Column by Lucas Verweij
Many books have been written about Dutch Design. The subject has been declared dead time and again. It has often been concluded that national identity can never form a serious concept other than nation branding. There are designers who have loudly declared they want nothing more to do with Dutch Design, only to exhibit under the same flag.
It is possible to change your nationality, but not your voluntary (or involuntary) participation in Dutch Design. This has turned the term into something of a stigma, a concept with which many participants do not wish to be associated. It is a qualification similar to that of socialist or fast food; one that is well intended, but that comes awfully close to being a curse word.
The concept of Dutch Design is not controlled by a single person or body. In the heyday of Droog Design (1993-2008), at least there was a related label that was being well curated, and Dutch Design took advantage of this. It surreptitiously hitched its wagon to the Droog Design wagon train. But since the decline of Droog, there has been no one to give the concept of Dutch Design direction. It has become rudderless, which is risky for designers, because they don’t know what they are a part of or where it is going.
I remember that in my youth Danish design was always presented with self-confidence and aplomb, but I already thought it was boring back then. It was over the hill, yet the Danish failed to realize it. They continued to publish books and rent stands at exhibitions. Everyone was tired of strict modernism (as demonstrated by Memphis), but the Danish were persistent. I am discussing this doom scenario because it is what awaits the Dutch. One day we will wake up and realize that Dutch Design is being laughed at behind our backs. A concept will only be reinvented when there is a necessity to do so. Following a disastrous world championship, sports teams are overhauled and trainers are dismissed. In essence, the creative industry is no different. But first, we will have to be laughed at.
On the other hand, in this globalizing world, rigid national identities are flourishing once again. It seems impossible to name a country without political populists. Associating artistic characteristics with national identity – which is the crux of Dutch Design – can now be labelled a populist and nationalistic act. The political dimension of ‘Dutch Design’ is not cheerful, not liberal, and not conceptual.
Perhaps the explanation behind the tenacity of Dutch Design is even more banal: it is an alliteration and it has only one syllable. Hungarian Design sounds a lot less powerful than Dutch Design. We share this phonetic, alliterative advantage with the Danes and the Djibutis. But in the one-syllable alliteration, we stand alone. We simply have the best-sounding brand. So, it will most likely endure for some time. I apologise, but I am unable to offer a solution.
This column was published in The Dots magazine nr. 16 published during the Milan Design Week 2019.