Denmark, despite being the smallest of the Nordic Countries, has been playing a significant part in the history of design since the mid-20th century. This can be seen at Seoul Art Center’s Denmark: Design, a collection of symbolic works made possible by the collaborative efforts of Seoul’s Hangaram Design Museum and Copenhagen’s Designmuseum Danmark. It will be an interesting exhibition for Korea’s trend savvy audience, while spotlighting simplicity—contrasted with the “ppali ppali” lifestyle that has been very much rampant in this country for decades—in its glory.
The exhibition begins with some glimpse of pieces created before the mid-century movement. Ornate vases and tea sets decorated in nature motifs (flowers, birds, water ripples, etc.), many of which are industrially manufactured by Royal Porcelain Factory Royal Copenhagen, give an idea of how simplicity may have evolved through the attention to detail and unique sense of design that the Danish artisans had developed. The next three rooms are named Precursors 1900-1945: Classicism to Functionalism; Organic Modernism: Danish Design Goes International; and lastly Danish Design in Postmodernism and Our Time—chronologically laying out the development of Danish Design.
It is important not to be fooled by the surface meaning of simplicity; the context of simplicity apparent in this exhibition is, as a description that well describes Danish design, what conceals the details, bringing out the true story behind an artisan’s intense design efforts. When you do notice the detail with such acknowledgment, you can only be astounded by the beauty and purpose of every single element within the piece, whether it is a connection, a metallic finish, detailed patterns on print, or even the type of material used. As such, the perfectly round steam-bent Circle Chair from 1986 or the sleek and luxurious Bang Olufsen’s Beogram 4000 created in 1926 all seem very contemporary, proving the timelessness of the artisans’ nuanced approach. At the end, it is fascinating to realize how the balance between functionality and aesthetics became the core value to creating simple and timeless designs.
Here, what may be a particularly striking factor vis–à–vis the locale of this exhibition is a possible correlation between Denmark’s status as the happiest country in the world (according to the UN’s annual report) and its aesthetics of simplicity apparent in every piece being showcased in the exhibition. Whilst Korea on both governmental and corporate level attempts to reinvent itself as a country specialized in design, Denmark: Design may serve as a clue in finding the fundamental factors behind the birth and sustenance of aesthetics and artistic expressions.