A new design museum has opened its doors in Brussels, featuring a unique collection of plastic objects, built up between 1960 and 2000: Pop Art, everyday products, artworks and iconic industrial designs, all in a museum with a minimalistic interior.
Philippe Decelle’s passion for plastic must have been truly overwhelming and his dogged efforts over the years to amass the pieces in his collection are now rewarded as he sees them displayed in the European capital, in what really is a museum of 19th-20th century art and design – the permanent collection of which is, indeed, his own private one.
The ADAM, Art & Design Atomium Museum has opened its doors in Brussels’ Heysel Park (where the plateau is undergoing major redevelopment), just a stone’s throw from the Atomium, an iconic steel building with a distinctive molecular silhouette constructed by the architect André Waterkeyn and renovated in 2006. The Atomium is the main drive behind its contents and hopes this partnership will promote the concept of “modernity and progress” – the buzz words of the World’s Fair back then – that made it possible in 1958. Essentially, that past inspiration is being applied to the present. All this means that the institution in Brussels International Trade Mart (BITM) is already being seen in the city as its new Design Museum.
The Plasticarium occupies half of the whole space and lends its name to a collection centred (obviously) on plastic – a broad term covering pieces spawned by different work processes, from PVC to ABS – and features more than 2,000 objects of various shape and kind, from prototypes to pieces in production today: the astonishing Soft Washbowl in baby-pink polyurethane designed by Hella Jongerius (1997), the inevitable creations by Gaetano Pesce, a canary-yellow version of Bernard Racillac’s Elephant chair (1966), the Garden Egg chair by Peter Ghyczy (1968) plus Ettore Sottsass’ Ultrafragola (1970), Ugo La Pietra’s Globo Tissurato (1966), icons of the 1960s, the decade when this material came into its own. Also on parade are products such as Brionvega TVs, Richard Sapper’s Sound Book of 1974, a flat white box for listening to the early tapes, Dieter Rams’ D5 Combiscopefor Braun, monitors, screens, first-generation computers and a couple of Apples displayed in the long glass case at the entrance to the exhibition space, where visitors are also greeted by the Stacking Dinnerwaredesigned by the great masterVignelli (1964).
As it is impossible to present the whole collection, the exhibition route winds through theme islands based on visual association, an added expedient to stimulate visitor curiosity and prompt them to return. In keeping with today’s museum standards, the ADAM has a workshop space, a number of related educational activities and a programme in the 650 m² auditorium. It holds guided tours, lectures and temporary exhibitions in a programme developed in partnership with institutions such as Art Brussels, Europalia, Brussels Design September, Bozar, the Centre d’Innovation et de Design (CID), Ghent Design Museum and Vitra Design Museum. There are also a café and a book shop – or rather a concept store by Vitra & Artek. The combined ticket with the Atomium (the ADAM being the extension of its exhibition department) has, to date, brought more than 125,000 visitors over its threshold and amply rewarded the Brussels-Capital Regione for its financial backing and the desire to add another visitor destination in the north of the city.
The institution, with its colourful entrance steps by Jean Nouvel, developed in Decelle’s mind in the 1980s, driven by a firm desire to keep all the pieces together. It is a unique collection of objects, built up between 1960 and 2000, and includes Pop Art, everyday products, artworks and iconic industrial designs, all in a museum with a minimalistic interior. The ambitious project to turn a private collection into a public museum came to fruition in a building constructed by John Portman and refurbished by Lhoas & Lhoas Architectes in collaboration with the museographer Thierry Belenger, one of the most admired 20th-century design specialists in the country and by design historian Alexandra Midal.