The Danish Chair

 
 

Part of the collection of modern chairs at Designmuseum Danmark, has been moved into a newly refurbished space in one of the long narrow galleries in the south wing to the right of the entrance.

The new display is stunning and with each chair shown in a self-contained box and with good lighting and clear succinct labels it is possible to really appreciate each piece of furniture. The chairs are arranged on three levels … the middle row at about eye level, the lower chairs angled up and the upper tier angled down slightly so the gallery has something of the feel of a barrel shape or barrel vault and each chair is angled to optimise the view point for the visitor. Of course, there are some down sides in that it is not as easy to get a sense of the chair as a three-dimensional work but this new arrangement does let you get very close to look at details and for the middle and upper rows it is possible for the first time here to see the underside of the chairs if you are interested to see how they are constructed.

 
 
 
 

In an initial room there is a short assessment of the place of iconic chair designs in Danish design history with early and foreign chairs, including a Shaker chair from America, that put these designs into a wider context.

There is a Wegner chair before it is assembled to show just how complex the parts and the joints and construction details of a chair can be and there is a clear panel with graphics to show how, for the first time in the museum, the chairs have been displayed by type or typology. So here the groups go from the Folding chairs and stool, to a group of Easy Chairs; then Windsor chairs (essentially chairs with vertical rails across the back) Chippendale chairs (with horizontal rails and often with arms) then a group derived more closely from the Shaker chairs, the distinct Chinese chair and steambent chairs, the Round arm chairs and Klismos chairs (of which The Chair by Wegner is a famous example) and finally Shell chairs.

 
 
 
 

Galleries on the courtyard side of the range have also been rearranged. The chairs were originally there - either in a line along the inner wall or arranged on a deep plinth against the window wall - but a less densely-packed display has been moved to the centre of the main gallery so it is possible to see the upholstered chairs and the larger recliners and so on from all sides.

The Danish Chair - an international affair Designmuseum Danmark

 
 

Designer: Boris Berlin of ISKOS-BERLIN Copenhagen

Curator: Christian Holmsted Olesen.
Graphic design: Rasmus Koch Studio.
Light design: Jørgen Kjær/Cowi Light Design and Adalsteinn Stefansson.
Graphic design: Rasmus Koch Studio.

 

the view down through the galleries showing one section of the old display of chairs in a line against the wall

 

one of the main galleries without the old display of chairs against the inner wall so new stands can be set down the centre to make it possible to see this furniture from both sides

 

Mindcraft16 ... Sølvgade Chair by Cecilie Manz

 
 

The Sølvgade Chair by Cecilie Manz - when seen alongside the other works in the Mindcraft16 exhibition - appears to be the most conventional piece because it is restrained, rather self-contained and certainly does not draw attention to itself. In contrast, many of the other pieces are deliberately flamboyant and deliberately controversial to push conventions and to challenge the visitor. 

However, the design of the chair goes in the other direction by taking the design of a chair back to basic principles it raises interesting and important questions about how designers and manufacturers should approach the production of a new chair. Why is that important? Well, a chair is perhaps the staple piece of furniture and usually has a major place or even an iconic place in the catalogues of the major Danish design companies. New chairs are launched at regular intervals and old designs are revived as a matter of pride in a well-known back catalogue. Most design buffs can reel off a list of classic chairs but would find it more difficult to name more than a couple of classic table designs or a couple of sofas.

What is also important with the Sølvgade Chair is that the form of the chair is not looking back to the work of the cabinet maker's working with Hans Wegner or Finn Juhl, in the classic period of Danish design from the 1950s and 1960s, so quite curved and sculpted or shaped in form but is more closely related to designs from Børge Mogensen and through him back to his master, the pre-war designer and teacher Kaare Klint. The stripped-back but elegant simplicity of the Sølvgade Chair is different from but close in its structural details to the Chair 122 from 1952 by Mogensen or his design for the Haarby Chair for FDB - the Coop - and produced by CM Madsen.

