The average Dutch Design addict may have heard of Atelier Van Lieshout. So had I. I knew the work of the Atelier: its art and design. And of the design pieces, the AVL Shaker Chair was the one I knew best.

When I worked at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, I sometimes floated around the design department for a shot of Eames, Rietveld, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. During those rounds, I always gave Michelle de Lucchi’s Memphis the evil eye (a personal trauma that I will reflect upon in my next column) and I usually ended my tour at the display of iconic chairs, and there it was in all its simplicity: the Shaker. A bold, wooden and oddly comfortable chair and, more interestingly, it had terrorist links… 

When I started working at Atelier Van Lieshout, I didn’t have a clue that Joep, a sculptor, ended up creating design by accident. Nor did I know that his first designer piece was made for a terrorist. 

In 1998 Joep created a large art installation called The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: a mobile installation that included the hideout of the Unabomber (a lone-wolf terrorist and activist, who scared most of the world population). It was actually Joep’s idea of the Unabomber’s home, because at that time nobody had a clue what the place looked like. In line with Joep’s thoughts, as a fellow activist, the place was efficiently refurbished with a bed, a desk and a chair. A practical approach because, according to Joep, an activist writes pamphlets and therefore needs a desk and a chair.  

When the work was shown in an exhibition, kismet struck. Design producer Hans Lensvelt passed the installation, looked inside and instantly phoned Atelier Van Lieshout. His request: to produce the chair and to make it part of the Lensvelt collection. It became the birth of a design classic and the starting point of Joep’s career as a designer as well as an artist. 

Considering the fact that the design was born by chance, it is interesting to consider that part of my day-to-day job now is to roam around the Atelier to scout design classics in the making. Joep still never decides to design; he always starts sculpting, playing with materials, forms and ideas. The result can just as easily be a large penis as a lamp or a bench. 

My current favourite in the making is a club chair that started as megalomaniac monster from steel and concrete, but which recently got a little brother that you can actually put in your home without risking a hole in the floor and a fight with the downstairs neighbours. My colleagues’ favourite is the modern take on an easy chair. Maybe it is a form of nostalgia: most people’s grandparents had one of those chairs, and when visiting you’d have loads of fun pressing the buttons to launch your feet in the air. Obviously, the buttons are still there in Joep’s take on the chair, but this version looks a whole lot better. 

Scouting days are always fun; the magic of not knowing what will be next is probably what I like best. It is like treasury hunting without a map, but often with a treasure chest filled with creativity at the end of it. You, dear reader, will have to wait a little longer, but in Milan you’ll probably get a chance to do go on a treasure hunt yourself. Happy hunting!


By Eva Olde Monnikhof
The director of AVL-Mundo reports on the daily cauldron of Atelier Van Lieshout.


This production was published in WOTH No3. This issue is still available in english via Bruil & van der StaaijOr get a subscription here!

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The good, the bad, and the ugly — By van Lieshout