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Rediscovering Icons of Norwegian Design

This blockbuster exhibit makes it clear that Norway shouldn’t be the lesser-known country in the world of Scandinavian design.
Arctis Chair by Hans Brattrud

One of more than 500 pieces of furniture and decorative arts being displayed at "Norwegian Icons," a massive exhibition coming to Openhouse Galleryin New York on May 23, 2014.

Photo by Blomqvist for Norwegian Icons

“We’re rediscovering our design, in a way,” says curator Einar Holthe about "Norwegian Icons," a massive exhibition of furniture and decorative arts from his home country coming to New York from May 23 through June 1, 2014. The show features more than 500 pieces and shines a light on works made between 1940 and 1970, including furniture by Torbjørn Afdal and Fredrik Kayser, glassware and ceramics from Benny Motzfeldt and Herman Bongard, and decorative arts from Grete Prytz Kittelsen. It opened to acclaim in Oslo and Tokyo, but there are pieces on display that even people in Norway's neighboring countries don’t know about, according to Holthe. It’s all part of the story of how the profile of Norwegian furniture and crafts has shifted over the decades.

Holthe, CEO of Fuglen, remembers where the impetus for the show came from, at least for him; at a Sotheby’s auction of Scandinavian design, he clearly remembers seeing the flags of Denmark, Sweden, and Finland, but not Norway. His country’s craft contributions had lost the status they once held. While the work was acclaimed in the middle of the 20th century—Norwegians won a raft of medals at the 1954 Milan Triennale—when the country discovered oil in the North Sea in the ‘70s, a radical shift in the economy affected the furniture and decorative arts business. Exports died out, and the suddenly flush domestic buyers began chasing trends, such as American furniture. A country that once supported nearly 300 ceramics companies now has one, according to Holthe.

He says the appreciation for homegrown design came back strong in the mid ‘90s, and now Norwegian pieces are coveted by collectors. But he does remember people coming to the Oslo stop of the exhibition and muttering to themselves about having thrown away something a few years ago that was now on display in front of them. Holthe hopes the show will get Norway’s neighbors, and the world, to pay more attention.

Norwegian Icons will be at Openhouse Gallery in New York (201 Mulberry Street in Soho) May 23 through June 1, 2014.

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