 

the Haarby Chair and Haarby Table by Børge Mogensen made by C M Madsen of Haarby for FDB

 
 

Rather than square-cut legs, most wood-framed dining chairs have turned and shaped legs - often made as thin as possible while leaving enough wood at the top of the legs to be able to cut relatively strong mortice-and-tenon joints, with or without pegs, to hold together the frame of the seat. As the legs are made thinner then usually strength is provided by cross rails below the seat to link together the legs into what is hoped to be a light and elegant framework. 

Similarly, the strongest arrangement for the legs is for them to be vertical and for the back legs to continue up in single straight pieces of wood to support the back rest. If the back legs are splayed backwards to make the chair more stable or simply to make the profile more elegant then the angle of the change of angle at the level of the seat is even weaker. Even where the uprights are vertical there is a problem where the back rest applied directly against or between these uprights because it would be at an uncomfortable angle for the person sitting in the chair … possibly OK for a desk chair or a school chair but certainly not good for someone wanting to feel comfortable and relaxed at a dining table.

Cecilie Manz resolves this problem by shaping back the two uprights on the front or seat side and facing a thin shaped back rest across them at that angle.

On the Sølvgade Chair there are no cross rails at the front or on the sides and although there is a back rail, just below the back of the seat, it actually replaces a back piece for the frame of the seat which is omitted … a detail that makes the chair when seen from the back much less solid or cumbersome. The seat itself is a thin shaped piece of wood dropped into rebates in the seat frame. The back of the seat itself is rounded off and although the front edge of the chair is set square, the front of the seat itself has rounded corners and the front edge of the rebate is set almost as far forward as possible to create what comes closest in the chair to a decorative detail … decorative only in that it is not structurally rational.

 
 
 
 
 

The chair is made in Oregon Pine … or rather Douglas Fir although even that is a misnomer as the tree is not a true fir. It came originally from the west coast of the USA, where it grows tall and straight and has a relatively high and relatively narrow crown and the tall straight trunk has few if any side branches. That is important because there are not as many knots or whorls in the grain that are found where branches have grown but been broken away or trimmed off when the tree was felled.  

Because of the natural height and its straight growth, the timber has been used for construction work including for timber piles and for the masts of ships. A number of Danish architects in the 1960s used the pine for cladding walls and ceilings … almost-certainly the house built for Børge Morgensen in Soløsevej in Gentofte has ceilings in Oregon Pine.

The wood has a straight but strong and pronounced dark grain and an orange colour that can be seen clearly in the Sølvgade Chair. The colour has made it less popular over the last few decades than paler timbers like ash or oak. Cecilie Manz studied in Finland after graduating from The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts School of Design, and of course the use of thin-cut sheets of wood, most often used for making plywood, have been used there for furniture much more than in Denmark.

Mindcraft16 continues at Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen until 8th January 2017

Cecilie Manz

Mindcraft16 ... ceramics

 
 

Works by four ceramicists were selected to be included in the Mindcraft16 exhibition at Designmuseum Danmark.

They could hardly be more different showing four very different approaches to working with clay but all four makers are exploring what they can do with clay, testing boundaries and challenging preconceptions about ceramics.

None of the works are utilitarian pottery although Ole Jensen with his works called Primal Pottery Project  does produce vessels that might conceivably be used to store something. The clay used is a deep red, like the clay used for a refined plant pot, and fired to produce a relatively thin matt body but he uses a thick glaze inside the vessels that has a high gloss in a very deep orange/red colour.

The forms are squat and rotund or simple cylinders but several of the pieces have rounded stubby legs and one seems to have large ears. So this is anthropomorphic pottery - not quite the cartoon-like figures you find in the Moche Pottery of Peru but there are echoes of the shapes found in domestic wares in Ecuador or Costa Rica.

 

 
 
 
 
 

Heavy Stack (Extrude) by Anne Dorthe Vester and Maria Bruun is two separate pieces with rings in stoneware stacked over substantial oak frames. This work is about construction and about forming strong, almost monumental, sculptural works.

The larger piece has six rings and the lower work just a single ring but in both there is a centre upright - a beautiful slab of oak - with strong, sharply-cut oak bars or cross pieces as spacers or supports and also to form short legs on the larger piece. These oak frames seem to take their inspiration from Japanese architecture. It was difficult to see the pieces up close in the exhibition but I suspect that the frames are not pegged or glued but are held together with sharply-cut carpenters joints.

