Celebrating the 30th anniversary of the VIA (Valorization of Innovation in Furnishing), the Centre Pompidou hosted the exhibition « VIA Design 3.0 », presenting some forty designed prototypes. Interview with Gérard Laizé, VIA Managing Director.
An opportunity to dicover the first creations of Philippe Starck, Martin Szekely, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, Matali Crasset, Mathieu Lehanneur, François Azambourg, Philippe Rahm... and also designs by Gaetano Pesce and Andrée Putman. Projects which were financed by the VIA, in the framework of it annual program of aid to design. A choice of items from this unique collection of prototypes will be donated to the Pompidou Centre, thus adding to the richness of the design collection which already includes around 3000 pieces. Interview with Gérard Laizé, General Manager of the VIA.
What is VIA (Valorisation industrielle de l’ameublement)?
- Gérard Laizé: "The VIA is a private institution of institutional character. It is private in that it is dependent on professional financing delegated by Bercy in accordance with set regulations. It is financed by a fiscal tax paid by French furniture manufacturers, industrialists and artisans. Each of them contributes to a common fund, which is managed by the profession which intends to develop these ventures from different points of view: technical aspects, training, aid in exportation, and the innovation/creation aspect.
The VIA is one of the organisms which uses this common capital for the innovation and creation aspects".
What resources have been implemented by the VIA in the last thirty years?
- Gérard Laizé: "Within the framework of this completely defined venture, we have accumulated funds which have grown over the past thirty years. At first, what gave the VIA its originality were the funds we made available for Aid to Creativity.
This consisted of contributions made by the VIA to young school-leaving designers, to finance scale prototypes and put them in contact with a network of industrial or artisanal producers. Based on the originality which gave the VIA its renown right from the start, we realised that it wasn’t enough to develop creative ideas within a given company.
This was seen as a very subjective notion. When you put a young designer in contact with a publisher, you in fact sell his skills.
A designer’s skills are much greater than just the production of a particular prototype. When I started with the VIA in 1995, I brought in two more possibilities in aid of creativity: the first was the upstream idea that creation does not only come from an intuitive act, but is the fruit of thought, of observation of society’s main lines of evolution.
Secondly, the downstream observation is that we have added accompanying measures for companies, to facilitate access to whatever kind of designer they wish, such as graphic and product designers or scenographers; all those who can introduce new skills to a company. We monitor approximately a hundred companies per year in this type of consulting".
Does that mean that the VIA functions as a research and development centre?
- Gérard Laizé: "Yes, today we do operate like a research centre. We also act as proselytiser to protect the designer in his relationship with a company".
The VIA is therefore an ambassador to a certain French Touch and to an aspect of French industry. Does it gain a cultural consecration with the anniversary exhibition at the Pompidou Centre? And bequeath a large donation to the museum?
- Gérard Laizé: "For the thirtieth anniversary of VIA we indeed placed ourselves on a cultural level. In thirty years we have financed 424 projects. The VIA’s donation to the state collection doubles the volume of the collection over the period and adds twenty designer names to the collection. We have no authority to keep it; it can be seen at the exhibitions we organize and in which we participate. We increase the possibility to exhibit it by entrusting it to museums and state collections. It was therefore decided that we would regularly give pieces not only to the Pompidou Centre but also to other museums. We have over four hundred prototypes and we are giving them only forty".
Have you never been tempted to put these prototypes on the collectors’ market ?
- Gérard Laizé: "No, I wouldn’t consider that ethical. When I arrived at the VIA fifteen years ago, this backdrop was all in bulk, indexed but not considered of any value. It was considered as mock-up material. At first, it was judged good form to give the prototype in question to the designer or to a publisher for publication.
Very often, it was not published, and was found up for sale on the collectors’ market at an astronomical price. Our objective is that the designer earns a living and that the project be made available to the public at large. Therefore I asked the board of directors to freeze the prototype, to let it remain the property of the VIA and we would give the right to exploit only on condition that the producer sign a contract with the designer.
From then on every item was recorded, restored and put into a packing case. They have never been brought out since. It is true that we have only the exceptional pieces. This decision has meant that the VIA does not adhere to the speculative collectors’ markets".
Will the VIA Design 3.0 be a travelling exhibition?
- Gérard Laizé: "It should be going to Seoul. The virtues of the Pompidou Centre are that they can confer with the MoMA, and with the best museums in the world. That, we cannot do. It is an asset to be able to collaborate like that".
The VIA has initiated a series of crucial debates at the Pompidou Centre.
- Gérard Laizé: "We are launching Design au Banc, an important cycle of meetings about design in four annual events, which is a coproduction VIA/Pompidou Centre. Design is one of the rare disciplines that have no critics. These cycles can be attended free of charge and the report can be viewed on www.via.fr."
Exhibition from 16 December to 12 February 2010.
Book publication: "Via Design 3.0, 1979-2009/ 30 ans de création de mobilier" by Gérard Laizé (VIA) and Valérie Guillaume (Pompidou Centre), co-publishers VIA/ Pompidou Centre.