The Power of objects(s)

What is design? And what is Belgian design? When does a product become an icon, the image of which sticks in everyone's mind? How does it become a bestseller (a term usually used for books)? Why doesn't every icon become a bestseller and vice- versa? How has it come about that, after a century of being ignored, Belgian design is suddenly doing so exceedingly well abroad? These are just a few of the many questions to be raised at The Power of Object(s), an exhibition that is centred on the concept of "success".

On the initiative of Danny Venlet, himself a leading Belgian designer, MAD Brussels (Mode and Design Center) and ING Belgium are combining forces in this ambitious, not-to-be-missed event. This will open during the coming Design September Festival, and promises to become a top cultural autumn attraction.

The exhibition takes place at the ING Art Center, Place Royale, 1000 Brussels. It is now difficult to keep up with the number of talented designers in Belgium who are also internationally acclaimed. Since one ultimately has to draw the line somewhere, the organisers have chosen a group of 25 current Belgian designers who are as representative as possible.

Although design now spans almost every conceivable sector of our daily life, the choice has been limited to furniture, household goods and product design – just to keep the story as accessible as possible.

Easyrider

And last but not least, the participating designers were not selected solely on the basis of their name, fame, or what they represent, but more especially on the number of products they have already brought to the market in the course of their careers. Because designing without creating a product that actually ends up with the target group, is really pretty futile.

What constitutes the essence of design – and thus the difference with art – is precisely the combination of the ”lowest common multiple” of the ideal that the designer originally envisioned with the numerous and frequently opposing desires and interests of the many for whom the design is ultimately intended. The process from designer to producer and user is what determines the essence of design. The objective of The Power of Object(s) exhibition is to highlight these aspects for the first time.

Three objects for each designer

For each designer, three designs have been chosen that are allocated to the same number of categories. A first category, icons, consists of products that are considered by the designer as emblematic of his own body of work, or through public opinion are most readily associated with the designer. The other two categories go under the heading 'bestsellers'. One of these categories displays the product that has sold best according to the designer, and the other, the product with the biggest margin.

Conclusion: the designer's best-known product is not necessarily that which sells best or is the most profitable, and vice-versa. Why is that? That is the question that this exhibition is intended to investigate. The interviews with the designers, which are included in a handy visitor guide and video among other things, go more deeply into this question.

Observations

First observation: the designer's best-known product is not necessarily that which sells best or is the most profitable, and vice-versa. Why is that? That is the question that this exhibition is intended to investigate. The interviews with the designers, which are included in a handy visitor guide and video among other things, go more deeply into this question.

Second observation: the fact that a designer also always has to take account of the interests and preferences of many others does not necessarily result in lower quality. On the contrary, as the exhibition The Power of Object(s) clearly illustrates, a new generation of Belgian designers is also able to wonderfully combine the many interests and desires into something that at the same time surpasses and integrates this multiplicity of demands. The ease with which this alchemy comes to fruition in their work largely explains the sudden and overwhelming international success of this generation Belgian designers.

Danny Venlet and the Easyrider

Design in Belgium

It is a fact that in Belgium, where people like to enjoy the good life, the design market is very different than, for example, in the Netherlands with a Calvinist past, and designers here are much more driven by the obsession to work for the market. In this respect, it is relevant that many Belgian designers have set up their own production company. This explains why they are also less inclined to think in purely theoretical terms, which, through the 'rejection' of the 'material' world, would soon result in the loss of all functionality. At the intersection of two cultures, North and South, over the years, Belgium has uniquely raised concepts such as perspective and compromise to become the essence of its existence, rejecting long-winded theories and movements.

Rather than a manifesto, at its best a Belgian design object is, a poetical controversial object, which wants to simultaneously allure and irritate; a bundle of contradictions. That such a product is less mediagenic than many a prototype, that with its radical nature does not have to concern itself with other interests, can also largely explain why, in spite of its qualities, Belgian design has been maligned and forgotten for so long. Without justification because, of course, these young Belgian designers have not just suddenly appeared from nowhere. They were preceded by a long tradition that over the years created a completely own attitude, call it a Belgitude. But that is another story that still has to be written, and for which The Power of Object(s) provides an excellent start.

Designers presented at the exhibition

Curator

Danny Venlet, Designer and Artistic Director of MAD Brussels

Co-curator ING

Patricia De Peuter, Senior Art Advisor, Head of Art Management ING Belgium

Practical information

Dates and opening times Open from 4 September 2014 to 11 January 2015.

Every day, including public holidays, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays until 9 p.m.

ING Art Center, Mont des Arts, Place Royale 6 1000 Brussels

Power of Objects