Just how exclusive is design, and why should design classics not be copied, adapted or extended? These are the kinds of questions that fascinate Bas van Beek (b. 1974), winner of the Stokroos Ceramics Stipend. His work, which touches on design, architecture, visual art and commerce, often causes a stir, and that is precisely what he wants: to unleash debate about the status of contemporary and historic design. From Berlage to Disney, and from disposable items to famous bodies of work, Van Beek copies, alters, adds to and expands, presenting them all on the same platform in his first museum retrospective.
Bas van Beek is something of an oddity in the design world. Unlike others, he never begins with a blank sheet of paper, but always builds on what is already there. The appropriation and transformation of other people’s designs is an essential part of Van Beek’s practice, a strategy for questioning the status of heritage and a way of enabling it to live on and acquire new meaning. The focus of the exhibition at Kunstmuseum Den Haag is Van Beek’s works in ceramics and glass, or ‘the arts of fire’ as former museum director Hendrik Enno van Gelder once referred to them, which are the basis of the museum’s applied arts collection. The title Fire, Fire, Fire! is a nod to this description, and also to Van Beek’s deliberately provocative work practice, as he regularly sets fire to industry conventions, adapting existing designs to convey his message.

Layered and visually attractive
The exhibition also includes new work, including a coffee set by Van Beek, designed specially for Kunstmuseum Den Haag with the support of the Stichting Stokroos ceramics stipend. It is based on items from Kunstmuseum Den Haag’s collection and other museum collections, including a 1920s inkwell by De Bazel, and 1960s airline tableware designed by Joe Colombo and Ambrogio Pozzi. They provided the inspiration for three modular cups and saucers (for espresso, coffee and cappuccino), decorated with stylised ornamental designs by the museum’s architect Berlage, which will be introduced in the museum café in 2021, to comply with Van Beek’s wish to design something for a museum collection that is not “headed straight for the repository”.

The coffee set is a true Van Beek, layered and visually attractive. He has now amassed a large body of work featuring striking designs in which the original always echoes somewhere in the background. The retrospective at Kunstmuseum Den Haag will offer visitors surprising new ways of taking a different look at historical objects, particularly the museum’s collection of twentieth-century ceramics and glass.

Bas van Beek – Fire, Fire, Fire! is the first in a series of ceramics stipends that Kunstmuseum Den Haag will be organising over the coming years in collaboration with Stichting Stokroos. The exhibition is also sponsored by Cor Unum Ceramics and the Creative Industries Fund.