Rietveld Revival: Dutch modernist's work gains permanence

  • October 14, 2010 16:52

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Rietveld Pavilion at Kroller-Muller Museum
Walte Herfst

The output of Dutch furniture designer and architect Gerrit Rietveld (1884-1964), best known as a proponent of the artistic movement De Stijl, is rising in the public view. This fall a seminal work from his late career was recreated while one of his first influential designs entered the permanent collection of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Designed in 1918, Rietveld's iconic Red and Blue Chair, which in fact came in a variety of colors, is considered a modern masterpiece. A rare white edition of the chair, ordered from Rietveld's workshop in 1923 by writer Til Brugman, was auctioned by Christie's in 2007.


New York-based antiques dealer Leigh Keno claimed Brugman's white version, negotiating with expert Marcel Bouwer for its acquisition by the Rijksmuseum in September.

This month, Rietveld's minimalist and functional Rietveld Pavilion reopened in the sculpture garden at the Kröller-Müller Museum in Holland.

Rietveld designed the pavilion in 1955 for the display of small sculptures at the Third International Sculpture Exhibition in Arnhem’s Sonsbeek Park. Intended as a temporary structure, 'Sonsbeek Pavilion' was dismantled when the exhibition was over.

Chair, Gerrit T. Rietveld, wood, paint, nails, ca. 1918 (design), 1923 ( production)

Ten years later, on the initiative of several Dutch architects, the reassembled building found a permanent home in the Kröller-Müller Museum’s sculpture garden, under a new name: the ‘Rietveld Pavilion’. On 8 May 1965 the pavilion was officially inaugurated with an exhibition of sculptures by Barbara Hepworth.

From the very outset, the maintenance of the Rietveld Pavilion was a constant source of concern. The main questions were how to protect the minimalist structure (made of concrete, brick, steel, glass, wood and paint) against the ravages of time without compromising its delicate, temporary character, and how to preserve this more or less faithful replica of the Arnhem pavilion (which was originally intended to be temporary) for posterity.

Every conceivable method was considered and tried, from conservation and restoration to copying and replacing parts of the building, but it eventually became clear that the structure was beyond saving.

The 1965 pavilion has now been disassembled. Today, in 2010, the museum has rebuilt the structure with new materials, while adhering as closely as possible to Gerrit Rietveld’s original design.

Wherever possible, parts of the 1965 pavilion that were still in adequate condition have been reused. Construction work began in January 2010 and finished in September of this year. The new, third version of the pavilion now stands in the museum’s sculpture garden, preserving Rietveld’s world-famous design for the future.

In appearance, the new structure is unquestionably the familiar and widely acclaimed Rietveld Pavilion. There are a few minor departures, barely visible to the naked eye, from the original choice of materials, so that the building requires less maintenance and is durable enough to hold up well for a few decades. In the context of the Kröller-Müller Museum and the sculpture garden in which it is located, the building can also be seen as a sculpture, a model for thinking about space.

To coincide with the opening of the reconstructed pavilion, a small presentation is on display in the museum’s old wing, with archive material on the pavilion and several pieces of furniture made by Rietveld from the museum’s collection.

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