Maarten Baas is an artist and designer, widely considered to be one of the most influential Dutch designers of the beginning of the 21st century. He is often described as an “author designer”, of which his works lie on the boundaries between art and design. His work is known as rebellious, playful, intellectual, theatrical and artistic. He has gained an autonomous position in the design field, and his work varies from conceptual designs, limited editions, production design, installations, public space, architecture, interior design, theatre design and performances. His works are in major museum collections, such as the MoMa, Victoria & Albert Museum, Les Arts Decoratifs, San Francisco MoMA, Die Neue Sammlung, Stedelijk Museum and Rijksmuseum. They can also be found in private collections of Brad Pitt, Kanye West, Ian Schrager and Adam Lindemann. He worked for exclusive brands, such as Louis Vuitton, Swarovski, Dior, Gramercy Park Hotel, Dom Ruinart and Berluti. From 2005, Baas has collaborated with Bas den Herder as his production partner. Most of his designs are handmade in the “DHPH” studio in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands.
Your career took off with a huge bang almost from the start and followed with one win after another - Smoke, Clay, Real Time, Designer of the year Miami, Baas is in Town, Swarovski, Louis Vuitton, Lasvit, MOMA, VA .... did you expect to be so successful when you started out and how do you stay focused on ‘today’? Smoke furniture was indeed a very sudden and very big success. Of course, I could not have expected that when I started, but when it was there, it drove me to use the global stage that I’d been given wisely. Even then, I could not predict if I could keep on making pieces that would be good enough to keep up with that level of expectation. I felt like I had something in my hands that could make a difference; that I could bring to life products that had the right to exist, whether or not they would be successful. I thought I’ll go all in, in the best way I can, by continually showing my next vision and works during Salone del Mobile in Milan. Milan has only one of two outcomes - bankruptcy or success. I still go all in with the things I do today. The question of how I stay focused on “today” is a matter of just doing that, only focussing on today, and do that with all I have.
Do you feel pressure to be successful every time you present new work and how do you manage the expectation? I’m very much aware that the pressure is chosen by myself. So, it’s a conscious choice, about which I wouldn’t complain. That would be like a mountain climber who says “oops, it’s very high!”, yeah, no shit it’s high, you went there because of the height. To manage the expectation is just to go as good as I possibly can, to give it the best I possibly can. Every now and then I choose to go for it, but not too regularly, because I know, if I go for it, it means three months of bad sleep, a lot of costs and anxiety to get the best out of it. So, I just choose, when I need to make a new project: do I want that, or shall I wait a bit..?
You are in a unique position of autonomy - you have spoken about not wanting to sit back and profit but to make things which make sense ... tells us more. I built up that unique position very consciously. I have never been totally in the hands of a gallery, or a brand or a bank, or a government, or a big staff to pay. I stay totally free from other forces in that sense. Also, in the context of the work, I never wanted to keep one certain style, it hops from one theme to the other, various materials, sizes, techniques. In working that way, I can make the things in which I truly believe should be made, rather than things of which I would guarantee a certain income or career. I think everyone has a certain core intuition, which through the years gets affected by influences from outside. That core intuition is the most important captain or guide, and therefore it should be cherished like a baby. It’s what makes the difference from one person to the other.
Smoke, Clay, Real Time, Baas is in Town, Carapace, 200 Years, Close Party are hugely innovative and different ... how do you decide on your direction at a particular time? I decide my direction in the moment itself. This is what makes me drive at this moment. If I don’t feel that drive, I don’t have any energy to put in it. Sometimes it’s tiring, because I have to reinvent the wheel over and over again, but it’s also the power that gives me energy to work on it.
In discussing your Designer of the Year Miami award, you gave credence to the judges recognising your holistic manufacturing approach - ‘the environment you exist in with your production team and the overall experience as opposed to just the innovative idea of Smoke’. Why is the holistic dynamic important for you? Everything in the world is dependent on each other. It’s like a human body. Our head is a bit overrated compared to the rest of our body, as if your body is vehicle to just carry your head, but it’s all equal. One can easily make the mistake to isolate the the surface from the rest, but that’s like beheading a body. My work, my name, my face, and even my person, is the surface of the actual job, but the foundation is in the team.
What is your approach to leadership for best results? I take the very first initiative - and the very last decision. Everything in between goes organically.
You have talked about your preference for the human scale of making and a love/hate relationship with mass production. Can you elaborate on what is lost when particular pieces “are aimed to be in every living room”? I have a lot of respect for designers who can do that in a good way, but they’re different than me. I’m more an expressionist rather than a functionalist. And in that case, it’s not good when one has to make many concessions in technical aspects, marketing, functionality, and so on, in order to make something that goes into every living room. In the end, you always get a kind of weak squeezed out non-product that doesn’t have anything to do with what I had in mind. A chef who aims for a special potato dish, shouldn’t end up making french fries.
Your studio is based on a farm - you have spoken about not wanting to be part of “the conceptual idea of an area for creatives” ... why wouldn’t that work for you? Ha! See question 3, and add “creative areas/masterplans” to the list of galleries, banks and so on. It’s about staying free.
What upcoming projects can we look forward to from your studio in 2018? I’m currently working on a project for Salone del Mobile in April. And actually a project from the studio is the actual studio itself, since I’m moving to a new place. This will be quite a bit of new playground for me. Also, my museum show Hide & Seek is going to travel twice this year. First stop is Ghent, Belgium.
What are the 3 best things about being Dutch? 1) It’s always sunny, 2) people are full of temperament and passion and 3) we have IKEA, LEGO, VOLVO and Manneken Pis.