Ben van Os has won international renown as a cinematic art director. Over the last twenty years he has designed unforgettable sets for over sixty feature films and has twice been nominated for an Oscar: in 1994 together with Jan Roelfs for the design of Sally Potter’s Orlando and last year for his atmospheric work on Peter Webber’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. Ben van Os is best known for his partnership with director Peter Greenaway, whose weird and wonderful films ZOO (1985), Drowning by Numbers (1986), The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989) and Prospero’s Books (1991) owe their reputation in part to the lavish but disconcerting sets designed by Ben van Os and his partner Jan Roelfs. Van Os has become famous for his baroque, dreamlike style of cinematic design. He says that the ‘castles in the air’ that he creates constitute a world in themselves – a ‘heightened reality’ imbued with the artificial language of painting and theatre, and emphasising light, colour and texture.
Van Os came to this profession by accident. After training at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, he began his career as an interior designer. His feeling for film did not surface until 1982, when Eric de Kuyper asked him to help build the set for Naughty Boys. His work on that project led to other partnerships, for example with film producers Kees Kasander and Matthijs van Heijningen, and with directors like Frans Weisz, George Sluizer, Peter Greenaway and Peter Webber. In the exhibition, Van Os will present three tableaux that he has created using objects from the collections of the Gemeentemuseum and props he has used on film sets. The tableaux relate to three films: Eline Vere, Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover. They will be accompanied by clips and stills from other films, chosen to illustrate Van Os’s offbeat approach. In the past, the Ouborg Prize was awarded to Frans Zwartjes (1990), Wil Bouthoorn (1991), Gerard Fieret (1992), Lotti van der Gaag (1993), Tomas Rajlich (1994), Dick Raaijmakers (1995), Martin Rous (1996), Auke de Vries (1997). It then became a biennial prize and was awarded to Philip Akkerman (1999), Vojta Dukát (2001) and Hans van der Pennen (2003).
To accompany this year’s exhibition, the Hague Centre for Visual Arts, Stroom Den Haag, is publishing a book containing contributions by Lily van Ginneken (chairperson of the jury and a past director of Stroom Den Haag), Katrien Gottlieb and Peter Greenaway.