The Triennial seen historically
During the numerous work meetings preceding this first Triennial for design in Flanders, it has been stated on a number of occasions that this type of three-yearly event seldom lives long.
If the history of the Museum for Decorative Arts (since this year re-named the Museum for Decorative Arts and Design) were to repeat itself, than four would be the maximum as far as holding serial events would be concerned. Here, I would like to refer the reader to the "annual" fairs for decorative arts which were inspired by the Art Deco exhibition of 1925 in Paris and were held in the years 1925, 1926, 1928 and 1930 at the exhibition halls of the Hotel De Coninck: exactly at the same spot where this first Triennial will be held. So, this kind of event is certainly not new.
Brilliant, large-scaled design exhibitions were characteristic of the 19th century. Their catalogues constitute an important chronicle on the developments in the field of design at the time. These events reflect the aspirations, the realisations and ambitions of the period and although the exhibitions represented a specialised view on design, they also constituted a forum for important arguments and discussions on quality, style, taste, education, industry and trade. Such exhibitions were first held in Paris and, soon after, all over Europe. As early as 1798, the first trade exhibition "Exposition de l'Industrie" (Exhibition of Industry) was organised by the French government. By the middle of the century, 14 others had been held. They were very successful and attracted up to 4.000 manufacturers.
Inspired by this initiative, the English government organised "The Great Exhibition" in 1851, probably the most famous design exhibition of the 19th century. It was an overwhelming success. The Crystal Palace Exhibition (named after the iron and glass construction of the exhibition building) constituted a glorification of the new technologies and inventions of the Industrial Revolution. Typical of the objects presented, was their large scale, over-decoration and their sense of selfconfidence. The critics were not over-enthusiastic about these products however. They stated that the norms of good taste were low and that education could improve the situation. One interesting result of this exhibition was the fact that only one year later, a "Museum for Manufactures" (since 1899, known as the Victoria and Albert Museum) was founded in London. At first it only collected contemporary items, but later on it also admitted historical design and thus functioned as a educational source for designers. Similar museums were founded all over the world in imitation of this idea. The Ghent Museum for Decorative arts, which was founded in 1902, is one of the many examples.
In the second half of the 19th century, a whole series of international exhibitions were held which were to have an important impact on the history of design. The exhibition of Japanese objects in 1867 for example, contributed greatly in strengthening the emerging 'Japanese trend'. The jewel of the 1889 exhibition was the Eiffel Tower: a splendid example of the possibilities of iron architecture.
The 1900 world fair in Paris constituted the climax of the Art Nouveau movement and was a triumph of the great French creators in this style.
In Darmstadt, the Grand Duke of Hessen founded an artist' colony which included Hans Christiansen, Joseph Maria Olbrich and Peter Behrens. In 1902, this group made their debut by staging a great event on art and design: "Ein Dokument Deutscher Kunst". The exhibition housed temporary structures, but the homes of the artists themselves, in which each item right down to the smallest detail bore witness to harmonious design, were also opened to the public. The exhibition was a milestone in the development of German design and meant the breakthrough of the rigid, rather geometrical trend of Art Nouveau.
During that same year, an international exhibition was held in Turin where the Italian version of Art Nouveau, i.e. the socalled Stile Liberty, was highlighted.
The "Deutsche Werkbund" is an organisation which was founded in 1906 in Germany. Its members - industrialists, artists and craftsmen - made a joint effort to improve the quality of industrial products. The Werkbund's strong self-confidence and their steady belief in industry was expressed in the large-scale exhibition which they held in Cologne in 1914.
The Art Deco style celebrated its apotheosis in Paris in 1925 during the "Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels" (Exhibition for Decorative and Industrial Arts) after which this style was named. Moreover, this exhibition constituted an international forum for the new movement of Modernism. Of great importance in this context was the "Pavilion de l'Esprit Nouveau" (Pavilion of the New Spirit) by Le Corbusier and the Russian pavilion: the only Constructivist building outside the Soviet Union.
The International Style Exhibition, held in Stockholm in 1930, was important for the new Swedish design. There, one could admire the rationality and moderation in the works created by the main Swedish designers of the day. They were to make an enormous impression on the rest of the world. This event was to provide the impetus for the Scandinavian design which was to become so popular in the fifties and sixties.
The typical stream-lined design of the machine era was omnipresent in the designs of the American pioneers of industrial design, whose works were put on display during the 1939 World Fair in New York.
After World War II, the world's governments started to support design by holding exhibitions and fairs at home and abroad. Outstanding examples were the Milan Triennials and the "Festival of Britain" organised by the British government in 1951 in London. This celebration was meant to provide a new optimistic view on the future and to constitute an international forum for the promotion of the quality of British products. The Festival also symbolised the end of the frugal years during and after the war. It developed into the most important post-war design event in Great Britain.
