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The Magic of Form at Designmuseum Denmark.

The exhibition ‘The Magic of Form’, currently on display at Designmuseum Denmark, explores the relationship between Danish design and art and architecture. With the theme of this issue, ‘Danish chairs’, in mind, we take a tour of the exhibition keeping an eye out for chairs, and there are actually quite a few of them. The exhibition is a tour de force in Danish design history, with well-chosen highlights, interesting perspectives, and plenty of parallels to visual arts, crafts, and architecture. An attempt has been made to create a narrative that spans different media and materials. 

The chair is an object that runs like a red thread throughout ‘The Magic of Form’. Perhaps because this piece of furniture encapsulates a bit of everything, and as such serves as a good link when you want to explore the connection between Danish design and other art forms. 

Thus, we start with four chairs at the entrance to the exhibition. They are lined up side by side on pedestals. A word is noted on each pedestal: ‘konstruktion’ (construction), ‘organisk’ (organic), ‘pop’ (pop), and ‘koncept’ (concept). Already here, we get a hint of the exhibition's versatility, with chairs in different styles made of wood, brass, polyurethane foam, and... newspapers. These themes represent the historical development from around 1900 to the present day, and the chairs are highlights from topics that are included as a part of the broad narrative of Danish design that unfolds throughout the exhibition. 

We enter the engine room 
In the next room, we are invited inside the workshop. With Jørgen Roos’ film ‘Danish Design’ from 1961, we are given insight into the production, as we watch wooden armrests pass by on assembly lines and see carpenters polish and sand various chair parts. The photographer zooms in on the details of the furniture, and we can see that craftsmanship is clearly the priority in these busy workshops. 

The next room continues with a staging of the creative process. Oversized paper rolls with sketches stand upright along both walls, and in a beautiful interplay with the drawings, Anders Hermansen’s ‘Wire Sketch Chair’ from 1991 is on display. Even on the floor, there are doodles, as if to emphasize how all-consuming the design process can be. 

Breaks and grand personalities 
The rooms change character to a great extent, so we must pay close attention. But before moving on to a new ‘chapter’, a small break is incorporated into the exhibition design, in the form of a small dark room where the new topic is presented through a few artworks, a well-selected quote, and some text. Like ginger cleansing the palate before the next piece of sushi, the eye is reset through a little rest. 

Now it is time for a room dedicated to grand personalities: Johan Rohde, Thorvald Bindesbøl, Harald Slott-Møller, P.V. Jensen-Klint, and J.F. Willumsen. It looks impressive, the way that the many objects are framed in boxes with different bold background colours, showcasing works that span different media and materials. The selection process must have been challenging with so wide a field, but the tableaus have been arranged to tell a collective story. 

As we move on through the exhibition, we delve into formalism. Here, the idea is that an object’s form and design should be determined by its function. Much contemporary Danish design is still inspired by this idea. We see designs characterised by geometry and simplicity, including Torben Skov’s chair VIO from 1983, which is designed using a triangle, circle, and square in the primary colours, red, blue, and yellow. The chair has appropriately been placed next to Poul Gernes’ sculpture ‘The Alphabet of Shapes, 3’ from 1966, which, with its straightforward style, complements Skov’s chair well. 

After another opportunity to rest the eye, we enter a room where, through a screen, we see the distinctive shadows of iconic chairs. On the other side of the screen, we find a tableau dominated by chairs. On display are chairs by Finn Juhl, Arne Jacobsen, Hans J. Wegner, Nanna Ditzel, and other masters, along with a handful of well-selected sculptures.  

The Magic of Form. Photo: Designmuseum Danmark.

Pop culture and the chair as art 
When we arrive at the 'Pop-up' section of the exhibition, we are met with a riot of colours. We enter a Verner Panton universe with a soft red carpet, (colourful) objects on podiums painted in vibrant turquoise and orange, and a background wall covered in rows of textiles in different colours, which ties the whole room together. A mixture of design, sculpture, crafts, photos, and a couple of videos is on display in a polychromatic pop-cultural symphony. 

Equally fascinating, though less bombastic, is the section that explores the chair as a work of art. Here, we encounter good examples such as Sven Dalsgaard’s ‘sort stol’ (black chair) from 1967, a wall-hung piece in textile on foam rubber, and ‘Chair, 9.5 degrees’ by Rasmus Bækkel Fex from 2014, where the lines of the chair are shifted, almost causing it to tip to one side. All in all, ‘The Magic of Form’ is an exhibition that embraces a wide range of topics while simultaneously managing to delve deeply. It takes us on an exciting journey through the history, trends, and inspiration of Danish design, and it is definitely worth a visit. 

To finish where we started, with the chairs, we recommended you round off your trip with a visit to the museum’s café, where you can enjoy your coffee while sitting on one of the many different iconic chairs. After all, when it comes down to it, the chair is a piece of furniture created for sitting... for the most part. 

‘The Magic of Form’ is on display at Designmuseum Denmark until 1 January 2024. 

The exhibition was created in collaboration with Kunsten Museum of Modern Art Aalborg, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, and architect Anne Schnettler. 

Published in magasinet arkitektur/design no 2 2023
By Tina Kristensen
Translation: Ann Lykke Jensen

Image at the top: The magic of form - Photo: Luka Hesselberg

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