Studio Job is widely hailed as a design-world provocateur, whose strange, occasionally sinister objects straddle the divide between design and art. We count ourselves among its fans. But in a couple new projects themed around the Holocaust, the Antwerp pair went too far.
Job Smeets and Nynke Tynagel developed a fence that evokes the entry gate and crematoria of Buchenwald, where more than 50,000 people died during World War II. The fence was commissioned for the estate of a private collector in the Netherlands (a country that has its own rather fraught history with the Nazis). According to the Dutch design news site Design.nl:
The piece consists of two chimneys joined by an arch of smoke with a bell hanging from the middle. Inscribed in Latin on the bell are the words “To Each His Own.” Translated into German this reads “Jedem Das Seine”–the words that adorned the gate to the entrance of Buchenwald, the largest Nazi concentration camp on German soil.
Additionally, Studio Job designed a tablecloth printed with the diagram of a concentration camp for the Groninger contemporary art museum. The museum, which has generously supported the designers over the years and recently mounted a large retrospective of their work, rejected the cloth.
Initially, Studio Job defended its design under the banner of artistic innovation. “It is ridiculous that in the museum you can show dicks and vaginas with no trouble, but just fifty meters away in a private lounge they say no to my cloth,” Smeets complained on the Dutch talk show De Wereld Draait Door.
He also justified the gate, which caused such an uproar that the Centre for Information and Documentation on Israel, a Hague-based watchdog on anti-Semitism, urged against issuing a building permit for the “offensive fence, which is an attempt to attract attention regardless of the pain [it causes].” Design.nl reports:
“Well why the fuss?” wrote Smeets in one email. “We were using an iconography that is part of our history…. these pieces express the opposite of what you think they do …. please open your angry eyes!”
Smeets went on to say that Studio Job is more about art than design and thus prefers to ask questions than devise design solutions. Beautifying our surroundings is not their aim. On top of that he wants to provoke–to stretch his field of work. “These pieces are an attempt to break through the taboo or dogma,” he says.
Some taboos, though, don’t need to be broken, and a glib representation of the Holocaust is one of them; it’s a contrarian high-school kid’s vision of thumbing his nose at a sensitive topic. That’s to say: unsophisticated, tasteless, and just plain silly.
Amid deafening public outrage, from the Netherlands to France, where Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, lambasted the work as “[t]rivializing the Holocaust,” the designers were forced to reconsider. The original design for the gate will no longer be realized. A spokesman for Studio Job sent us the following prepared statement (after entreating us to “skip this topic” altogether):
“We have decided to alter the original plans for the gate/ artwork due to the commotion and unrest in society. In our work we always aim to use iconographic images. In this particular case we have insufficiently realised what the impact would be. We thoroughly regret it if this has caused upset and grief with parties affected by this, that has in no way been our intention. Art is in our view an invitation to dialogue, an invitation that is often paired with controversy. We will continue to engage in this but with a more sensitive view towards the sentiments as mentioned above/before.”
Right. Next time, stick to fashion shows and robber barons.