Sunday, July 30, 2017

Exploring Local Design


Denmark has a rich intellectual and artistic heritage. The Danes are a happy and proud people and have a special relationship with their country and their flag. The Danish flag is everywhere and has a name: “dannebrog”, which means “Danish cloth”. Legend has it that the flag fell from the sky during a battle of the Danish army against Estonia, when they were praying to God to save them from defeat – which worked. I think it’s a quite pretty flag. Its bold red and white colors look great on the background of a clear blue sky. Equally as important to Danish culture is the country’s arts and crafts. Danish artistic sensitivity spans into everyday life transforming architecture, furnishings, tableware, décor, and textiles that become functional art objects.
A visit to the Design Museum in Copenhagen provided an extensive look into the last century of Danish design. Of particular interest was a permanent exhibition entitled The Danish Chair, an International Affair. A diverse collection of chairs told the story of how Danish Modern became an international brand and trendsetting trailblazer. A stunning display of 100 Danish and international chairs line a hexagon-shaped room from floor to ceiling. Each chair is framed in its own clean white box, shown as a series of individual art objects. An homage to domestic design and craftsmanship, the exhibition emphasized 1920-1970, the pinnacle of Danish furniture design. Materials including wood, plastic, metal, and fabric make up a variety of chair styles such as armchairs, dining room chairs, folding chairs, lounge chairs, and rocking chairs. The design and fabrication of each chair was inspiring, yet gained a greater context and presence displayed as a collection. It staged a look into how design trends changed over the years and the many approaches to the modern chair in the 20th century.

“The chair is the piece of furniture that is closest to human beings. It touches and reflects the body that sits on it, with arms, legs, seat and back. It is a designer's touchstone and design history's favorite object. And the chair is one of the most culture-bearing design objects.” (Nikolina Olsen-Rule)

Journeying to the other side of the world without leaving the museum, the exhibition Learning from Japan, highlights the connection of Japanese art as a continued source of inspiration for Danish arts and crafts. Japanism has been a catalyst and important precursor to the modern Danish aesthetic that branded Denmark into a design nation in the 20th century. The exhibition includes 400 works of furniture, ceramics, painting and woodblock prints, textiles, sculptures and lamps. The idea for the exhibition is based on the book, “Influences from Japan in Danish Art and Design 1870-2010,” by exhibition curator and art historian Dr. Phil Mirjam Gelfer-Jorgensen. Inspired by elements of nature, intentional design, and quality craftsmanship, the connections between the two cultures are long-lasting and surprising. A shared commitment to form following function, simple lines, and timeless style in elegance, make apparent the thematic threads that tie these two design icons together. The strongest relationship I observed was both countrys’ belief in the beauty of things to make life better. From this concept stems the source for the aesthetic correlations brought to light by the exhibition’s juxtaposition of these two cultures.

Scandinavian design and its famed art objects are not bonded to the artistic institution in Denmark. Examples of Danish style can be seen in everyday architecture and décor, especially within domestic spaces. Described as being fairly minimalist with clean lines, Danish design is highly functional with effective style that is devoid of heavy elements. Only what is needed is used. Deriving this philosophy from inter-war art movements, Scandinavian design is sometimes referred to as democratic design, because of its aim to appeal to the masses through products that are accessible and affordable. However, in an effort to achieve balance, the designs were not stripped of their beauty to make them as easy to use as possible. This theme and continued examples of Scandinavian design where visible as I explored Copenhagen and Skaelskor. The studio and resident house were inspiring specimens of the country’s design sensibilities and histories. Being immersed in these spaces for six weeks had a profound effect on the designs for my ceramic work. Designing through experience and observation seemed effortless when surrounded by constant examples of good design and timeless beauty.

The Danish Flag is hung for national holidays and special events.

Japanese Textile, Design Museum, Denmark
Bridge Set, Design Museum, Denmark

Learning from Japan, Design Museum, Denmark

Learning from Japan, Design Museum, Denmark

Permanent Collection, Design Museum, Denmark
The Danish Chair, An International Affair, Design Museum, Denmark

The Danish Chair, An International Affair, Design Museum, Denmark

The Danish Chair, An International Affair, Design Museum, Denmark

Kitchen, Guldagergaard Resident House

Living Space, Guldagergaard Resident House

Library, Guldagergaard Resident House

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