In Italy, there was a strong desire for reconstruction. The country was devastated and exhausted after the war, but in less than 10 years, it developed into a modern industrial nation. The design of Italian goods and products was associated with radical modernity. The by now legendary Milan Triennials functioned as a window on the new aesthetics of Italian design. The event not only prided itself on the new Italian sense of self-confidence and leadership in the field of design, it also encouraged fierce debates and discussions within the profession, thus enriching the course and the direction of Italian design. This threeyearly event has now been replaced by a yearly furniture fair. The Fiera of Milan has turned into a celebration of stylish breathtaking design.
Like the other European countries, Belgium also organised exhibitions during the 19th century in which Belgian industrial products were given pride of place. These exhibitions were held every six years between 1835 and 1865. Products by Belgian craft companies, factories, craftsmen and artists were put on display. Nevertheless, we had to wait until 1850 to see the first exhibition devoted to artistic craft.
In our country too, by the end of the 19th century there was a reaction against historic styles. Innovative ideas on the arts were fiercely defended by Octave Maus. Thanks to him, decorative arts were to receive a place at art exhibitions. This happened for the first time - although only modestly - during the fairs which were organised by "les XX" and subsequently, on an international level during the annual fairs of "La Libre Esthétique", which was founded by Maus in 1894.
During the colonial exhibition in Tervuren in 1897, the public at large at last got to know the new style through the pieces of furniture designed by the important art nouveau artists of the day. The Belgian contributions in the field of decorative arts were very well received during the international exhibition in Turin (1902) and the Milan exhibition (1906).
The Belgian contributions for the "Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels" (Paris, 1925) were certainly not the most progressive and received only a small amount of attention. Nevertheless, this event was stimulating for the applied arts in our regions. In the first years after World War II, design entered a new era. For the very first time, the government took up its responsibility. As early as 1948, the National Commission for Artistic Crafts and Industries organised an exhibition on "Belgian artistic ceramics".
From the fifties onwards, the Ministry for Economic Affairs held exhibitions on the work of Belgian artistic craftsmen and designers, both at home and abroad. Worth noting during this first phase, are the Fairs of Artistic Crafts (Ghent 1953, Brussels 1954, Liège 1956, Ghent 1957). The 1957 exhibition was even completed by the "National Fair for Industrial Design" which was organised on the occasion of the XIVth International Annual Fair in Ghent, an initiative which received the enthusiastic support of Raymond Loewy.
The Services for Artistic Crafts of the various Belgian provinces have regularly presented their selections of decorative art works and design produced by artists in each region, often in the framework of competitions for a particular discipline. In the province of Brabant, this tradition began as early as 1922.
While it can be said that the 1958 World Fair in Brussels triggered off a revival of artistic crafts in our country, it is also a fact that it meant the real start of an explosion in creative design in Belgium. Nevertheless, it did turn out to be the end of the first decade in post-war creativity.
In 1964, the Design Centre was opened in Brussels. Here, the best Belgian work in the field of design are on permanent display. Unfortunately, the results shown in the sixties and seventies were far from equal to the efforts made at the time. Besides its many activities, such as editing a magazine, the Creative Crafts Department of the ESIM (Economic and Social Institute for the Self-employed) also organised exhibitions. The Department were very much present at the "Made in Belgium" event in Brussels in 1978: a large export fair which wished to be a window on creative and productive Belgium. At the beginning of the nineties, the ESIM was transferred to the VIZO (Flemish Institute for Small and Medium Enterprises). The Artistic Crafts Department of the VIZO now functions as the promoter of artistic crafts and contemporary design in Flanders. Of course, this department has continued to carry out the exhibition policy of the ESIM, both abroad (Paris, Milan, Cologne, ...) and at home, e.g. at Interieur Kortrijk, "A sparkling party Antwerp 93", the VIZO Henry van de Velde Prizes and the parallel exhibition in Ghent in 1994.
In 1967, Interieur, a non-profit association was founded in Kortrijk. Its social aim was to promote creativity in the field of interior design, by organising a large international Biennial, each time offering a survey of the most recent information and most successful results in interior decoration. The 14th edition, held in 1994, also included a remarkable exhibition: Design Made in Belgium. The unique display of the remarkable creations of this century and the articles of criticism in the catalogue should certainly provide fertile ground for the future. Which government or official body feels tempted to continue this initiative?
The 1st Triennial for Design in Flanders is once again a sure step in the direction of designers, industry and the public. We are curious to see the results and to hear the reactions.