May 16, 2014 | Alex
One of the highlights of the Collective Design Fair (May 8-11) was catching a preview of the Norwegian Icons exhibition. Opening May 23 at Open House Gallery in SoHo, Norwegian Icons will showcase important Norwegian design from the era 1940-1975, alongside photographs by contemporary Norwegian talent Rune Johansen. It's a concept that's exciting both for the quality of craftmanship on display, and for the broader implications for the nation's design legacy.
In the family history of Scandinavian mid-century design, I can't help but think of Denmark as the widely-heralded and prolific child prodigy; Sweden the pragmatic, but reliably productive elder sibling; Finland the eclectically-gifted youngest. In this tableau, Norway is the oft-forgotten stepchild. But as it turns out, Norway was an equal and active player during the United States' (post-war original) love affair with Scandinavian design. Lady Bird Johnson received a Benny Motzfeldt glass bird as a present from her husband, and Torbjørn Afdal's furniture joined the White House collection during President Kennedy tenure in office. The Stokke Tripp Trapp chair, today a staple of any brood-filled Brooklyn home, was designed by Norwegian Peter Opsvik in 1972 to accommodate his young son as he grew. (I admit, before perusing the exhibition catalogue, I misattributed the Tripp Trapp to the Swedes. Eep!)
So what happened? Well, in an oversimplified nutshell, Norway discovered oil in the North Sea in 1969. While its nordic neighbors continued to tout their designers abroad, their work proudly presented as a manifestation of cultural zeitgeist, Norway was busy becoming a global energy power. As Director of the Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture Andreas Vaa Bermann writes in his forward to the exhibition's catalogue, "Norwegian furniture design is not absent or invisible, it is just obscured." Norwegian Icons intends to bring it out of the shadows.
The exhibition started in Oslo and moved to Tokyo, before arriving in New York. But it's origin story begins with Fuglen ("The Bird"), a coffee shop by day and cocktail lounge by night in Oslo. Although the coffee shop itself has been around since 1963, it was reinvented in 2008 as a collaboration between award-winning barista Einar Kleppe Holthe and Peppe Trulsen, one of Norway's preeminent experts on 1950s and 60s design. Peppe carefully curated the interiors, which serve as a living showroom in which all pieces are available for purchase. After respawning as Fuglen, the multi-concept space became a mecca for the beautiful people of Oslo to recline in an iconic and ergonomic lounge chair, while exchanging ideas over a painstakingly brewed cup of coffee. But the beautiful, design-conscious masses cannot live on caffeine alone. So in 2010, the original pair brought on Halvor Digernes to roll in a "speak easy" cocktail bar concept. Sign me up, please!
Japanese artist Takashi Murakami must have felt the same way, because in late 2013, he teamed up with the "the bird" trio to establish Bar Zingaro, a Fuglen outpost in Tokyo. Could Brooklyn be next? Fuglen is playing coy, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed. In the meantime, I'll tide myself over by admiring the goods on display at Open House Gallery next week and studying the poetically-written exhibition catalogue. Here are a few pieces I'm hoping to see in person:
Sources, all items via Norwegian Icons:
- Krobo Bench by Torbjørn Afdal (1962)
- Bull by Arne Lindaas (1970)
- by William Knutzen (1950)
- Tripp Trapp by Peter Opsvik (1972)
- HX 70 by Arne Halvorsen (1960)
- Holmenkollen by Arne Tidemand Ruud (1959)
"Norwegian Icons: Important Norwegian Design from the Era 1940-1975 - An Exhibition" will be on display in New York at Open House Gallery, 201 Mulberry Street, from May 23 through June 1. It is curated by Fuglen and Blomqvist. The exhibition website is www.norwegianicons.com.