Nominated by Ineke Hans:
MOOOI EN ERWIN OLAF
for The Unexpected Welcome, Milan 2013
I nominate Moooi and Erwin Olaf’s 2013 Milan exhibition for its stunning, majestic quality and its intense imaginative appeal.
Moooi is a Dutch design brand art-directed by Marcel Wanders that enjoys success worldwide. The company exhibits its new collection each year in Milan at the Salone Internazionale del Mobile. Erwin Olaf has been photographing various Moooi campaigns for years, in an often grand and compelling but sometimes also brazen and multifarious way.
Moooi’s 2013 presentation highlighted this longtime collaboration. It was staged in a 1,700m2 showroom hung with 4.5m-high canvases printed with photographs by Olaf. Products were arranged in finely balanced groups on large stages, as if in different rooms of a house. In the background, Olaf’s imposing, larger-than-life portraits of men, women, youths and children gazed out, by turns appearing solitary, uncanny, dreamy and distant.
Olaf’s studio work displayed the personal, subtle, restrained signature the photographer has developed in recent years. It is a style that moves and fascinates the viewer. The products in Moooi’s installations were perfectly attuned to each other but showed no obvious link with the images of Erwin Olaf.
And yet the photographs and installations fused, as it were, into associative three-dimensional still lifes. The viewer felt like a voyeur spying on the absent residents of a house, who at the same time were distinctly present thanks to the portraits.
With the photography and the product installations veering off in separate directions, the exhibition evoked a mood of confusion. Searching for rationality and meaning in an effort to come to grips with it all, the viewer was blown away by the uncanny and the alienating. The associative settings were open to personal interpretation. While not over the top, the exhibition was bizarre, in possession of a meticulous and affectionate sense of detail, and most of all majestic and highly elegant. It left me speechless.
This nomination was in large part driven by a gut feeling, and this is a compliment. Art’s relationship to design has long been subject to discussion. Whether one can be the other will be left an open question for now. Either way, it is a fact that in this exhibition in Milan the two disciplines came together and strengthened each other’s autonomy. For me, it serves as a model of how a presentation staged by a commercial brand can possess a strongly artistic quality without compromising either artistry or accessibility.
Everything about this exhibition seemed right. With the Rijksmuseum reopening in the Netherlands in the same week, more than anything, it called to mind the wealth, beauty and modesty of Vermeer’s women. An achievement like this can come about only when work of equal calibre is produced by both parties.