Three years ago, Martijn Pronk, head of Publications at the Rijksmuseum, and his team launched the Rijksstudio, an initiative encouraging designers to use artworks from the Museum in their own creations. Crazy idea? Yes.
When the initiative was announced, the museum community went berserk. Sacrilege! Genius! Madness! Amazing! Whatever, the designers replied. It’s not everyday that you get to use Vermeer masterpieces for free. They happily started designing away and inventing objects, clothes, and buildings inspired by the works of art.
Three years later, the museum is still standing and the initiative has done well beyond expectations. It has done so well, in fact, that the Rijks has launched the Rijksstudio Award in which a jury of world-famous designers rewards the Studio’s best creation with a prize of 10.000€. Yes, you read that right.
We thought that would be an interesting opportunity to contact the brains behind the operation and ask him a few questions about Rijksstudio.
We Are Museums: Do you think that owning one of these design pieces can help their users feel more connected with the original work of art and encourage them to pay a visit to the Rijks?
Martijn Pronk: When creating your own work using Rijksmuseum images you connect with the collection in your own personal way. Some creators might indeed feel a bond, and others might not. Some will choose a work because they admire it, others because it has a nice flower in it. Everybody is welcome, we won’t judge you.
Of course, if in this way you have a little piece of the Rijksmuseum in your life, we hope that it will make you consider visiting us when you are in Amsterdam. But much more important is the fact that the internet has made it possible for everybody to enjoy the Rijksmuseum, even if they will never visit it in real life.
Not everybody is a creator. The majority of visitors are spectators. Fortunately, many creators share their creations with others. You will find them on etsy.com, for example. This means that you don’t even have to create it yourself to own a piece of the Rijksmuseum.
WAM: Does the museum have limits concerning the works it inspires? Have you ever said no to one of the ideas presented by the designers?
MP: One of our directors once said: I don’t care if you print Vermeer on toilet paper. As long as you use OUR Vermeer. What he meant was: online you will find thousands of images of Vermeer paintings. Many of them are of very poor quality. Ours are high resolution top quality. We’d rather you use the correct Rijksmuseum reproduction for your product design.
We have placed much of the collection in the public domain. It is out of our control. So even if we wouldn’t like a certain design there’s not much we could do. We knew this when we set the collection free. We have seen many works based on our collection. Some of them are brilliant. Many of them are beautiful. And a lot of them I personally don’t like. But I have not yet seen anything obscene, racist or otherwise offensive. I should point out that you are under no obligation to submit your work to the Rijksmuseum. We do not check these ideas in advance. Everybody is free to do what they want.
There’s one thing, though. We love when you use our collection, but you can’t use our brand name and logo. Feel free to design a calendar with our art, but do not sell it as a Rijksmuseum calendar. Do not place the Rijksmuseum logo on your design.
WAM: “Good authors copy, great authors steal”. Do you think there is a bond between designers and the artists who created the original works of art?
MP: I don’t know the personal thoughts and considerations of the creators. They might feel a strong emotional connection to the original artist but they might just as well be looking for nice pictures of dancing cats. The Rijksmuseum is for everybody.
Every year we organize the Rijksstudio Award, a contest for designs using the Rijksmuseum collection. In 2015 we received over 900 entries, many of which were of high quality. In lots of entries you will see that the designer has gotten very close to the original artist, has tried to use the essence of the original work in his or her her design. I guess you could say that they have formed a bond.
WAM: You are now playing a real role in the designer world by supporting creators and helping them launch their production. The Rijksstudio has also inspired museums like the Palace of Versailles and their last contest Hack King. How do you see the future of the Rijksmuseum? Do you imagine a corner Rijksmuseum in the Galeries Lafayette or at Colette? How do you see the future of museums regarding new roles that they can play in our society?
MP: Rijksstudio is such a fun way to discover the Rijksmuseum collection, that we have decided to integrate the two. Personal sets of objects in personal Rijksstudios will be the main entry point to the collection. Among them you will find many curated by Rijksmuseum staff. Rijksstudio will be more social (following, sharing etc). You can add captions, to make it easier to tell a story with your personal collection.
Every day we add new images, Rijksstudio will continue to grow. Every day new people discover our website and start their own Rijksstudio collection. The success of Rijksstudio is that it adapts the museum proposition to regular online behavior using known technical solutions. Many people like to view nice images online, collect them, download and share them. Anytime and anywhere. Rijksstudio is easy to use, like a simple app.
This simplicity is very important. It extends to our involvement with personal designs based on our collection: there is none. The Rijksstudio Award and our partnering with etsy.com are marketing tools for Rijksstudio. That doesn’t mean we actively participate in ALL designs. That would be far from simple.
Thank you to Martijn Pronk for taking the time to answer our questions.