Alexander von Vegesack’s collection in a touring exhibition

Alexander von Vegesack, the initiator of Boisbuchet’s cultural activities and founding director of Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, is an outstanding and extraordinarily engaged personality of today’s international design community. His collection forms a substantial picture of the history of modern furniture design but he has always stayed in close contact with contemporary production and keeps asking: What is important in design?

Since the 1960’s, Alexander von Vegesack has been collecting commodities and related documents from all over the world. From early on, he uses these objects for his cultural projects: In the 1960s he sets up in Hamburg a gallery for uncommon used clothing and moves to a factory where he organizes a performance-, film- and concert-theatre with a restaurant and discotheque. In 1970 he begins to collect bentwood furniture and organizes an exhibition devoted to modern furniture design by the French artist’s group Atelier A. He then develops an open air forum for the city of Hamburg, plans residential studios in former factories and department stores and mounts a tourist’s programme on horse-back in Andalusia, where he intensifies his search for bentwood furniture. In 1977 he moves to a farm in France where he sets up another equestrian tourism and restores his furniture collection.

From 1980 on, von Vegesack realizes various exhibitions and publications about bentwood and tubular steel furniture, including the set up of a Thonet museum in Boppard am Rhein, the exhibition Bentwood and Metal Furniture for the American Federation of Arts, and one of the opening exhibitions of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. After alienating a part of his collection to the Museum für Angewandte Kunst in Vienna, he acquires the Domaine de Boisbuchet, a 19th century country estate in the Southwest of France. In this ensemble of historical buildings amidst a former landscape park he creates a workshop centre for design and architecture. Among the international partners of this institution are the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, universities from all over the world and first and foremost the Vitra Design Museum, which the company Vitra sets up together with him in 1989. For this museum’s exhibitions and catalogues as well as for all other his projects, von Vegesack is inspired by and is using his own collectibles, and while his work constantly involves journeys and change of residence, time and again new cultures come into play.

Curated by Mathias Schwartz-Clauss, who is working closely with Alexander von Vegesack since 25 years, the exhibition at the Pinacoteca Agnelli portrayed not only the collector’s objects but equally his characteristic taste and notion which is as much formed by these object’s aesthetic power as by a growing knowledge about their context which is acquired through adventurous projects and travelling. Neither is there an exclusive specialisation in the furniture subject nor is there any attempt to complete the collection. Frugal drinking glasses, a colourful Kimono, an Andalusian saddle or Viennese coffeehouse chairs: each of them tells about its own cultural history – in fact, von Vegesack’s work becomes part of these cultures for he always uses his objects in order to demonstrate their context wherever he finds that relevant and exemplary. In such a way evolved an understanding of design that appreciates the creations of industry as much as the ones of art, craft or vernacular tradition.

Industrial furniture, however is the guiding line and leading actor through this exhibition. Following a three-dimensional biographical introduction, which shows the familial background, the 15 year old boy’s first acquisitions on a bazaar in Cairo, and connections to Eastern Europe, for example, the exhibition evolves the collection along von Vegesack’s life, work, travelling and interests. The approximately 20 different scenarios include highlights of 20th century’s furniture history as well as surprising discoveries, often with pieces from the designer’s direct surround. Films and photos as well as documents from one of the most important private libraries about furniture design are illustrating these objects in this very personal selection.

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