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The Real Thing: Arne Jacobsen: A Centenary Exhibition at Scandinavia House, New York City, September 27 - November 9

by ArchNewsNow
September 25, 2002

In a world of knock-offs and look-alikes, this is an opportunity to see the originals. “Arne Jacobsen: A Centenary Exhibition” at Scandinavia House in New York City celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of the 20th century’s most influential designers. The exhibition includes Jacobsen’s furnishings and products that have become international design classics as well as six of his major buildings. (For many, it will be a case of “HE designed THAT?”)


Of particular interest to those in town on Thursday, October 31, Scandinavia House will present “Arne Jacobsen Today,” a panel discussion that includes James Stewart Polshek/Polshek Partnership (who designed the strikingly urbane Scandinavia House in midtown Manhattan) and other prominent New York architects and designers. Christopher Mount, curatorial consultant for the exhibition, will moderate the panel. (Tickets/reservations required; call 212-879-9779 or e-mail


Like the seminal figures Alvar Aalto, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Arne Jacobsen (1902-1971) must be appreciated not just for his achievements in architecture, but also for his enormous talent as a designer of an eclectic array of objects. The centenary of Jacobsen’s birth allows a fresh opportunity to reexamine his work, his devotion to a rigorous formalism, and his remarkable skill and flexibility with new technological innovations. Whether he was designing buildings, gardens, landscaping, or smaller objects for interiors such as clocks, lamps, or bathroom fixtures, he pursued beauty and practicality with an unrestrained tenacity. More than 30 years after his death, many of Jacobsen’s pieces are among the most recognizable icons of modern Scandinavian design.


During his long career, Jacobsen produced many different types of architecture: apartment complexes, beach resorts, single-family houses, government buildings, and various sorts of commercial buildings. The strict geometry of his architecture and his use of glass and cement all suggest, at first glance, a predilection for prewar Modernism.


However, Jacobsen’s work is ultimately more sensitive to traditional forms and more compassionate in spirit then much of this earlier work. His economical single-family homes were a hybrid of simple traditional Danish houses and more contemporary modern dwellings. His innovative Munkegård Elementary School (1957), with its attached gardens for contemplation and tutoring, creates a soothing environment for children, while the Århus City Hall (1942) updates the vernacular form of a medieval town hall. St. Catherine’s College (1964) in Oxford is a wonderful modernist interpretation of a classic gothic English college.


Jacobsen’s stubborn character insisted on having total aesthetic control of his projects, and he furnished his buildings with his own furniture and objects. These works were not simply filler, but self-confident pieces that added to the dramatic spirit of the interiors. They demonstrate a stylistic affection for both the rigidly geometric and the more naturally curvilinear. Many of his smaller objects and various pieces of furniture on view—including the “Swan” and “Egg” chairs—were designed for specific projects such as the SAS Hotel in Copenhagen and were subsequently introduced into general production.


Like many mid-century Scandinavian designers, Jacobsen was acutely aware of the benefits of more rational manufacturing techniques, and this is clearly illustrated by the popular “Ant” and “Seven” series chairs, whose two-piece construction is elegant, economical, and efficient. Perhaps the most astonishing feature of these objects is that even many years after their conception they are still remarkably timeless in appearance.


Jacobsen’s career was unusual in the manner in which it bridged the early European modernism of the 1920s and 1930s and the more organic and freewheeling spirit of the 1960s. Success was possible for him in both eras because of a craftsman-like attention to quality. He worked tirelessly and pushed his small staff accordingly, and the resulting large body of work has few equals in terms of quality and variety.


The exhibition focuses on Jacobsen’s furnishings and products that have become international design classics—such as the “Ant” chair (1952); the “Egg,” “Swan,” and “Pot” chairs (1958); Vola faucet fittings (1969); and the Cylinda Line coffee service (1967)—as well as six of his major buildings: the Bellevue Sea-Bathing area (1932); the Rødovre Town Hall (1956); the Munkegård School (1957); the SAS Royal Hotel (1960); St. Catherine’s College, Oxford (1964); and Denmark’s National Bank (1971). Also on view are Jacobsen’s distinctive steel flatware (1957), the “Stacking chair” (1955), the “Giraffe” (1958) and “Slug” (1929) chairs, and the “Discus” wall lamp (1956).


Scandinavia House, the leading center for Nordic culture in the United States, offers a wide range of programs that represent Nordic culture in the broadest sense, encompassing the visual arts, music, and literature, as well as business, finance, and technology.


Christopher Mount, the curatorial consultant for this exhibition, is a design historian and professor at both the Parsons School of Design and in the Masters Program for Decorative Arts at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum. He has lectured extensively and has written for numerous general interest and professional magazines, including The Chicago Tribune, Print, Glass Magazine, I.D., Interiors, Graphics, and Dwell. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of I.D. Magazine. Previously, Mr. Mount was a curator in the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, where he curated numerous exhibitions devoted to architecture and industrial and graphic design.


The exhibition was organized by The American-Scandinavian Foundation in association with the Royal Danish Consulate General in New York, the Danish Secretariat for International Cultural Relations, and the Danish Design Centre in Copenhagen. Generous supporters include: Danske Bank; Ambassador and Mrs. Edward E. Elson; C. Flemming Heilmann; Ambassador John L. Loeb, Jr.; DFDS Transport (US), Inc.; Stig Host; and Phoenix-Trykkeriet. The ASF extends its thanks to the individuals and companies who have lent works to this exhibition, including Tom Rasmussen, Dansk Møbelkunst, Fritz Hansen, Holmegaard A/S, Georg Jensen, Louis Poulsen, Royal Scandinavia, A/S Stelton, and Vola A/S.



(click on pictures to enlarge)

No 7 chairs

Arne Jacobsen photographing in his own garden

Roughhouses (1950): Arne Jacobsen's own residence was in Søholm until his death in 1971.

Egg Chairs (1958); Manufacturer: Fritz Hansen A/S

Ant chair (3101), 1952; Manufacturer: Fritz Hansen A/S

(Nicolai Perjesi)
Candlesticks (1959); Manufacturer: Georg Jensen

(Søren Nielsen)
Prototype Office chair (1970); Fritz Hansen A/S

(Dissing + Weitling)
St. Catherine's College, Oxford UK (1964)

Texaco Gas Station (1937); Kystvejen (Skovshoved)

(Nicolai Perjesi/Kunstakademiets Bibliotek (KAB))
Ice booth (1930´s); costal baths, watercolor

SAS Royal Hotel (1960), at night

Arne Jacobsen

© 2002