Maarten Baas believes that the function at the core of his artwork is where the magic begins. Famed for his ingenious furniture, the Dutch artist-designer has a deep understanding of design principles, but it’s his whimsical approach that has made him so influential. “Function is my starting point,” he explains; “it gives reference and it gives some boundaries and context to what I’m doing.”
Baas’ exhibition Play Time at the Carpenters Workshop Gallery, LA, never strays far from his concern with function, bringing together pieces from Baas’ Real Time and Close Parity series, alongside new work.
Close Parity’s bronze cabinets open the exhibition, expressing a “children’s fantasy of how furniture could look.” They’re a balancing act, each piece pulled askew and teetering on tiny feet, made possible by strategic counterweights and Baas’ own imagination. “That’s why the exhibition is called play time,” he tells me, “because it’s all about this balance between childlike energy and adult solutions and logic.”
This energy informs Baas’ Children’s Clock series, on view for the first time and displayed in a circle, as though mirroring the numbers on a clock. 18 artworks are presented from a collection of 101, with each clock face featuring a video compilation of children’s drawings, set in vibrant hand-modelled clay. It’s the conceptual dimension of this series that elevates the objects beyond their tactile charm and functional timekeeping. Baas worked with 720 children, one for each minute of each clock, collaborating with budding artists of different ages and nationalities to bring his vision to life. “Who better than a child to draw?” Baas asks, in a departure that sees him working with children “for the first time, actually.” He delights in the range of personalities present in his series; “some are very assertive, and they’ll just, you know, grab the thickest paint or the thickest pencil, and do something massive! Others are much more shy.”
Time is the subject of much of Baas’ work, as he explores ideas of how we create and track its momentum – especially through labour. “As an artist,” he explains, “you are always pushing time in a way, and you’re being pushed by time.” In Grandfather Clock – The Son Baas transforms into his child self to push the hands of time, in a 12-hour performance that constitutes the clock face. The outer case is made from found bits of wood, roughly assembled in the manner of a tree house. If you open the back of the clock – which is smaller than a traditional grandfather clock, to snugly house its small inhabitant – you can see Baas hard at work with his sisyphean task.
“It’s a very personal and vulnerable work,” Baas offers, “playing that role, and really being there physically.” He likens his Grandfather Clock performance to method acting, where performers live as their characters; “I did that, being a child and trying to be in that energy.” He laughs. “We’re in Hollywood, everybody is an actor here!”
Play Time strikes an easy balance of childlike delight and technical skill, as Baas strives to marry the freedom and spontaneity of childhood with the skills and wisdom of the adult artist. “I’ve tried to find the sweet spot,” he says. And between lopsided cabinets, 12-hour performances and knobbly ceramics, he certainly has.
Play Time is on view at the Carpenters Workshop Gallery, LA until 26th May.