Milan is all about the show, says the Dutch designer. So at this year’s Salone he played the ringmaster at his own anarchic circus
Every spring, 370,000 design aficionados from around the world congregate in Milan for a week to drink prosecco, eat gelato and view displays of new work.
Large companies, established designers and recent graduates hawk their wares throughout the city, clamouring for attention with various degrees of bling or quirk in the hope of standing out in a crowded field.
This year, the era of austerity certainly seemed to be over. One imagined all the latest products shipped to the event being mounded in a massive pyre: it would cover football pitches and reach to
"Milan is a circus," said Dutch designer Maarten Baas. "I emphasise that, I embrace that." His solo show, the first he's had in Milan for a few years, was titled Baas is in Town! We met at the exhibition, which occupied a disused garage in the new 5 Vie cultural district, over which Baas presided as a velvet-clad ringmaster.
Entry of the Gladiators blasted over loud speakers: doot-doot-doodle-oodle oot doot do do. A big multicoloured sign reading "SHOW" greeted visitors, the letters blinking. There were also funhouse mirrors, chairs displayed on carousels, a lumpen bucking bronco and a sparkling, kinetic rocket.
The installation was graced by a Milanese actor dressed as a clown, who occupied a range of psychedelic set-dressed booths that gave clues to his alcoholism.
"I have a kind of love-hate relationship with the whole thing," Baas explained of Salone. "I mean the superficiality of it, the fast way things go, especially through the internet: it's just about
Instead, he chose to display a series of well-made bronze pieces that will be sold through Carpenter's Gallery – mirrors, chairs, a huge gumball machine with a crystal globe that dispensed pills, all of which resembled props from a German expressionist movie – alongside things that he'd knocked up out of polystyrene, cardboard and sticky foil tape in Milan in the two-week build-up to his exhibition.
"From the front the pieces look nice but from the back it's just sticky foil," Baas laughed. "Looks good for the picture – that's it – it's all about the show here in Milan!"
Baas became known a decade ago for his collection of charred furniture, Smoke. His latest collection was similarly anarchic. "I wanted to turn off all the critical voices in my head," Baas said. "I just wanted to make what I felt like making and if that was a stupid rocket going through the stars, or a moving potato with Christmas lights, I wouldn't care."
Later that afternoon I bumped into Baas again at an exhibition devoted to the Memphis Group, to which his ephemeral, colourful, asymmetric displays seemed to pay homage. "The similarities are pretty obvious," Baas acknowledged.