"Modern Dutch Design" Envelopes the Wolfsonian for Miami Art Week

Drive by the Wolfsonian on Washington Avenue in South Beach, and you’ll see something unusual. The typically plain, sleek façade of the Mediterranean-revival-style building is covered with colorful patterns that are nearly psychedelic but ordered with geometries, representative of Dutch artist Christie van der Haak’s signature tapestry and batik-style work. Walk inside the museum’s lobby, and you’ll be enveloped by these same patterns covering the walls, the floor, and the ceiling. It’s overwhelming. And it’s wonderful.

Van der Haak, a contemporary artist and designer who started off as a painter in the '80s, says, “I use all the colors of the world... What happens when people see the work is that they become happy. You want to stay in the surroundings. It doesn’t matter what your background is, all people feel something with the patterns.”

More Is More, van der Haak’s installation, is the perfect complement to the Wolfsonian’s new exhibit, "Modern Dutch Design," which opened earlier this week. The exhibit follows design in the Netherlands from 1890 to 1940, tracing the development of important Dutch movements such as Nieuwe Kunst, the Amsterdam School, and De Stijl. Van der Haak says, “The collection upstairs, they are my brothers and sisters in the past. So I would really love that I could live in their time and speak with them.”

Located on the museum's sixth floor, "Modern Dutch Design" presents more than 200 works, including furniture, glassware, architectural models, metalwork, posters, and drawings, all revealing how artists and designers responded to radical shifts in social and political life. The exhibition greets visitors with a monumental wooden door from circa 1900, designed by Theo Nieuwenhuis, an artist and designer of many disciplines. Characteristic of the Nieuwe Kunst, the door is geometric, two-dimensional, and symmetric, and made of pure materials such as oak, fruitwood, brass, and gold paint. Carved above the door is old Dutch, roughly translated to “It’s all or nothing. It depends on the point of view.”

Wolfsonian curator Silvia Barisione explains why the museum decided to show its collection now in Miami: “We thought it was good to do it during Art Basel because Dutch designers and contemporary art designers are sort of hip, so we wanted to have a comparison with their past,” Barisione says. “Miami is an international city, and I don’t understand why it should only be focused on its own history or Latin America. Miami, for me, is a New York or Chicago or Los Angeles, and it needs to know from other cultures.”

"Modern Dutch Design" is drawn from the collection of the founder of the Wolfsonian, Mickey Wolfson, a Miami Beach native whose 180,000 objects from the 1850s to 1950s make up the bulk of the museum’s exhibitions. “Dutch design is the origins of modern design. You must remember Dutch colonial furniture and design were the first major decorative arts movement we have in this country,” Wolfson says.

The first Dutch object that Wolfson collected was a key from the ship the New Amsterdam and is displayed in the exhibition. “Holland was the first European country I ever visited when I was 12. And I went on the Dutch ocean liner called the New Amsterdam. So I have been very engaged in all things Dutch. When I discovered Dutch decorative and applied arts, I was fascinated because I had never seen anything like that.”

Wolfson proudly says, “This is a singular exhibition of material that has never been seen in the new world. So you can imagine my excitement and my pleasure in seeing the American curators, the participants from the Netherlands, the Dutch government itself, and the American government supporting such an initiative. This is an exhibition that can be well understood and appreciated by Miamians because it’s a great composite of many identities.”

"Modern Dutch Design"
$5 for Through June 11, 2017, at the Wolfsonian, 1001 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. Admission costs $10; students and seniors pay $5; and members and State University System of Florida students, faculty, and staff get in free. Visit
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Minhae Shim Roth is an essayist, journalist, and academic.
Contact: Minhae Shim Roth