Why the latest design exhibition at the Auckland Art Gallery is at the top of our must-visit list

17 August 2023
By Henry Khov

Denmark has been at the forefront of all things design throughout history. Now, some of the most famous and impactful pieces of Danish design are on display in New Zealand.

Denmark is consistently listed at the top of the UN World Happiness Report, is the birthplace of Lego and recently enveloped the world with the snug comfort of ‘hygge’. Its leading creatives’ delight in the everyday has inspired many iconic design moments from Verner Panton’s Heart Cone Chair to the humble, yet ubiquitous, glass Bodum coffee press, invented by Peter Bodum.

Thoughtful and timeless, Danish design started to gain popularity in New Zealand in the 1950s and simply never stopped. Denmark Design, a major new exhibition at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, celebrates the artistic brilliance of 200 original objects including furniture, fabric, graphic design and jewellery – with two immersive rooms inspired by Panton’s psychedelic wallpaper.

Coordinating curator for the exhibition Emma Jameson says the Danish applied arts movement is noteworthy because of its ongoing balancing of innovation and tradition, function and style. “I think Danish design has been so popular here for the same reasons that it has become renowned internationally: its comfort, its simple yet striking aesthetic, and its thoughtful consideration of everyday use in the home, all qualities which have rendered modern Danish design an archetype of modern living and the home.”

Here are just some of the reasons we’ll be checking it out — and advise you to do so, too:

1. Discover the designers who are responsible for influencing the objects and furnishings you have in your own home.

Though you may not know it, many of the pieces of furniture and other objects, artwork and toys you have in your home or workplace have been designed by (or are heavily influenced by) Danish design. Lego bricks? One of Denmark’s finest achievements in craftsmanship. Wooden toys? You can’t get more Danish than that. Designers such as Hans Wegner and Arne Jacobsen may not sound familiar,  but you will almost certainly recognise their famous ‘wishbone’ and ‘egg’ chair designs.

2. You’ll get schooled up on the story of design in Denmark from the 19th century to today.

Whatever the extent of your design knowledge, the Denmark Design exhibition will prove to be an educational experience, charting the developments in Danish design from the 19th century until today, with a focus on the post-World War II period. Whether you’re an artist or designer yourself or just interested in interior design, industrial design and the applied arts, there is no denying the groundbreaking creativity and enduring influence of the Danish; a lot of this is due to the Danes’ astonishing ability to marry form with function. Denmark Design coordinating curator Emma Jameson says, “Denmark has been at the vanguard of design because of its nuanced balancing of function and aesthetics. By displaying the objects individually and within staged home settings, the exhibition will showcase the groundbreaking craftsmanship of Danish design while emphasizing how design items were, and still are, intended for the everyday needs of the home.”

3. Gain an understanding of how designers in Denmark take a ‘social’ view of design.

Denmark is the happiest country in the world – and this is often attributed to philosophies and values, such as simplicity, sustainability and practicality, that are also reflected in Danish design. The Danish believe good design and wellbeing are intrinsically linked and they carefully consider how all aspects can contribute to a better quality of life for us both as individuals and as communities. This exhibition is particularly timely given a renewed focus on our health, wellbeing, quality of life and sustainability, by ourselves, our community and even by the New Zealand government.

Denmark Design; installation view

4. This will be the exhibition’s first presentation outside of Japan, where it has been touring museums since 2017.

New Zealand can count itself extra special, being the first country to witness the Denmark Design exhibition outside of Japan, where it has been a popular fixture touring across museums since 2017. Co-curated and produced by Michael and Mariko Whiteway in London and Christian Olesen, Head of Exhibitions and Collections at the Designmuseum Danmark, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki has been developing Denmark Design for exhibition here since the end of last year. Coordinating curator for the exhibition Emma Jameson says: “In this process, we’ve created an exhibition design and narrative that is slightly different from previous iterations to tailor it to our exhibition spaces and our audiences.”

Denmark Design is at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki until February 2, 2020. Visit aucklandartgallery.com

Photos: Denmark Design (installation view, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamāki 2019.

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