Chair, Market and Identity - Contemporary Danish Design
Crafts and design are a living element of the Danish cultural heritage and the Danish identity. This is especially true for the Danish furniture classics of the 1950s and 60s, not least because of the great international attention they have received. This fact is also reflected in the language. Even in Denmark we speak of "Danish design". Although many products of "Danish design" - such as the exclusive furniture by Hans J. Wegner, Poul Kjaerholm, and Finn Juhl - were of interest only to whose with money to spend, Danish design" has a democratic appearance. Mass production of furniture both and objects of utilitarian art that were of similar quality but were much more affordable accompanied it. Danish design thus became the credo of the Danish welfare state: prosperity for all also meant everyday articles of good quality and at prices everyone could afford.
It is not by accident that furniture above all has become the trademark for Danish design. The furniture conceived by Danish designers is clearly different from other Scandinavian furniture - perhaps due to a tradition of collaboration among artists, designers, and cabinetmakers that goes back to the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth century cabinetmakers were usually trained at the royal Danish art academy in Copenhagen. Since then the legacy of classicism is the foundation of Danish furniture art. However, the canonization of a period and its works can lead to stagnation, and thus it was not until the 1980s, come onto the Danish design scene. Well-known designers are among most influential forces in this new beginning. For the earlier generations these are, among others, Nana Ditzel and Verner Panton.
The central theme in Danish design is still furniture, or rather the chair - the greatest challenge for a designer. While many furniture manufacturers in the past relied on craftspeople and artisans, now only a few firms actively work together with designers to continue the tradition of producing new, experimental furniture of high quality. As the latest examples confirm, thanks to an ever-increasing internationalization more and more Danish designers receive commissions from other countries, for example Germany, England and Italy. Recently, groups of young designers with names such as Octo, Panic and Komplot have drawn attention at national and international exhibitions that focus on form and concept rather than functionality.
In Denmark, during the last ten years there has been an increase in the use of both design and designers in industry. New figures show, however, that only thirty percent of Danish furniture manufacturers consult outside designers in developing new products. Because Denmark has no natural reserves for raw materials, it has concentrated on the export of finished products.
Lately, however, there has been a growing understanding of the necessity to add value to products by using designers. By now young designers prospects for employment in industry are improving. There are at present about two thousand organized graphic designers, product designers, and artisans as well as interior designer and furniture designers in Denmark, and every year an additional three hundred complete their training.
In recent years the Danish government and its department of commerce have made every effort to induce companies to use the possibilities o design in all conceivable areas: from graphic communication to product development all the way to marketing. According to the government's 1998 plan for a new design policy, annual overall outline budgets are to be approved for financing of new initiatives, especially in the area of research and development, information and consulting, consideration for design in government agency purchasing, and financing of products with a design focus. Thanks to these initiatives design will come to play an essential role in Denmark's economic policy in the coming years.
Between the industrial design on one hand and art on the other are the artisans. They have gone through a phase in which many have turned their backs on traditional forms and functions and are instead expressing themselves through paintings and sculptures. The outstanding reputation of art and the accompanying higher prestige and better pay for artists as seen in the 1970s and 80s have no doubt contributed to this, as has the widespread frustration over the limited opportunities to sell craft products intended for everyday use - opportunities that were cut back even further by cheap imports. Now, at the end of the twentieth century, an counter-movement has established itself, a kind of neorealism in which the artisan, based on the experiences and activities of his daily life, creates everyday article of great simplicity and sensitivity from classic materials, for example, glass, ceramics and textiles. A series of everyday objects developed by four artisans for Royal Scandinavia exemplifies this new movement. In the exhibition catalog for a show of their works the group formulated its goals as follows: "It was our goal to show objects whose purpose was neither practical, nor time-saving, neither affordable nor expensive. Instead, these objects are intended to convey the pleasure in thinking about their significance and content and to make manifest through all this the material." In this tension between design, craft, and architecture lies great opportunities for the continued strong development of Danish design.