floor is home to Esprit, selling clothing that always seems that little bit too expensive for what it is.

Fortunately, the light boxes remain. They may no longer spell anything out, but they do light up, changing colors from moment to moment. Amazingly, the light show doesn’t seem to be part of the Trajectum Lumen route. It’s just a nice bit of color and style, simply for the sake of it. As Oscar Wilde would say, art for art’s sake.

Colourful Rietveld

Rietveld Bioscoop

Save

In the News

There are a couple of recent stories that have caught my interest, with some of them having tie-ins to things I’ve posted about recently or in general. I thought I’d do a quick run-down here of some of the stories and why they’re of interest to me.

Tick Tock

First up is the news that the Domtoren is no longer signaling the quarter hour as it used to do. It seems that one of the pieces that is used for the automatic playing is damaged through normal wear and tear, so it won’t be used until it can be replaced. The current piece in question has been there since 1980. Fortunately, once the piece is replaced, the Domtoren will go back to chiming every 15 minutes.

Lego My Chair
Next up is the news that Rietveld’s famous Red and Blue Chair (seen here in a Lego version) is inspiring artists yet again. DWA, along with RnB, has used the chair as the basis for their redesign project:

The redesign project is an experiment into using music as inspiration in the design process, we ‘remix’ existing designs according to various musical genres, with the hope of making design as expressive as music.

I particularly like the RnB IKEA (pop) version of the chair, perhaps because of the interactive element, as well as the humor of it.

Headscarves
Finally, in somewhat more serious news, Queen Beatrix has been in Abu Dhabi this past week on a state visit, and while there she visited the Great Mosque. Naturally, she wore a headscarf/hijab (over her hat) as is required of any woman wishing to enter the mosque. Of course, members of the generally anti-Muslim PVV party decided to lambaste the queen for doing so, claiming she was legitimizing the suppression of women. The queen fired back that it was “echt onzin/sheer nonsense”.

As one of the articles about the story points out, “Ironically the party’s remarks came while Beatrix was in Abu Dhabi, one of the Islamic world’s most emancipated states, where two-thirds of university students and 70 per cent new business owners are women.”

As another article says, Wilders, the leader of the PVV, has certainly been known to wear a yarmulke when visiting synagogues, despite the fact that he is not Jewish. Depending on the branch of Judaism, there are sects where you could argue that there is similar suppression of women. For that matter, I remember lessons learned at a Southern Baptist school that also made it clear that women were lesser beings. In other words, Wilders and his supporters are being a bit hypocritical to say the least.

So, there’s my roundup of stories I’ve come across this week and found of interest. Hopefully, you found some of it at least vaguely interesting, as well. If you’re in Utrecht tomorrow, don’t forget it’s the kick-off of the monthly Cultural Sunday events held throughout the city. There’s always something interesting going on somewhere!

Oh, one last thing … Go Saints! (The New Orleans Saints are playing a play-off game tonight. Fingers crossed that they win!)

Rietveld and Van Gogh

Rietveld Does Van Gogh

A few weeks ago, while visiting Amsterdam with a friend, I finally visited the Van Gogh Museum. As we were standing in line to check our coats and bags, I couldn’t help but notice a couple of my favorite Rietveld chairs on display (up high) in the gift shop.

Rietveld en Van Gogh

I was curious as to why they were on display, but soon got distracted by the actual museum exhibits. There really is something thrilling to see the impasto of Van Gogh’s work. To see the swirls of paint colors and their dimensionality really does add a whole new level of connection to the paintings.

Still, after our trip through the museum, we couldn’t resist heading back to the gift shop to see what was on offer and I took the opportunity to look a bit more closely at the Rietveld chairs. I could just read the small sign next to the chairs that explained that Gerrit Rietveld (my beloved Utrecht architect and designer) was the designer for the main building of the Van Gogh Museum! I’ve been slowly checking off the various Rietveld-designed buildings here in Utrecht, but haven’t looked into many of his buildings outside the Utrecht region, thus my surprise. Also a good reminder that I need to look further into his other buildings throughout the country.

