Q+A: Marcel Wanders

Marcel Wanders has given the world booger-shaped vases, avant-garde macramé chairs, and his girlfriend on a string. Now, in “Daydreams,” an exhibition opening November 22 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art that only Wanders could dream up, the inimitable Dutch designer mixes 14 years of his objects with a hand-picked selection of films, making what he calls a “theatrical forestscape” that is equal parts hagiography and theater of the absurd. “He’s an extremely interesting, humorous designer,” says Kathryn Hiesinger, the show’s curator, “but underneath it, also deeply serious and original.” Boogers with brains. He spoke with I.D. about poetry, airborne furniture, and dropping trou ?in the name of design.

The exhibition sounds pretty wild. Can you describe it?
Normally, art is placed in a museum in a neutral position. We tried to do the opposite. We tried to make a really dark space with very theatrical light, and placed objects here and there with changing lights, sound, images—a constantly changing world.

What objects did you select, and why?
We want to excite people about the world of design. So it’s not that the objects are the best, or the pieces I like best, but the pieces that best create this world we want to convey—and were also easiest to transport. We have two cars clad in mosaic, and I would’ve loved to drive one in and have its radio on all the time with crazy sound and lights and the horn going. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that. One object which, of course, cannot not be there is the Knotted chair. We have a special version of it. It’s hanging under a helium balloon, and the cords with which it’s made are suspended over the balloon. It tells us that the chair, which is made from epoxy-coated aramide and carbon, is very lightweight. We also have the Calvin lamp, the big lamp we showed two years ago in Milan. It’s 3 meters high. Under the lamps you hear the sound of rain, which is fun because it gives a sense of protection.

Why include movies? What are ?they about?

They’re a very poetic way to look at the works. They reinterpret existing objects, animate objects, make them play together. Experiencing the space and seeing the movies gives you a deeper sense of what the studio wants to represent and what we want to bring to design. You feel who we are.

Who are you?
It’s hard to do quickly in two minutes.

You can take five.
In a way, everything goes back to poetry—design is a physical expression of poetry. As a poet, I try to speak out loud in different voices. Sometimes it will be very silly, sometimes it will be very light, but it will always be about creating beauty. We show admiration for the world by making things that add beauty to it.

You’re pretty famous for your stunts. You stripped down naked at a talk once. You’ve had your skimpily clad girlfriend Nanine Linning pour Champagne at parties while hanging upside down from the aptly named Happy Hour Chandelier. How does that fit into your poetic design ethos?
Design is truly about trying to be creative. So obviously there are moments to use theater to get messages across. When I was doing this talk in New York where I stripped, I was addressing the 10 basic concepts of my work. Fear is a very important part of the job of a designer, so for each step, I took off one piece of my clothing. At the end, I was almost naked. If I have to use theatrics to get my point across (which I’m pretty good at, because I’m a designer), I will.

Suzanne LaBarre is a freelance writer in New York.

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