Quest for the old artwork in the entrance hall
Early June 2013, the security officer of TNO Waaldorp asks the museum crew whether someone is aware of the origin of the tile tableau in the entrance hall. The artwork is coming off the wall and crumbling. The whole work is temporarily propped up to prevent further crumbling. Is the artwork valuable? In that case, restoration should be considered. All that is known is that the tile panel was mounted in 1968 by the constructor of the new building.
Nothing about the artwork could be found in the TNO archives. Who is the art designer? Where is the artwork produced? What does the abstract figure mean?
The author of this webpage is interested and intends to answer these questions. The hunt for answers eventually ended in success.
First, a former director is approached. He only remembers the wire artwork offered by the staff, not the tile artwork. An email to a former colleague is sent on 27 June 2013. As a TNO employee, he performed some work for architect Bleeker. Bleeker is the architect of the new construction of the TNO Physics Laboratory. The building was commissioned by the Ministry of Defence department Buildings, Objects and Sites. Does he know anything about the tile artwork or the story behind the mosaic? No; maybe another former colleague knows something. On July 10, 2013, some memories emerge: the artwork was made at De Porceleyne Fles in Delft. “I am not entirely sure, but asking them for information should be easy. Success. ”
The same day an e-mail is sent to Royal Delft: “Dear Sir/Madam, The building currently in use by TNO at the Oude Waalsdorperweg 63, The Hague, was completed in 1968 by the Ministry of Defence department Buildings, Objects and Sites. A work of art was placed in the central hall, possibly originating from De Porceleyne Fles. The TNO Physisch Laboratorium started using the building into use after completion. Currently, the artwork is starting to crumble from the wall against which it is affixed. TNO wants to know more about the artwork as the own archive has no records about the artwork. I now know that the architect who designed the building Ir. RD Bleeker offered the work of art to the Ministry of Defence. A former employee thinks that he remembers that the artwork was designed by De Porceleyne Fles. My question: is that assumption correct? As identification, I add an attachment to this message with a photo of the artwork including the signature. I hope you can solve our search. ”
The next day an answer is received: “We have checked the set of works fabricated in those years in The Hague, but we cannot find any work delivered to this address. Many of these works were produced in our building-ceramic department, but this work is not listed there. It is also not signed as a work by De Porceleyne Fles, so, unfortunately, we cannot help you to solve your search. You may further inquire at Art Conservation in Vlaardingen or Structuur 68 in The Hague. ”
Structure 68 is also unfamiliar with the artwork but thinks that the work was fabricated by the Porceleyne Fles at that time. Art Conservation, which mapped out all building ceramic works of the 1960s, could not solve the problem either.
The museum crew then digs deeper in the museum archives. Perhaps there is something in the collected notes of Gerard Mooij, the first curator of the Waalsdorp museum. A description of the new building is found with some details about the new building of the Physics Laboratory RVO-TNO. On the last page, a handwritten note is found: the tile tableau is designed by Mr Dobbelman. The tableau is made at De Porceleyne Fles.
Back to the Porceleyne Fles; their answer: “You have advanced a lot! As I already wrote, this artwork does not appear in the list of the works performed and our 1960s folder. That folder is also the only folder from that time that we have in our archives. The rest of the archives are stored at the Municipal Archives of Delft, which were largely opened up to the public in 2001. A large part of the artworks carried out from the building ceramics department (1955-1980) was mapped by Art Conservation a few years ago. Afterwards, these data also went to the municipal archives. Data, if these are in the Municipal Archives, can be requested there. Theo Dobbelman worked for us as leader of the Experimental department from 1955 to 1975. ”
On July 18, 2013, the Municipal Archives of Delft referred us to the National Design Archives which manages the Archive Theo Dobbelman and to the Archive Porceleyne Fles (this archive currently falls under Het Nieuwe Instituut). Finally, the design of the tile artwork is found in Theo Dobbelman’s archives at the National Office for Art History Documentation [“A.H.M. Dobbelman, Folder 20/4, TNO The Hague 1968”]. This includes the architect’s assignment to Theo Dobbelman, who will design artwork for both the TNO building and the adjacent building of SHAPE (the current NATO Communication and Information Agency (NCIA)):
- To: Sir dr. Th. A. H. M. Dobbelman, Amsterdam.
Concerns Laboratory complex RVO/TNO / STC, Waalsdorpvlakte. Entrance hall decorations.
