Critics’ Picks

Viola Gråsten, Oomph, 1952, fabric, dimensions variable.

Malmö

“Oomph”

Malmö Konstmuseum
Malmöhusvägen 6
June 4 - September 4

The phrase “Swedish design” usually conjures a range of hugely popular stylistic conventions rather than works by individual designers. Therefore, this show’s effort to locate the emergence of the style in its original context between the 1930s and the 1960s, while highlighting the vital roles played by female designers, is helpful toward gaining deeper insight into one of the most dominant influences in our built environment today.

The exhibition successfully strikes the right balance between being seductive and informative. The irresistibly appealing design objects are expertly displayed, while the informational texts, accompanied by carefully selected archival photographs and publications, anchor these artifacts in the time and circumstances of their production, from the advent of a scientific and egalitarian approach to design and homemaking in the 1930s to the new post–World War II social and economic order. Several examples here, such as Ingeborg Lundin’s glass object Apple, 1955, speak to how changes in industry during this era enabled women to enter previously male-dominated disciplines. The correspondence between artistic forms and society is evoked, for instance, by Finland-born Viola Gråsten, who relocated to Sweden in 1944 due to a shortage of wool—her dazzling Oomph fabric from 1952 gave this show its name.

Because these designers’ primary objective was to integrate modern design into everyday reality as opposed to revolutionary grandstanding—for example, Lena Larsson pioneered flat-pack furniture—it is hard to fully grasp the extent of their influence. For a non-Swedish audience, what is most astonishing is how familiar the visual language of these pieces feels. This testifies to the extent in which these designers continue to define our sense of what constitutes the ideal living environment and, consequently, our notion of well-being.