Balmain, The Danish Chair and Japan: Designmuseum Danmark

Last weekend I discovered Designmuseum Danmark (Danish Museum of Art and Design); one of the most popular museums in Denmark. It is near the Amalienborg Palace (and many other tourist attractions) and it offers free admission to students. As it says on the museum’s official website, “Designmuseum Danmark is a working archive and the entrance to Denmark as a design destination.” The Confederation of Danish Industries in Copenhagen and the Ny Carlsberg Museumslegat founded it in 1890. The museum’s mission is to communicate the idea of quality through design. Moreover, it aims to improve the quality of Danish industrial products and to stand as an inspiration for those who are in the industry. You can find Danish and international design, crafts and handicrafts at the museum. Moreover, it is one of the central spots for doing research in design history in Denmark. Another interesting detail is that the current building of Designmuseum Denmark used to be the Royal Frederik’s Hospital, built by King Frederik V between 1752 – 1757. It was the first hospital of Copenhagen and was one of the most important rococo buildings (rococo is an 18th century French art movement) of the time. The museum buildings were renovated in 1920.

The entrance.

When I visited, there were about nine exhibitions being shown; I made it to six of them: “I am Black Velvet” by Erik Mortensen, “Learning from Japan”, “Fashion & Fabric”, “20th Century Crafts & Design”, “Danish Design Now”, and of course “The Danish Chair An International Affair”.


Erik Mortensen was born in 1926 in Denmark. He moved to Copenhagen at the age of 16 and became an apprentice to Holger Blom. Later, when Pierre Balmain died in 1982, Mortensen became the head designer of Balmain and carried the legacy while creating his own work with his style. As the head designer, he designed 17 collections at Balmain. He left Pierre Bailmain in 1990 and became the head designer for Jean-Louis Scherrer in 1992. Mortensen died in 1998 in Paris. As the museum website describes, “the exhibition is built up around several themes that offer insight into Erik Mortensen’s unique design talent, the legacy of Balmain, his design process, his joy in materials and his sublime craftsmanship, his fascination with the colour black (this is one of the reasons why I enjoyed the exhibition so much) and the play of transparent textiles against bare skin. There are also areas in the exhibit devoted to Mortensen’s fashion shows and the stories of his private customers, among them celebrities and royal families.”


The exhibition focuses on two main things: depicting how the symbols of the universe define Japanese art and showing the Japanese influence on Danish crafts and design. “Since it was founded, the museum has collected Japanese art as a source of inspiration for Danish arts and crafts. Influence from Japan visibly boosted to Danish handicrafts around 1900, and the fascination continued throughout the 20th century. Today the connection between Japanese and Danish design remains strong.”


This exhibition takes the audience on a trip through the history of fashion and fabric from the 1700s until the present day. Kirsten Toftegaard, the exhibit’s curator, says: “Every object contains a story and is carefully selected with the idea that every visitor should leave with an idea about what has been seen as good design throughout time – and why. We want the exhibit to show the connection between fashion and textiles on many levels. We want our guests to learn more about Danish fashion and textile design – a field which is now being recognized around the world.”


“20th Century Crafts & Design” is a reflection of the overall ideas and thoughts that have carried some meaning for people and society in the 20th century. “The exhibit ranges from the avant-garde dream of a new and better world in the start of the century, functionalism’s FDB furniture seen as a social tool, and 1990s globalization and visions of environmentalism and recycling.”


“Danish Design Now” exhibits pieces of contemporary Danish Design. The exhibition includes furniture, product design, graphic design, fashion and design for public spaces. Talented and influential Danish designers have chosen all the pieces in the 21st century. “The exhibit is the first overview of the tendencies that have taken hold in Denmark in the new millennium, in dialogue with international movements. It shows off the diversity of new designers and craftsmen and of style trends, lifestyle choices and technological innovation.”


Finally we have perhaps the most famous exhibit, which introduces the audience to a diverse world of chairs. The story that is being told is that of Danish design and how it became an international brand.

“The chair is the piece of furniture that is closest to human beings. It touches and reflects the body that sits on it, with arms, legs, seat and back. It is a designer’s touchstone and design history’s favourite object. Moreover, the chair is one of the most culture-bearing design objects. It tells almost everything about the time and the culture it was created for.”

I enjoyed the museum so much that I lost track of the time I spent there. It was one of the most interesting museums I have ever seen. I will definitely be going back and I highly recommend it to anybody who is around.


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