In the aftermath of the Second World War came the Nordic Modernist Movement, a movement which strived for affordable, practical and beautiful homeware and jewellery which can still be seen to affect our own contemporary designs. The current Nordic Design exhibition in The National Museum of Scotland shows a small but exemplary collection of just some of the revolutionary designs brought to the world from the Nordic lands.
The exhibition itself seems to be set out in such a way that it demonstrates how Modernism moved from the rigid, geometric designs inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement, towards the more rounded, flowing designs brought to us by Organic Modernism. However, despite these stark differences in the stages of the evolution of Modernism, they all share two things: simplicity and usability.
The jewellery display exhibiting the work by the Danish firm Georg Jensen oozes with the essence of mid-century design, and was probably very influential regarding the ‘bubbly’ designs used in the western-world’s design in the 60’s and 70’s considering these designs began in the 40’s. This display, unlike the glassware and pottery displays, showed a display of both the geometric and organic Modern designs. All the jewellery was either entirely silver in colour or merely accented with deep blues, purples and teals.
Much like the jewellery, the glassware was either made of clear glass or deep reds and greens, which perpetuates their aim for simplicity in their designs. While some of the glassware was of decorative, Organic Modernist design, one set of products which truly stood out was Saara Hopea’s seemingly mundane yet revolutionary invention of stackable glasses. She won the 1954 Milan Triennale’s silver medal for this invention and even today this domestic design can be seen in the Reko and Vaken glasses from IKEA’s current collections. This sort of innovation demonstrated how the Nordic Modernist design was a celebration of the common household and domestic life in general.
The pottery in the exhibition displayed by far the greatest expression of Organic Modernism. The designs are, once again, sparse in colour with one of the sets even being called “Blue Line” due to the blue line around the rims of the lids which is so fine it may as well have not been included. With saucers that look more like paint splatters than today’s basic circles and mugs with handles that seem to grow out of the cup, these pieces seem to show the highest extreme of complexity the Nordic Modernists were comfortable with.
To a contemporary audience this exhibition may not seem all that exciting, but that is because the stylistic features of these pieces are still present in today’s homeware. What was revolutionary over 60 years ago is the standard today. While current design has moved on in some ways, there are also many ways in which we still strive for this simple, affordable beauty in our own lives.
At National Museum of Scotland, until 12 February 2017