Onomatopee Brings a Dose of Design Criticism

read time 10 minutes | by Renske Mehra

21 December ––  2019

Publisher, public gallery and critical observer. Onomatopee brings you a necessary dose of design criticism. A look behind the scenes at their new location.

A few months ago, the internationally renowned Onomatopee moved from the heart of the city to a much larger location on the Lucas Gasselstraat, near the Campina site. On a Tuesday morning, we meet with director Freek Lomme and Joannette van der Veer, who is responsible for the design programme.

The Onomatopee team works from different disciplines, such as design, art, and architecture, but these are not an end in themselves, says Joannette as we walk through the indoor bookshop. "We use them as a means to address themes."

"We use disciplines as a means to address themes."

- Curator & editor Joannette van der Veer

The new home will accommodate exhibitions, lectures, workshops, an occasional karaoke evening and facilities that can also be used by others, such as the graphic workshop, workspaces and a coffee bar.

It is also a place where books come to fruition, because Onomatopee is not only a public gallery but also a publishing house. Most publications appear in editions of 1,000, but there are small editions in circulation of 200 and large editions in circulation of 2,000. Regularly reprints are made. These are big numbers within the world in which Onomatopee operates. 

Because international distributors sell the books around the world, Freek doesn't always know where his publications end up, but every now and then he receives a message from friends who have come across his work. At the MoMA in New York, for example. Or the Tate in London, or an obscure little shop in Bangkok.

"The romance around creative life is a bit overstated"

The themes Onomatopee tackles - through books, art, and events, often in collaboration with international makers - challenge today's experience, through special perspectives of specialist thinkers and doers. If one dives into the foundation's archive, he or she will get a great overview of the public debate in the past decade. Subjects such as fashion technology, city planning, and colonialism all passed by.

A subject that remains topical and touches on the existential question about the need for an institution like Onomatopee, is how you can make creativity profitable. What is the value of creative labor? The question is also relevant to Onomatopee itself, says Freek. "We are forced to be super-efficient in making our productions. Within this efficiency, we try to make strategic time for content. But at the end of the day, few people are willing to pay for that content. The romance around creative life is a bit overrated in a way. Most of our money is simply spent on the accountant, real estate and the Praxis."

"We are critical thinkers. Some, especially locally, see us as complicated folks. For experts in the field, we are a bit populist." Joannette: "But that's what makes us stand out, I think. When it comes to complex issues, we pay a lot of attention to the design and to catchy titles and texts. If you make something accessible, it's also easier for your audience to respond to it."

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