I hereby inform you that both users of both buildings and myself can entirely agree with the designs you made for the wall decorations of the entrance halls.
I, therefore, request that you take up the fabrication of the wall decoration in accordance with these designs as soon as possible.
The price for both decorations will be the same as stated in your letter dated 23 June 1967 including the affixation of the artwork but excluding the sand cement, scaffolding and tax: eighteen thousand guilders.
Yours sincerely, architect company Ir. R.D.Bleeker
Theo writes about the details of the assignment:
- My assignment was to make a figurative decoration in the entrance hall of one laboratory, the TNO Physics Laboratory, related to the activities in the field of “COMMUNICATION” and one in the other laboratory, the SHAPE, a decoration that concerned the “RESEARCH” in general. Since they are two ‘sister laboratories’, the two artworks also had to have a certain unity. Moreover, I had to take due account of the users of both laboratories, i.e. with an engineering world where comprehensibility and intelligibility count heavily. About the tile tableau in the TNO building: the “distance” is indicated by the difference in dimensions. The lines run from right to left and from bottom to top. This laboratory is mainly concerned with communication at sea and with the submarines below the surface of the water. The construction was done in ceramic material, namely a sawn panel of 124 x 547 cm and a thickness of 2.5 cm. The backsides of the ceramic segments are ‘combed’ for better fixation and the segments are placed ‘cold’ (without joints) against each other. Since the panel is mounted at the ground level, I have given the walls in the stairwell right above the panel a distinct brown colour. As a result, the panel is no longer on its own at the ground level, but ascending the stairs, the coloured wall surfaces point to the artwork completely below.”
About the ceramic panel with the subject RESEARCH: “This subject was well received by me because of the problem of rational thinking as the opposite of irrational feeling fascinates me and has always fascinated me. Perhaps because there is no communicable solution for it. Thinking and feeling is and is not a unity. In thinking, feelings are turned into objects (ideas) whereby the “I”-feeling has also become a rationally thinking “objective I”. Oldewelt mentioned the “I” therefore our first fellow human being, as far as I remember correctly. In the human image (coloured red) I have therefore drawn a ditto human (coloured blue). The thinking human being is not the same as the feeling human, and yet they are a unity. By the “self-awareness” the “I” becomes a thing. I hope that my design, however simple, gives these interpretations a chance. This panel is also made of ceramic segments and covers an area of 193 x 333 cm and is located in the so-called “SHAPE” laboratory where mainly American scientists work. The director of this institute is an American officer and told me he would rather see a large American flag on the wall! I then told him that I would make an “explanation” for him and his guests. I did this. I have little hope that his valuation has changed.”
“The total budget that could be spent for both laboratories was 18000, – Dutch Guilders excluding taxes.“
De Porceleyne Fles’ quotation is also found in the archive:
- Re: Low relief TNO Waalsdorpvlakte
Our Quotation No BK 10.637
We hereby send you our adjusted offer for the construction of 12 m² low relief, to be divided into two reliefs.
Design: Th. A. H. M. Dobbelman
Area: 12 m²
Tile thickness: 3 cm
The whole will be cut into small tiles, the dimensions of which will be discussed with you in more detail.
Price: Dfl. 450,–/ m² at atelier Delft, Dfl. 5400,– excluding taxes.
Delivery: Friday, March 1, 1968, at Wassenaar
The thread sculpture
In 1968, the TNO staff decided to offer the management a piece of art on the occasion of the move to the new building. G. Mooij designed a thread sculpture that should be placed on the wall in the entrance hall with spacers and a back panel. Because of the distance and shadow effect, the sculpture would have depth effect. Disappointment everywhere when the intended location turned out to be occupied by the tile artwork described above. The thread sculpture represents the combination of the elements threats and countermeasures. Airborne threats and detection are indicated by the bird and the hand up (radar) points to the direction from which the airborne danger comes from. Bottom left industry, chemistry and infrared. Centre top radio communications and telecommunications. Underwater threats and danger detection are indicated by the ship, the crab and the hand pointed down.
This sculpture then wandered through ‘the building’ for the years to come.
The current status
At the end of 2013, it was decided to place the tile artwork behind a false wall to preserve it for the future. After the renovation of the building, this false wall formed a very white surface in the renovated hall. Early 2019, the museum crew boldly affixed the thread sculpture which was presented to the TNO management in 1968, at that wall. After more than 50 years, the thread sculpture finally hangs in its originally intended place.