“It is hard to tell what the value of something eventually will be”
– Gerrit Rietveld, 1937.
This new insight into a classic illustrates Gerrit Rietveld’s transition from humble cabinet maker’s son to Architect and leading designer in the De Stijl movement. The book and film compliment each other nicely, covering several different furniture designs both preceding and subsequent to the famed Red Blue Chair, including alternate versions of that particular design (unpainted, arm rest panels, etc.).
The DVD opens with New York collector Leigh Keno bidding over the phone at an auction on a rare, early version of the Red Blue Chair which since its origin had been painted solid white and sold many times over. In the end, after winning the bid, the chair is sold by Keno to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam for an astronomical amount (you will have to watch for yourself to find out how much exactly), but in the end all parties involved agreed it was only appropriate for the chair to be brought back to The Netherlands. The film also shows the complete handmade assembly and painting of a Red Blue Chair, which is still authentic to the original early 20th century method, even down to the use of animal glue for the dowels.
The chair ultimately becomes a sort of spatial sculpture. Its design was to show that something worthwhile could be made simply and completely under the use of mechanization (which is probably why his later schemes moved into bent metal designs). At that time having wooden slats and boards which were all machine cut and lathed was a big statement on ideas of craft and the future of mass-production. The now ironic challenge that has presented itself is being able to distinguish between original Rietveld designs and copies made over the years.
The book details Rietveld’s early struggle with acceptance. It catalogues some of the first chairs he was able to sell to local acquaintances; usually to friends who could not afford to furnish their homes otherwise. The original pre-war reception of the chair when it was shown to the public at a 1920 exhibition in Haarlem was often considered odd or funny looking, but was generally still met with an overall positive review. Although not every one in the De Stijl camp was a fan of the chair outright, Theo van Doesburg himself was an outspoken advocate of all of Rietveld’s designs. He saw the Red Blue Chair as a combination of aesthetic and utility, combing sculpture with necessity, and ultimately having a “dumb eloquence, like that of a machine.”
While the chair can some times come across as purely aesthetic and not particularly made with comfort in mind, the film is definite to interview an ergonomics specialist who actually picks apart the chair and determines it to be a perfectly appropriate and comfortable piece of furniture. The film also shows several Rietveld chair owners or grandchildren of original owners discussing how they acquired or parted with the chair, while the book ends with an extensive catalogue of all known original red-blue chairs and where they are today. Of the chairs that can be found, half are in museums and half are in private collections.