“We set up our exhibitions to communicate to the world the unknown legacy of Norway’s midcentury design,” says Einar Kleppe Holthe, project leader for Norwegian Icons: Important Norwegian Design from the Era 1940-1975, to be held in SoHo’s Openhouse Gallery, New York, from Friday May 23 to Sunday June 1. It follows two similar events held last year in Oslo, then in Tokyo, both co-curated by Fuglen, a cocktail bar-cum-showroom based in the two cities that specialises in this style of design, and Norwegian auction house Blomqvist Kunsthandel. The latter regularly sells art by Edvard Munch — who, says Holthe, “paved the way for Norwegian modernism” — and the show will display five of his prints ($38,000-$340,000).
According to Holthe, Norwegian modernist design is unsung because it is often grouped together with other Scandinavian creations. “Norwegians get fed up with it being labelled Scandinavian or mistakenly described as Danish or Swedish,” he says. It doesn’t help that while it’s easy to name-check famous designers from Denmark — think Verner Panton — or Finland — take Eero Arnio — Norway lacks its equivalent design superstars.
However, the 500-plus pieces of furniture, ceramics and glassware on show share many well-loved traits associated with Scandinavian design, from finely crafted wood to a pared-down aesthetic. Examples include a Krysset chair by Fredrik Kayser ($6,000, second picture), Hermann Bongard’s Conform coffee table ($3,050, third picture), Birger Dahl’s lamp ($2,050, first picture) and a rare 1970s glass vase by Benny Motzfeldt ($3,650). Even so, the stark contrast between a couple of pieces — Tias Eckhoff’s delicate china set ($1,700 for 30 pieces, fourth picture) and Kåre Berven Fjeldsaa’s primitivist vase (not for sale) — highlights two key hallmarks of this type of Norwegian design: its individualism and variety.
“Our designers lived all over Norway and had their own way of working,” explains Holthe. “Innovative ideas flourished in every fjord and corner of the country, creating a unique diversity.”