Some three million Scandinavians emigrated to the United States in the late 19th century, bringing with them craft skills and design aesthetics that would prove hugely influential to American manufacturing. The exhibition examines the relationship between Scandinavian and American design in the 20th century. Scandinavian Design & USA: People, Encounters and Ideas, 1890–1980 runs through 7 August 2022 at National Museum – Architecture, Oslo.
For the first time, the relationship between Scandinavian and American design in the 20th century is the subject of an exhibition. The National Museum – Architecture is proud to present Scandinavian Design & USA – People, Encounters and Ideas, 1890–1980, the product of extensive international collaboration and new research.
What is Scandinavian design?
What does Scandinavian Design really mean? Typically, the label brings to mind a mid-twentieth century design trend characterised by poise, elegance, natural materials, and an eye on exports. But is this a fair picture?
This exhibition explores almost a century of design that developed through encounters and exchanges between Scandinavia and the USA. The design-historical round trip traces the great emigration from Norway and neighboring countries in the late 19th century and the invention of the term Scandinavian Design in the 1950s. The exhibition delves into the ways that identity building, stylistic trends, and politics influenced perceptions of the objects we gather around us.
Trends that shaped the design aesthetic
Through a uniquely curated set of artifacts drawn from collections in the United States and Scandinavia, visitors can learn about the trends that shaped the design aesthetic, identity and philosophy that we encounter to this day. Among the topics examined were the significance of Scandinavian emigration and the large-scale marketing campaigns for Scandinavian Design in the United States in the 1950s. The exhibition also consideres the role played by design as a tool of international diplomacy.
The exhibition brings together industrial design, toys, graphic design, textiles, clothes and furniture, offering moments of recognition and surprise that clarify links and foster new understanding between our cultures.
Contemporary design from the Nordic countries
When it was coined in the 1950s and promoted worldwide, the term Scandinavian Design referred to contemporary design from the Nordic countries. In the political and economic spheres, the concept became a brand embodying the traditions, culture, natural heritage and democratic values of Scandinavia. Although genuine to a certain extent, the concept is contentious, and the exhibition reveals a multifaceted design history reaching back much farther. Examples that stand out include airline advertisements featuring a Viking, the industrial design of new household goods, and finely crafted silverware for the new cocktail culture. Other examples that illustrate the widespread appeal of the concept include interior furnishings for the United Nations headquarters and upscale private residences, and car interiors featuring woven textiles.
Visitors can discover how transatlantic relationships between Scandinavia and the United States became central to cultural heritage on both sides of the pond. The exhibition is produced by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Milwaukee Art Museum in association with Nasjonalmuseet, Oslo, and Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.
Scandinavian Design & USA: People, Encounters and Ideas, 1890–1980, compiled by Tor Kjolberg
Featur image (on top): Peter Opsvik, Stokke (design 1972)