17 April 2023 - 22 April 2023
In April 2023, Nieuwe Instituut and Triennale Milano present an installation devoted to Droog, the iconic Dutch design brand. During the Salone del Mobile design fair in Milan, the curators mark Droog’s 30th anniversary by revisiting its striking furniture, home accessories, lighting and other products – complete with tales of their creation and reception. On the basis of the retrospective, the curators also reflect on developments in the design and media landscape in recent decades.
If today’s social media had existed 30 years ago, Droog would certainly have known what to do with it. With its combination of social themes, unexpected finds, magnetic visual language and playful humour, the designers forming this loose-knit collective would surely have had fun with Droog’s followers. The aim was to create remarkable designs for everyday objects, to make the ordinary extraordinary. You could say they were the original design influencers. When they debuted under the name Droog at the 1993 Salone, their objects were audacious and unconventional; now, they are considered icons of ‘Dutch Design’. So how would people react today to Droog’s designs, which were once so controversial and later became models for the mainstream? The installation can be seen from May in the Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam.
“ If today’s social media had existed 30 years ago, Droog would certainly have known what to do with it. With its combination of social themes, unexpected finds, magnetic visual language and playful humour, the designers forming this loose-knit collective would surely have had fun with Droog’s followers. ”
In the 1990s, when design was mainly functional or decorative, Droog’s designers created a design language that gave their works a pronounced autonomy. Furniture and product designs became works of art with their own story to tell. They referenced not only previous designers, but also broader social questions and political issues. With all this, Droog initiated a movement that would become the new benchmark for popular mainstream design. Looking back over the last three decades, it’s clear that this wasn’t a temporary trend, but a shift in mindset that reshaped the entire discipline forever.
Mischievous, unexpected and sometimes ironic, decades on Droog objects still feel exuberant and yet quite natural. In 1991’s famous Chest of Drawers, for example, Tejo Remi ties found drawers together with a strap and so seems to elevate them to a work of art. Since 1999, Marijn van der Poll’s cube-shaped Do Hit Chair, which comes with a sledgehammer, has been inviting every owner to embark on a kind of performance that makes the chair a one-off and completely their own. Then there’s the nod to craftsmanship of Marcel Wanders’ Knotted Chair from 1996 and the more recent Glass Lantern (2013) by Richard Hutten, who reimagines the traditional Chinese rice paper lantern. The name that curator Renny Ramakers and designer Gijs Bakker thought up in 1993 remains appropriate for all of these. The designs are – even if you’re seeing them for the first time in 2023 – contrary, witty, disruptive and uncompromisingly droog, or dry.
About the installation
For the installation, curators Maria Cristina Didero and Richard Hutten, one of the founders of Droog and also the installation designer, are creating a sort of spatial translation of a Twitter feed. As a visitor, you step into a three-dimensional spectrum of opinion. This allows the curators to make the Droog mentality tangible and comprehensible: still unafraid of strong reactions and swimming against the current. Stories have been included about (post)modern Droog classics. In Hutten’s design, you can leave your opinion about it live on location and via the Twitter account @DROOG30. The installation recaptures the public debate that these days seems to take place mainly online and links it to the analogue spatial interventions through which Droog designers have expressed themselves for decades.
About social media use
For online information, communication and marketing, organisations rely on the platforms of Big Tech. Nieuwe Instituut is researching ways for companies, institutions, governments and individuals to become less dependent on these commercial and often controversial technology giants. For example, the institute recently joined the PublicSpaces coalition, which brings together a variety of cultural and media organisations to consider the development of alternative digital tools based on public values.