The Empty Chair by Maarten Baas for Amnesty International

The Empty Chair by Maarten Baas for Amnesty International

Amnesty International invited Maarten Baas to design a piece to support their campaign against the increased suppression of writers, journalists, artists and activists.

In 2010 Liu Xiaobo was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize for his peaceful battle for fundamental human rights. Liu Xiaobo could not accept the prize in person, because he was in jail serving a 11 year imprisonment for ‘undermining of the state’.

Therefore, The Empty Chair of Liu Xiaobo became a symbol for repression. It is a symbol for Liu and many others who are in jail for expressing their opinion

The Empty Chair, designed by Maarten Baas is about five meters tall and will be presented during the 50th anniversary of Amnesty International on May 28, 2011 in Pakhuis De Zwijger in Amsterdam.

The design of “The Empty Chair” will soon be available in the form of an exclusive pin.

About Maarten Baas

Maarten Baas (1978) was born in Arnsberg, Germany and grew up in The Netherlands.

Upon graduating from high school in 1995, he began studies at the prestigious Design Academy Eindhoven. While at college he designed ‘Knuckle’ candle holder, which was taken into production by Pols’ Potten.

In 2000 he also studied at the Politecnico di Milano, in Milan.

When Baas graduated from the Design Academy Eindhoven in 2002 three pieces from the ‘Smoke’ collection were put into production by Moooi and launched during the Salone del Mobile in 2003. The success of this launch was followed by a solo show one year later at Moss gallery in New York and critical acclaim. ‘Smoke’ is now in museum collections around the world, including the Victoria & Albert Museum, Groninger Museum and Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

In 2005 Baas began collaborating with Bas den Herder, who is now responsible for the production and development of almost all of Baas’s designs. The founding of studio Baas & den Herder made it possible to experiment further with unique, handmade pieces and to produce them on a larger scale. This new collaboration also allows Baas to take on even more ambitious projects for hotels, restaurants, galleries, museums and private commissions from all over the world.

At Salone del Mobile in 2006 Baas presented ‘Clay Furniture’, which was immediately recognized as the natural successor to Smoke and was ultimately one of the most surprising projects unveiled at the festival. In that same year the Design Museum in London displayed 18 pieces from the Clay collection. Clay is also in the collections of the Röhsska Museet Göteborg, the Groninger Museum, and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

‘Sculpt’ followed in 2007 and in 2008 his presentation of both old and new work was arguably the most talked about exhibition in Milan. In 2009 Baas has designed for the new Italian label Skitsch and the British Established & Sons. He has also ventured into filmmaking with Real Time (2009), which has been acquired by the Rijksmuseum, the Philip Johnson Glass House and the Zuiderzeemuseum.

In 2009 Baas is the youngest designer to be named Designer of the Year at Design Miami.

Maarten Baas lives and works on a farm in the countryside near Hertogenbosch

maarten baas and bas den herder at their studio


Maarten Baas conquers the World of Design with a collection of burnt furniture, better known as “Smoke”. Armchairs, chandeliers, chests of drawers ecc. have been treated with epoxy and then put on fire. The result on their shapes and the black colour due to flames arouses on 2003 at the Salone del Mobile in Milan an incredible and enormous succes.

His creations are exhibited in Tokyo, inside the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, in New York in the Murray Moss Gallery, and of course in Holland, inside the Groninger Museum and in the Stedelijke Museum in Amsterdam.

I have been reading a lot about you and it is amazing to see how many pages in Google talk about you and your different approaches in every collection of your works. But your creations have something in common, I think.
I see a very high manual capacity. It seems that you want just retrieve this important and primal character of creativity, in the real meaning of this word. So no more technology but hands. Is it like that?

No, technology can be very useful and I have nothing against it. Only I rarely like the products which are 100% based on technology. It is so strange that there are so many possibilities but that much design keeps being based on a kind of rational, no-nonsense strict way of thinking. I try to expand the way of designing furniture. And indeed I often make handmade things, just because the ideas I have are better to be expressed like that. So far I never used a computer for my designs, but if I could express myself through that way I would do it as well. (Above, from the collection Clay Furniture “Dining table and chairs”, photo by Maarten van Houten)

In our nowdays life, everything has become extremely dynamic and fast. Also shapes of daily objects have followed this tendency. Dynamism in everything then, but in your works it seems that you are a little against of it: you look at the past, and your creations, expecially those of “Sculpt” are imposic, static, solid. What is your meaning,instead?

I only want to make products if I have the feeling it makes sense to make them. I do not want to make anything just because it is nice and it sells. Indeed nowadays there are many products like that, though. It is not particularly for Sculpt that I make pieces like that, it is in general that I feel like that. (Below, from the collection Sculpt “Drawer black”, photo by Maarten Houten)

It seems you feel that objects must be durable and timeless. They don’t have to end up somewhere but they must proudly stay. So you have burnt famous pieces of design because, in spite of everything, beautiful things always stand?

That was not the parallel I meant, but in a way you are right.

What is your main inspiration source then, when you start a new creation?

There are two things which are easy to be mixed up: things of which one thinks it is beautiful and things which are inspiring. Inspiring are things which start a creative process. Beautiful things are things of which you are impressed and which you respect a lot. I have many of those things, but they do not inspire me to make my things. Often because I think: they are good&beautiful and they already exist, so I do not need move that way. My ideas come just from myself, and I am never inspired by other things, at least not conciously.

And when you look at it, how do you feel that is it completed?

It never feels completed.

In particular, in the collection “The Chankley bore” and “Clay furniture” I have the feeling you have been inspired by the fantasy world of children. Is your meaning that you want to bring something cheerful and fresh in the daily life of adults?

Yes, that is absolutely a part of what I am doing. I believe that real beauty is in intuition, spontanity, freshness etc. It seems that thoughts and brains are taking over the role of emotion and lightness. Often it seems that if you can explain why something is good, it is better than if you just feel like it is good without explanation. I want to make products for a world where ratio is not playing any role anymore. And that is indeed in a children’s world as well.

How much Design of the past have inspired your creations?

Not much in particular, but of course the whole design history in general plays a role in my vision on things.

Dutch young designers as you are worldwide famous. Do they have something in common, such as attitudes, intentions, philosophy?

Yes, but that is not typical Dutch. (Young) designers from any country also share common things with each other – and therefore – also with Dutch. I am not one of the people who believes in that magic Dutch thing which everybody tries to discover.

What would you suggest to young talents who would like to start in the fields of design?

Do not try to achieve a goal in an unnatural way, but just make what you really believe in.

What is your favourite Design object?

That is of course my own design, because if I would not have thought it was better, I would not have made it.

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