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Museum Director Marcelle Giving a Press Preview

New Exhibition at Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Milwaukee Art Museum Examines Modern Design Exchanges between Scandinavia and the United States

Posted on January 7th, 2020

Scandinavian Design and the United States, 1890–1980 is the first major international traveling exhibition of its kind. –

Los Angeles and Milwaukee, Wis. – January 7, 2020 – The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) today have jointly announced the first exhibition exploring the myriad design exchanges between the United States and the Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. 

Scandinavian Design and the United States, 1890–1980 will examine Nordic design’s lasting impact on American culture and material life, as well as the United States’ influence on Scandinavian design. Co-curated by Bobbye Tigerman, Marilyn B. and Calvin B. Gross Curator, Decorative Arts and Design at LACMA, and Monica Obniski, Demmer Curator of 20th- and 21st-Century Design at MAM, the exhibition will feature rich and varied accounts of immigrant Scandinavian designers who settled in the United States, Americans who studied or taught in the Nordic countries, the uses of design as a diplomatic tool, the extensive campaigns to market and export Scandinavian design to Americans, and the ways that design has been used as an impetus for social change. The exhibition will show how major themes such as concerns about environmental sustainability and accessibility, the contributions of immigrants to their adopted societies, and critical analysis of advertisements and marketing remain relevant topics of contemporary discourse. 

“This highly collaborative project is the first to weave together nearly 100 years of cultural interactions between these two regions,” said co-curator Monica Obniski. “The exhibition narrative begins with the arrival of Nordic immigrants in the United States in the 19th century and the importation of Scandinavian luxury goods. It traces the burgeoning interest in Scandinavian design in the post-World War II era, and ends by showing how the emergence of the accessible and sustainable design movements in the 1960s and 70s charted a new course for designers in both the United States and the Nordic countries.” 

“This exhibition seeks to correct the prevailing narrative of American design history, which neglects the long, extensive influence of Scandinavian design in the United States,” explained co-curator Bobbye Tigerman. The canonical history has largely centered on central Europeans who immigrated to the United States in the 1930s and became leaders at architecture and design schools across the country (examples include Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Josef Albers). “This narrative has obscured, for example,” continued Tigerman, “the critical role played by Cranbrook Academy of Art—specifically through Finnish American architect Eliel Saarinen and a dynamic group of Scandinavian instructors—in shaping an exceedingly influential generation of American designers, which included Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen, and Florence Knoll.” The exhibition explores how Scandinavian design became an integral part of what we now think of as “American design.” 

Scandinavian Design and the United States will feature more than 180 objects, including furniture, jewelry, glass, metalwork, textiles, architectural drawings, and product designs, and will be organized into six thematic sections: Migration and Heritage, Selling the Scandinavian Dream, Design for Diplomacy, Teachers and Students, Travel Abroad, and Design for Social Change.

The exhibition will be on view at the Milwaukee Art Museum from May 15 to September 7, 2020. It will be shown at LACMA from November 8, 2020, to February 15, 2021, and will be presented at the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm, Sweden, and the Nasjonalmuseet in Oslo, Norway, in 2021-22.

A richly illustrated, 336-page catalogue conceived and edited by the co-curators and distributed by DelMonico Books/Prestel will include scholarly essays by 18 international scholars. Written to appeal to both specialist and general-interest readers, it will feature both in-depth essays and short entries on objects or individuals with untold stories. With its combination of new research and extensive illustrations, it is certain to become the standard reference on the subject and a beautiful object in its own right.

This exhibition is co-organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Milwaukee Art Museum.

The exhibition and international tour are made possible through support from the Terra Foundation for American Art. Major support is provided by the Henry Luce Foundation.

Generous support is provided by Nordic Culture Point. Additional support is provided by the Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation and the Nordic Culture Fund. 

In Milwaukee, this exhibition is presented by the Krei Family in memory of Melinda, with generous support from the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Collectors’ Corner and the Anders and Birgit Segerdahl Family. Additional support is provided by John Stewig and
Dick Bradley in memory of Dick’s mother, Karine.Exhibitions at the Milwaukee Art Museum are made possible by the Museum’s Visionaries Debbie and Mark Attanasio, Donna and Donald Baumgartner, John and Murph Burke, Sheldon and Marianne Lubar, Joel and Caran Quadracci, Sue and Bud Selig and Jeff Yabuki and the Yabuki Family Foundation. 

All exhibitions at LACMA are underwritten by the LACMA Exhibition Fund. Major annual support is provided by Kitzia and Richard Goodman, Jerry and Kathleen Grundhofer, Meredith and David Kaplan, and Jeffrey Saikhon, with generous annual funding from Terry and Lionel Bell, the Judy and Bernard Briskin Family Foundation, Kevin J. Chen, Louise and Brad Edgerton, Edgerton Foundation, Emily and Teddy Greenspan, Earl and Shirley Greif Foundation, Marilyn B. and Calvin B. Gross, Mary and Daniel James, David Lloyd and Kimberly Steward, Kelsey Lee Offield, David Schwartz Foundation, Inc., Mr. and Mrs. Anthony and Lee Shaw, Lenore and Richard Wayne, Marietta Wu and Thomas Yamamoto, and The Kenneth T. and Eileen L. Norris Foundation.