By Michael Pennywark
It’s August in Houston again and you’d never guess, but it’s hot as hell. It’s so hot that I’m sure, like me, you can only dream of escaping to somewhere nice and cool—somewhere like Scandinavia. Sure, it’s half a world away and they have those pesky reindeer everywhere, but being so close to the North Pole, it has to be cooler, right? Besides, I hear reindeer sausage is pretty tasty, and they certainly know how to make vodka if you can’t stomach the aquavit. Unfortunately, if you’re on a budget of Lone Star and Ramen noodles, like me, you probably can’t afford to chase your childhood dream of searching for Santa Claus’s secret summer hideout to demand that Millennium Falcon play-set you asked him for.
But fear not, for the wonderful people at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston are bringing Scandinavia to you. Well, at least some of the best examples of Scandinavian decorative arts from the 1920s to the 1970s that the museum has collected over the years. And, last time I checked, their air conditioning works pretty well. Yep, if you didn’t know better you’d swear you could taste the cloudberries and herring salad right there.
Like many people, the limit of my experience with Scandinavian design can be summed up in my journeys through IKEA where I’d chuckle to myself as I try to pronounce the name of the bookcase I just bought. Often characterized by the same minimalism and clean lines, the Scandinavian design movement, which includes designers from Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, embodies the distinctive aesthetic that is typified by an emphasis on high-quality design and mass production.
The MFAH has a long history with Scandinavian designers, as Cindi Strauss, curator of Modern and Contemporary Decorative Arts and Design at MFAH explained to me. “In the 1940s a men’s smoking room was outfitted with bentwood furniture including chairs, tables, and a folding screen by the now legendary Finnish architect and designer Alvar Aalto. In 1956, the traveling exhibition Design in Scandinavia, organized by industrial design societies in the participating countries, came to the MFAH for a month and featured objects by leading designers in glass, ceramics, metalwork, furniture, and fiber. At the end of each stop on the exhibition tour, an ambassador from one of the countries presented each museum with objects from the exhibition for inclusion in the museum’s permanent collection. The MFAH received four glass pieces: a sculpture and three vases, one of which, Sculpture Lansetti (1955) by Timo Sarpaneva, is included in the current exhibition.”
According to Strauss, “The exhibition offers the opportunity to see outstanding designs by some of the most important Nordic architects and designers of the 1920s-70s: early glass by Alvar Aalto, furniture by Finn Juhl and Bruno Mathsson, textiles by Josef Frank and Marimekko, glass by Orrefors, and silver by Georg Jensen to name a few. The MFAH’s examples are early in date and demonstrate the leading edge of technological and aesthetic innovations by Scandinavian designers.”
Entrance to the exhibition is included with your museum admission so you can afford to buy yourself some Swedish Fish to snack on as you dream about holding Rudolph and his friends for ransom until Santa coughs up that Millennium Falcon.
Aug 26, 2012 – Jan 27, 2013
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Houston, TX 77005