Aldo Bakker by NY Times!

Author: // 15-Nov-2011 14:05

Design critic Alice Rawsthorn wrote about Aldo and his exhibition at Perimeter in the New York Times and International Herald Tribune.

Keyed to Detail, No Matter How Crazy

AMSTERDAM — At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be anything unusual about it. But if you look closely at the side of the bench, you will see that the supporting panel seems to be squashed by the weight of the seat, as if it was made of a softer material than solid walnut wood.

“It is those tiny details that are important to me,” said Aldo Bakker, the 40-year-old Dutchman who designed the bench. “I love having the freedom to pay attention to every detail in my work, no matter how crazy. It’s a big challenge for a designer to come up with intelligent objects, which will last, and they need to have a certain amount of complexity, so you can unravel them — layer by layer — over time.”

Poise, as the walnut bench is called, is one of a series of thoughtful new pieces that Mr. Bakker has developed in his Amsterdam studio for an exhibition that opens Friday at the gallery Perimeter in Paris and runs to Jan. 15. There is never anything showy about his work, which includes glassware and ceramics as well as furniture, yet each object has a quiet confidence, as if every element has been resolved with nothing left to chance.

One stool to be shown at Perimeter is carved from a single block of oak. Another combines three seemingly identical types of wood, whose differences will become evident as they age. A series of lacquered objects was made using the rare Urushi method in which about 30 layers of lacquer are applied to each piece over six months. Another very old, very slow process produced a collection of slender copper vessels. Mr. Bakker devotes months, sometimes years, to puzzling over such details, and to tracking down artisans who understand what he hopes to achieve and have the skills to execute it.

He is one of the new wave of designers who could be called design-auteurs for the same reason that François Truffaut dubbed his generation of experimental French filmmakers “auteurs” in 1954, because they treat their work as a medium of self-expression. Mr. Bakker has chosen to do so by developing his own versions of domestic objects that are used every day.

“I can express all the things I need to in them,” he explained. “Those objects are very primal. We all need something to sit on. We all need something to eat off. And if we have to have those things why not give them the same attention that artists give to their work?”

Just as Mr. Bakker devotes a long time to developing each of his pieces, he himself had a lengthy introduction to design. He was born into the design elite as the only child of the avant-garde jewelry designers Emmy van Leersum and Gijs Bakker. His mother died in 1984, when he was in his teens, and his father went on to co-found the influential Droog Design group in the mid-1990s. By then, Mr. Bakker had decided to work in design, but had dropped out of three design schools. “The longest I lasted was eight months,” he said. “I never seriously doubted whether design was my field, but maybe I had to push against my father to discover my own territory.”

The first step was to join the Utrecht studio of the jewelry maker Willem Noyons. “He was a great craftsman and there was a lot of knowledge in the studio,” Mr. Bakker recalled. “I started working there four days a week making silver spoons and bowls, with peace and quiet to think about my own work. You develop a certain sensitivity from spending whole days polishing one thing. You are so close to the object that you can smell it and feel it. You know that if you do something on one side, it will have a consequence somewhere else.”

After eight years there, he left in 1999 to design the interior of a restaurant, and was offered a solo show the following year at the Binnen Gallery in Amsterdam. “It had been my dream to show there, but it was too much, too ambitious for me at the time,” he said. “I ended up in a big black hole and it took years to get out of it.”

Eventually he recovered, and started teaching at Design Academy Eindhoven (one of the schools he had quit as a student) while developing small collections of objects, mostly for Thomas Eyck, the eponymous company founded by a friend, and for the Particles gallery in Amsterdam.

He began with drinking glasses and spent several years finding a glassmaker capable of producing each piece in exactly the same thickness of laboratory glass. Finally, he found one, Petran, in the Czech Republic. An equally arduous search eventually flushed out a ceramicist, Frans Ottink in the Dutch city of Amersfoort, who could produce fine porcelain in the extreme forms designed by Mr. Bakker.

The result is a series of plain white pieces, each made from a single piece of porcelain in a seemingly simple, but subtly complex shape, defined entirely by how it will be used. The milk jug pours from the side, not the top, to avoid dust collecting on the surface. The rim of the salt cellar varies in height to ensure that the salt disperses evenly. The olive oil platter is designed to rub oil gently on to bread, rather than risk it drowning in oil. Each object nestles comfortably in the user’s hand.

As the mid-20th-century American designer Charles Eames once said: “The details are not the details. They make the product.” Mr. Bakker’s work endorses that belief, yet he is equally obsessive about fusing each detail into a coherent whole. “If you look at one of my objects and all you see is its complexity, then I have failed,” he said. “The details are important, but so is the question of how they relate to each other, so the finished object seems to be at ease.”

Link to the article

A version of this article appeared in print on November 14, 2011, in The International Herald Tribune with the headline: Keyed to Detail, No Matter How Crazy.
Photo credits , Carafe and Poise: Erik and Petra Hesmer

  • Aldo Bakker by NY Times!
  • Aldo Bakker by NY Times!
  • Aldo Bakker by NY Times!
  • Aldo Bakker by NY Times!
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