The rings are extruded and unglazed with a slight grit texture. Perhaps a simple but important element is the contrast between the oak - a natural and warm material, that has been given a sharp engineering precision - and the fired clay - ostensibly hard and mechanical because the very process of extrusion is to produce something consistent -  that has rounded, almost soft shapes that could be car tyre inner tubes. The size of these rings and there consistent and almost perfect forms is technically impressive.

 

 

Winter Series by Marianne Krumbach is a group of works that are also in stoneware but her pieces are glazed in dark, rich and deep colours. The delicate forms, inspired by plants and vegetation, seem to be close, in some ways, to porcelain figurines although about as far as you could imagine getting from pretty Meissen shepherdesses. Winter Series is certainly darker and more ominous like marsh or dark woodland plants.

 
 
 

Tension by Christina Schou Christensen is fascinating because here is presented a series of trials and experiments that most ceramicists have to undertake if they try a new glaze or a new clay base.

So there are different consistencies and thicknesses of glaze poured over or dripping from various shapes in clay that are more container than being the point of focus … normally a vessel or a sculpture in clay is the important base of the work that is then coloured or coated with glaze.

Of course the glaze is important in any ceramic piece but with Tension it is the thick, vanilla custard like glaze that is important and the clay shapes simple and in some cases quite crudely formed. What seems to be most important in the experiments with the glaze is it's consistency so it is pulled up into peaks or formed into globules. All these references to food seem appropriate … you could imagine a baker of fine biscuits or a chef icing cakes going through a similar set of experiments to achieve the effect they wanted. Kiln or oven? Clay or pastry? Glaze or icing? Tension really does reinforce those analogies between the core techniques of ceramics and methods of cooking.

 

Mindcraft16

 

This exhibition was shown first in Milan in April 2016 as one of the events of the annual design week in the city. As with the comparable exhibition last year - Mindcraft15 - it was curated and the display was designed by GamFratesi - the Danish Italian design partnership of Stine Gam and Enrico Fratesi. It was organised by the Danish Arts Foundation and the Agency for Culture and Palaces.

There are works here from 17 designers or design studios and the pieces demonstrate not only a very high level of craftsmanship but the works in different ways explore boundaries we seem to impose between craftsmanship and product design and art. Materials include ceramic and wood and textiles but there is also a light installation and music.

The main theme is the imagination and the intellectual process of design - that balance between understanding the materials and the techniques to be used but then wanting to push boundaries - to question, to inform, extend and develop ideas and challenge our preconceptions about how something should look and question what we want and why and how we value art and craft works and how we use objects. It’s about alternatives and discovering new possibilities.  

Gam and Fratesi suggest that the display of the pieces on revolving stands represents exploring the idea itself … from that moment of conception and how a design evolves first in the imagination and then through a number of stages. In part, the stands represent the different areas of the brain thought to be responsible for that process but also by turning they set up different views of each piece and different relationships between one piece and the next to stimulate an interaction.

There is a short introduction in the catalogue by Tor Nørretranders who has written on human consciousness and about how we make sense of the world around us. He makes an important point about the relative roles of the subconscious and the conscious part of the mind in the process of making anything so how both instinct and reasoning are used in that sequence of designing and then making. 

He also makes a link that I had not thought about before … in talking to the visitor, he suggests that when looking at and appreciating a piece it is important to "Thrust your immediate intuition, your like or dislike, your non-conscious, hands-on direct experience."

Surely that is also what the maker does, literally with hands on, during the process of throwing a pot or blowing molten glass or cutting into wood with a chisel or when selecting the right glaze or exactly the right colour for a particular thread … and that is they are making an assessment or a value judgement, part instinct, part training and part experience, part broader knowledge of materials or historic context, to decide what looks right and what feels right for what they 'had in mind' … or what they designed or planned or had drawn before they started to make.

Maybe that is why a work by a craftsman, the maker, is generally more highly valued than anything made by a machine - not so much that it is unique but that each piece is the product of continual checks and balances and decisions through the process of production. 

 

Mindcraft16 continues at Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen until 8th January 2017

 

deal with it by Rosa Tolnov Clausen

work in silver by Yuki Ferdinandsen