A new exhibition revisits Americans' passion for Scandinavian design

·2-min read
Arnstein Arneberg, Design of the Security Council chamber of the UN, United Nations,, Nations Unies, New York (circa 1949)

Much of Europe has been gripped by a passion for Scandinavian design over the past decade, but it has long been outpaced by the United States. A new exhibition at the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm looks at the Nordic countries' influence on the modern American aesthetic. And vice versa.

"Scandinavian Design & USA - People, Encounters and Ideas, 1890-1980" is an international collaboration between the Nationalmuseum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Nasjonalmuseet in Oslo. It features more than 300 objects from American and Scandinavian collections. These objects highlight the "design aesthetic, identity and philosophy" as we know it today.

The exhibition retraces the origins of Scandinavian design in the 1930s, under the impulse of designers such as Finland's Alvar Aalto, Denmark's Poul Henningsen and Finland's Maija Isola. Their credo: functionality and minimalism. It was not until two decades later that this aesthetic made a noticeable appearance on the international scene thanks to the traveling exhibition "Design in Scandinavia: An Exhibition of Objects for the Home."

This bold initiative by the Nordic countries aimed to bring Scandinavian design into North American stores and homes. And it worked. Scandinavian design quickly became synonymous with good taste and good living... until it experienced an identity crisis in the 1960s with the arrival of Pop art. Thirty years later it came out of the identity crisis and has since become an absolute reference in design.

"Scandinavian Design & USA - People, Encounters and Ideas, 1890-1980" focuses on the influence that Scandinavian aesthetics had on American design. Visitors to the exhibition will be able to immerse themselves in the stories of Scandinavian designers who immigrated to the United States, contributing to an exchange of ideas between the Nordic countries and North America. Scandinavia was not the only region of the world to use design as a diplomatic tool. The United States did the same during the Cold War, as the exhibition "Scandinavian Design & USA" highlights.

"Scandinavian Design & USA - People, Encounters and Ideas, 1890-1980" will run from October 14 through January 9, 2022 at the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm. It will then travel to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Nasjonalmuseet.

Caroline Drzewinski

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