Museum director Erik Schilp sees the future in the past
Kate Sekules -- Interior Design, 6/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
Erik Schilp taking in the landscape 20 miles northeast of Amsterdam.Photo by Chris Pennarts.
It's hard to imagine the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation letting a cadre of avant-garde designers make merry with the historicist interiors there. But that's more or less what happened when Erik Schilp took charge of the Zuiderzee Museum outside Amsterdam. The 33-acre history village, composed of 169 buildings, re-creates the centuries-old fishing, farming, and artisanal lifestyle that died when the Zuiderzee was dammed in 1932. Although Schilp saw potential in the project, he knew it would be tough.
Hugo Kaagman's tile installation at the Netherlands's Zuiderzee Museum, which Erik Schilp transformed as director. Photo by Erik and Petra Hesmerg.
"The place was old-fashioned, sleepy. Running it wouldn't be the coolest thing to do," he says. At 41 years old, he's certainly done many cool things himself—producing theater; distributing films; directing the Diaghilev Festival, bringing together work by collaborators of the ballet impresario; fund-raising for Leiden University; managing a restaurant-club in Spain; and even modeling in Argentina. "But I thought it could be interesting," he adds, "to combine the traditional with the present-day."
The 33-acre museum's 19th-century buildings. Photo by Erik and Petra Hesmerg.
The Zuiderzee is now a living, breathing design playground. Step into a fusty farmhouse, and you might find Studio Job's farm icons in bronze and rosewood: a chicken, an egg in a cup, a boot. "This was the first time that Job Smeets and Nynke Tynagel presented in a 19th-century environment, not a white cube. They loved it. Their work is often criticized for being too far out, but in fact they always draw on tradition, on something forgotten," Schilp explains. "Contemporary designs mean more when they're presented side by side with the crafts that gave rise to them." In another house, around the corner from Studio Job, a seemingly traditional tiled room turns out to be an installation of Hugo Kaagman's "Dutch tribal art" depicting, for example, a backpacker on a bicycle and Michael Jackson standing amid windmills and tulips, all in a pretty Delft blue.
All 100 mannequins lined up along the Enkhuizen dike. Photo by Jaime Vinas.
Hella Jongerius, Piet Oudolf, Viktor & Rolf's Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren, and Atelier Van Lieshout's Joep van Lieshout are among the other Dutch talents who jumped at the chance to flaunt their roots at the Zuiderzee. The sight of 100 towering mannequins, dressed in billowing black designs by local fashion students and lined up along a dike, would have been unimaginable before Schilp's tenure and is characteristic of his humor and verve. "I'm the medieval court jester, a mirror to show people that change is needed," he explains. "That's how society progresses. Change is not the natural state of people."
Two of the waterproof garments commissioned from Dutch fashion students and displayed on 20-foot-tall mannequins.Photo by Jaime Vinas.
Change is, apparently, the natural state of Erik Schilp. Just 10 months after the reopening of the Zuiderzee, he left to take on the directorship of the future National Historical Museum in Arnhem. One of his first tasks is to launch an international architecture competition for a 320,000-square-foot building. And the winner had better be good at sharing. "I don't think a museum of this magnitude should have just one signature—it's good to be able to recognize a moment in time. We're getting artists involved with the interior as well. It should be a Gesamtkunstwerk," he says. He also plans to redefine historical museum. "People think their own past has nothing to do with history, but history is understanding where you are now. Objects seen as boring and old-fashioned suddenly get a different meaning when seen in the context of the present," he continues.
Studio Job's farm icons in bronze and rosewood.Photo by Erik and Petra Hesmerg.
Lest all this success go to his head, he has curated his own dining room with some cautionary art, Caspar Berger's bronze of Pope Innocent X tensely gripping the arms of his throne as in the portrait by Diego Velázquez. Every morning, Italian pontiff and Dutch museum director have breakfast together.
TACCHINI: TABLES, CHAIRS.
VÄVERIET: CHAIR FABRIC.
DAVID TRUBRIDGE: WALL FIXTURE (STAIRWELL).
FLOS: PENDANT FIXTURES (GUEST ROOMS).
MARRE MOEREL DESIGN STUDIO: WALL VASES.
SWEDESE MÖBLER: CHAIRS, TABLE (CONFERENCE ROOM).
ÖRSJÖ BELYSNING: LAMPS.
OLLE WÄSTBERG: TASK LAMP (GUEST ROOM).
BOFFI: CUSTOM SINK (BATHROOM).
VOLA: SINK FITTINGS.
HÖGANÄS: CUSTOM TILE.
MOOOI: TABLE, PENDANT FIXTURE?(HALL).
FLUX: LINEAR FIXTURES (HALL).
ERSEUS ARKITEKTER; GUNHILD SKOOG JÄGBECK: BUILDING ARCHITECTS.
HUVUDKONTOR PEAB: GENERAL CONTRACTOR.