The Van Gogh Museum was Rietveld’s last commission, and in the end, he was only able to come up with the design before his death in 1964. His partners, Van Dillen and Van Tricht, carried out his plans, and the museum was opened in 1973. One of the main features of the building is the large central staircase that leads visitors through the multiple levels. It includes a skylight at the top that allows natural light to shine through. Or lets the grey light filter in, as it did on the overcast day we were there. Regardless, it’s an attractive, geometric, and nicely proportioned staircase.

The Rietveld chairs weren’t the only surprise at the museum gift shop. There was also one item that elicited a number of comments, most from people a bit horrified, finding the item tacky or in poor taste. I don’t know what it says about me, but I thought it was wonderfully irreverent and appreciated the sense of humor that the museum staff displays in stocking the item. See for yourself:
Twisted Fun

Yes, those are plastic key chains in the shape of an ear. Brilliant!

Van Gogh Museum

Van Gogh Museum Facade

The Chauffeur’s House That Rietveld Built

Chauffeur's House 65.365
While looking through some photo sets the other day, I remembered that I never did post about the Chauffeur’s House that Gerrit Rietveld built here in Utrecht. I went to see it back in March, but never posted more than a teaser. I think I got sidetracked trying to find more information about the building. It’s well-known enough, but harder to find a lot of details. I still haven’t found out all the information I’d like to know, but I might as well post what I do know and include some of the photos I took. I get quite a few visitors to my blog looking for Rietveld buildings, so might as well give them a bit more to ponder.

Red Door
The house, located at Waldeck Pyrmontkade 20, was built between 1927-1928. I’ve yet to find out who commissioned the structure, and I’m still not clear if the building is related to the house on the next street over. What I do know is that the house was a shift in Rietveld’s building style, in that he began focusing on prefabrication and standardized materials and construction. The building took only three weeks to build, as the main skeleton of the building consists of steel I-rods creating an almost De Stijl gridwork. Attached to the steel framework were pre-cast concrete panels speckled with enamel. All of the building components were standard items, purchased off-the-rack, so to speak. The plans and facade were based on a simple 1 x 1 meter module. Rietveld himself described the building as “an experiment in industrialized building”.

Squares

Ground Floor

This idea of standardization is something that appeared throughout much of Rietveld’s work. With his furniture designs, he explored ways to make items better suited for assembly line production. He also used standard materials, but in new ways. During this period, he was also exploring the concept of social housing, a concept that he called “standard dwelling”.

Chauffeur's House

Sun Room

In the end, the Chauffeur’s House developed some structural issues. The house soon became known as “the basket” or “the sieve”. The house as it stands now has been extensively renovated, but with care to maintain the building’s original appearance.

As with the Rietveld-Schröeder House, the Chauffeur’s House sits on an attractive street filled with more traditional structures. In both cases, the structure is somewhat dwarfed by its neighbours, yet stands out in its environment.

Hoek

That One Chair, That One House

Lego My Chair
Late last year, the Waar in Utrecht photo game got together with the Centraal Museum to do a special Rietveld in Utrecht version of the game. For eight rounds of the game, a detail of one of Rietveld’s buildings in the Utrecht region was posted and players had to guess the building. I tried for most rounds, but didn’t get lucky in having my name picked from the winners until the very last round. The prize for each round was two free tickets to the Rietveld Universum exhibit at the Centraal Museum, along with a gift pack of some sort. Because of the holidays and other distractions, I didn’t end up going until this past Sunday, technically the last day of the exhibit. (The exhibit turned out to be so popular that they extended it for an extra two weeks, now running through 13 February.)

