Thursday, 11 February 2016

Learning From Japan

Learning from Japan at Designmuseum Danmark, image by Pernille Klemp

While I went to the opening back in October, it wasn't until last week that I returned to Designmuseum Danmark to take a proper look at its latest exhibition, Learning from Japan. Showing work from both Japan and Denmark from the 1870s up to 2010, it explores an interesting, and rarely considered idea: that rather than always being the influence, sometimes Danish design has been the movement being influenced...

Learning from Japan at Designmuseum Danmark, image by Pernille Klemp

There were two key periods in western design history where 'Japonisme' was of huge importance: first, in the late 1800s when Japan opened itself to the outside world and Japanese products - porcelain, prints, textiles and more - began to be exported to Europe and America - and again in the early 20th century, when the exoticism of these products influenced movements such as Art Nouveau, Art Deco and early Modernism. Curator of Learning from Japan, Mirjam Gelfer-Jørgensen, who has studied the influence of Japan on Danish design in great detail, presents these two periods to us through both work from Japan and Japanese-inspired work from Denmark, creating (whether intentionally or not) a sort of 'spot the origin' guessing game, where you can try to establish where the object has come from without looking at the accompanying information panel. I'm usually cocky enough to say I know a little about Japanese design and a lot about the stuff from Denmark, but found myself getting it wrong much more than right, proving just what a profound impact the movement of Japanese objects into Denmark (and later Danish designers into Japan for study trips) had.

Ceramics by Per Weiss in Learning from Japan, image by Pernille Klemp

Japanese Model furniture by Finn Juhl at Learning from Japan, image by Pernille Klemp

Guessing games aside, this is a really enjoyable exhibition, with really apt and understated exhibition design by Elisabeth Topsøe and a great identity by Designbolaget. While a stylistic similarity is easy to find between the clean, minimalist forms of both countries' design output, this exhibition gives you a closer look at the many commonalities and shared inspirations that have shaped some of the key design work we have in the world. It elucidates some of the ways these styles, and influences made it into Denmark, highlighting the role played by collectors - and the Museum itself - in presenting these exotic Japanese items to designers and the public. It also shows - perhaps not for the first time ever, but the first time that I've seen - that as important and distinct as Danish design is, it needed a little inspiration from elsewhere in order to develop the way it did, proving the permeability of design, no matter where it is from.

The exhibition Learning from Japan runs until 24 September 2017 in Designmuseum Danmark.

Learning from Japan identity designed by Designbolaget

Learning from Japan at Designmuseum Danmark, image by Pernille Klemp
Exhibition shots by Pernille Klemp, all images via Designmuseum Danmark