Ten years of Muller Van Severen, at Design Museum Ghent

Ten years of Muller Van Severen, at Design Museum Ghent

A new exhibition by Belgian design duo Muller Van Severen (until 6 March 2022) features a retrospective of the studio’s ten years as well as a curation of pieces from the Design Museum Ghent collections

Fien Muller and Hannes Van Severen started their collaboration in 2011, coming from backgrounds in photography and sculpture respectively. In this time, they have crafted a visual style based on the juxtaposition of colour and material, a unique language that has placed them among the strongest figures in the contemporary design panorama. A new exhibition at Design Museum Ghent in the pair’s hometown (until 6 March 2022), titled ‘10 Years Muller Van Severen’ celebrates the past decade of creative collaboration, and invites the designers to share their vision through a curated display of pieces from the museum’s archives. 

Muller Van Severen: ten years of design

A portrait of Muller Van Severen at Design Museum Ghent with a piece they designed featuring colourful shelving
Hannes Van Severen, left, and Fien Muller, right, at Design Museum Ghent with a piece from the ‘Future Primitives’ series from 2012

Muller Van Severen made its design debut at Antwerp’s Valerie Traan Gallery in 2011. The collection on display, simply titled ‘A Furniture Project’, featured pieces that combined what have since become known as some of the studio’s signature elements. The furniture was designed as mini-landscapes featuring tables, lighting and shelves in bold colours and essential shapes. ‘When the gallery asked us to collaborate we were in the throes of renovating our house and were in need of several things, including a light above our dining table,’ recall the designers. ‘One of our first solutions was to design a table with the table-leg extending and merging into a cantilever lamp. From this first design, a whole family of functional objects emerged. We are still very happy and thankful with this beneficial turn of events.’ 

Collection of modular tube furniture by Muller Van Severen including two cabinets, a bench and a chair
‘Alltubes’ collection

The visual language of this furniture debut was further developed through several exhibitions, with the addition of seating and interlocking furniture functions into each piece, combining rigorous steel frames with the curved leather or textile seats and colourful surfaces of tables and shelves. The duo’s unique colour sensibility was developed over a series of palettes that have since become a signature chromatic touch for Muller Van Severen, making their work instantly recognisable. A defining moment for the studio was the meeting with Clémence and Didier Krzentowski of Galerie Kreo, in 2013. ‘They saw our work and immediately wanted to work with us: we discovered that we were appreciated at a high level,’ they say. 

Over the past decade, Muller Van Severen has added its unique approach to colour, shape and material to traditional household objects such as cutlery, salt and pepper shakers, rugs, mirrors, cutting boards and shelves; the duo also designed a kitchen for Reform (winner of Best Domestic Design at the Wallpaper* Design Awards 2020) as well as furniture and objects for Hay and a sofa for Kassl Editions. 

Muller Van Severen at Design Museum Ghent

Wire lounge chairs by Muller Van Severen shown at design Museum Ghent
‘Wire’ furniture from the Solo Houses project

Within the setting of Design Museum Ghent’s historic Hotel de Coninck, the designers present key pieces from their studio’s history, and photographs and sculptures created before 2011. Designs on display range from the wire furniture originally created for Office KGDVS’ Solo Houses development to the ‘Alltubes’ collection, whose design is defined by a repetition of aluminium tubes creating a motif adapted for different forms of seating and cabinets. 

These designs are placed in conversation with the museum’s collections, with a hundred pieces from the archives shown alongside Muller Van Severen’s works. Presented through a large, site-specific architectural installation by the duo, made using colourful paper to define the space, the curation includes pieces by Alvar Aalto, Ron Arad, Marc Newson, Studio Alchimia, Marcel Breuer and more. Each piece in the exhibition was specially selected by the designers with a ‘kindred spirit approach’, and the connections between the modern designs and their creative attitude are evident throughout. 

A vignette on teal paper background featuring a composition that mixes furniture from Ghent Design Museum’s collections with Muller Van Severen’s own designs
A vignette mixing museum pieces with Muller Van Severen’s own designs. Display case by Henry van de Velde, chair by Alvar Aalto and low table with lamp by Muller Van Severen

Among the pieces on display, the designers explain, they feel particularly close to Huub Hoste’s designs. The Belgian architect’s work was influenced by Dutch modernism and De Stijl, and the pieces in the exhibition include a cabinet created in 1926 for the Geerardyn residence in Bruges, consisting in a composition of yellow and green geometries. ‘The cupboard is a very inspiring work,’ say the designers. ‘The handling in form and colour and the direct appearance of it is related to our work.’

Green and yellow cabinet and a foot-shaped vinyl lounge chair
Huub Hoste’s cabinet for the Geerardyn residence shown next to ‘The Giant Foot’ by Nicola L.

The exhibition is accompanied by a book titled Muller Van Severen: Dialogue, published by Walther König and exploring the studio’s creative DNA through contributions by Jan Boelen, Beatrice Galilee, Arno Brandlhuber and Sam Chermayeff. 

‘After a ten-year interval, we are staging our first major exhibition in our home city of Ghent: we are bringing our work back home,’ say the designers. ‘[It’s] a great way to make it more tangible here.’ §

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