That One Chair, That One House

The exhibit is an interesting and informative display of both Rietveld’s design and architectural works, as well as works from his contemporaries, showing his influence or the general influences of the time. Keeping with the colors of De Stijl (an art movement he was associated with, to one degree or another), the majority of the exhibit is surrounded by light grey walls and Rietveld’s works, specifically, were put against a grey backdrop/platform, while the work of his contemporaries was put against a white backdrop. It’s a simple, yet useful way to exhibit the work of multiple artists, while remaining cohesive and clear. Simple, yet effective! The walls also featured quotes by Rietveld or by his contemporaries about Rietveld, in both Dutch and English. Above is one part of a discussion about the idea of the “Echte Rietveld”, the idea of clients wanting a “real” Rietveld building, even though the reality is that his own style changed somewhat from building to building. I particularly liked the last line, the way it seems to sum up his career into “that one chair and that one house.” Just on the surface, it may seem like an accurate summation: he’s best known for the red and blue chair (pictured above, in Lego form!), and for the Rietveld-Schröder House, which I’ve mentioned before.

Red

The reality is that his work was so much more than just those two items. In fact, as I have learned more about both Rietveld and Utrecht, I’ve been amazed to realize how involved and influential a figure he was. He built numerous buildings or building facades throughout the Netherlands, not just Utrecht. He also designed a variety of fantastic chairs and lamps, and other items of furniture, including one lamp that G and I fell in love with at first sight.
The Lamp
Take a Seat
Along with the chairs and building models (that Rietveld himself made), and the architectural plans and work from other designers and architects, the exhibit included general photos on the backs of some of the exhibits, featuring images of cultural and political highlights of the time period associated with the work Rietveld was doing. There were also short film loops shown, including factory work, shopping at the V&D, and other time-capsule type films. They were fascinating to watch and really did help further the ideas being described through Rietveld’s work.
Toekomst
Another element to the exhibit was the inclusion of little audio pods you could take with you and turn on by holding them next to designated spots throughout the exhibit. You would then hear actual recordings of Rietveld (or a translation if you got the English-language pod) describing some of the ideas and background of certain pieces. Often, they were a bit humorous at times. It was a nice way to add another interactive and informative element to the exhibit, without being tedious and tying you down for any one spot or order.

I really enjoyed the exhibit, and while I didn’t learn a lot of new things — because I’ve done a lot of reading about Rietveld and the other artists — I appreciated getting to see his work in comparison with others and in conjunction with the time periods themselves. Getting an idea of how other artists viewed him was also fascinating. In other words, it’s an excellent exhibit, whether you know a little or a lot about the man. The exhibit will be travelling on to Rome in April. If you can’t see it here in Utrecht, then go see it in Rome! It’s definitely worth seeing and experiencing.

Prize Pack
As for my prize pack, the woman at the ticket counter wasn’t sure what was in it when we first arrived and I gave her the e-mail that said I had won tickets and a prize pack. While we were off looking at the exhibit, she said she would find out and have it waiting for me when we were done. Sure enough, it was waiting for me when we were ready to leave. I got a black tote bag, a mouse pad, a poster, and a coffee mug. I’ve used the mug a lot since then. Funnily enough, a day or two before we went to the exhibit, I ended up getting the exhibit poster that was hanging in the bathroom at the Potdeksel. I had been coveting it, and since the exhibit was ending (or at least the dates on the poster didn’t show the extension), I was able to get the poster that night. Who knew I’d end up getting another copy in my prize pack! If I can find a mailing tube, I may yet give away the extra poster here on my blog.

Day in the Sun

Sunny Universe 28.365
Look at all that blue! And that’s a photo taken today! That cloudless blue sky couldn’t have come at a better time! Well, it could stick around this weekend so that I can further enjoy it, especially since I’m a bit too tired after a late night out last night to truly get out and appreciate it, but I’ve still enjoyed it today.

The blue banners are for the Rietveld Universum exhibit at the Centraal Museum. Officially, it’s supposed to end this weekend, but I believe it has been extended for two more weeks, so if you’re in Utrecht and haven’t been yet, you should definitely go! I’m planning on going this weekend, either tomorrow or Sunday. I believe the exhibit is moving on to Rome in the spring. Appropriate, since there’s been quite a bit of cross-over and influence between Utrecht and Italy in terms of art over the years. I got to see an exhibit about the Utrecht School of painting and the influence Italian art had on it during one of my last visits to the museum.

Either later today or tomorrow, I’ll post about The Phoenix Foundation concert we went to last night. For now I’ll simply saw that it was absolutely fantastic and I’m so glad I got to see them again.