This article is part of issue N° 6 – The Ball
Photo Gili Merin
In a suburb of the Dutch mediaeval town of Den Bosch lies a field containing fifty globe-shaped houses. These futuristic-looking white bolwoningen (which translates as ‘bulb houses’) were designed in the late 1970s and — thanks to a Dutch fund for experimental architecture — realized in the same year (1984) as the celebrated ‘cube dwellings’ by Piet Blom in Rotterdam. The concrete cylinder on which they stand contains a staircase that rises to the living space where six round windows, a large rooflight and an absence of room dividers suggest more space than the actual 55 square metres these bulb houses offer. Their architect, the artist and sculptor Dries Kreijkamp (1937–2014), was a great fan of the globe shape because ‘it combines the biggest possible volume with the smallest possible surface area. So you need minimum material for it. It’s space saving, very ecological and nearly maintenance-free.’
Kreijkamp knew what he was talking about. He lived in a prototype bulb-house complex consisting of two-and-a-half globes placed on the ground. The houses in Den Bosch should have been built according to this model, but due to building regulations and a fear of the unknown, Dreijkamp had to make several changes: one bulb per house, placed on a stalk and made of cement instead of polyester.
Despite these compromises, the houses attracted attention from all over the world. While Kreijkamp was dreaming of mass production, the first cracks and leakages appeared and the housing association considered demolition. In the end they were saved, but when the architect offered to build a few more the city replied: ‘We already have some, thank you very much.’
Shocked by this ignorance but fuelled by optimism, Dreijkamp worked on the evolution of his creation until his death. He designed floating versions with an outboard motor and even found a Dubai factory that could produce the polyester balls. ‘For 102,000 euros you get a maintenance-free sustainable house, including flooring, bathroom and beds. What more could you want?’
Bliz-aard Ball Sale
Photo Dawoud Bey. Courtesy Jack Tilton Gallery
One winter morning in 1983, David Hammons set up a stall on the corner of Cooper Square in Lower Manhattan. He carefully arranged his merchandise on a colourful rug. What he was about to sell were snowballs. They looked as though they were produced by a machine and varied in size from XL to XS. By the end of the day he had sold the lot. For a dollar a piece.
Hammons' unannounced street action went down in art history as the Bliz-aard Ball Sale. The only traces left of this celebrated performance are some oral accounts and a few photographs made by American photographer Dawoud Bey. On these pictures we see Hammons with hat, sunglasses, scruffy coat and dirty shoes standing behind his rug or offering an XS snowball to a child in a stroller. Looking and acting just like any other street vendor, the artist becomes invisible.
You could easily see Bliz-aard Ball Sale as a humble comment on the art-world craze and on the poverty of many New York citizens. Besides that, it is just a very poetic and witty work by a conceptual artist (inspired by Arte Povera) who is known for making himself difficult to find — fusing art with life and vice versa. In Hammons's notion of an artist, words like illicit and fraudulent appear. And indeed, what could be more of a scam than selling snowballs in winter?