Sunday, May 06, 2012

SFO: Making layovers and delays fun

We've all been stuck in airports and bored out of our minds, but San Francisco International keeps its visitors entertained with a fun program of exhibitions. On view through October is Modern Form, a special installation of Scandinavian pottery. Below are a few images of the showand the accompanying labels, because you can take the girl out of the museum but not the museum out of the girl...

Modern Form: Scandinavian Ceramics 1930s–1960s
Scandinavians have mastered the art of designing and fabricating a variety of simple, yet elegant home furnishings. Whether a chair or a ceramic vase, handmade or machine made, Scandinavian designers long believed that well-crafted, affordable, and aesthetically pleasing objects could enhance the quality of everyday life. Modern ideas such as these began sweeping across Europe in the late 1800s. Swedish social reformer Ellen Key (1849–1926) encouraged manufacturers to hire artists to design domestic wares and coined the slogan "Beauty for All!" Swedish art historian Gregor Paulsson further encouraged such ideals in his influential book, Better Things for Everyday Life (1919).

While many designers in continental Europe and the United States took a more austere, machine-inspired approach to modernism, Scandinavian designers imbued their furnishings with warmth. Many pieces were inspired by nature and made with organic materials. The general public welcomed this less severe, more palatable approach. Displays at the Chicago (1933) and New York (1939) World's Fairs, and the Paris Exposition of 1937, as well as the 1950s landmark exhibition, Design in Scandinavia, which toured the United States and Canada, assisted in making Scandinavian design influential on an international level. The demand for Scandinavian-designed items soared, particularly in the late 1940s and 1950s.

Ceramics, an essential component of Scandinavia's modern design repertoire, reached new heights from the 1920s to the 1960s. Artists working at pottery factories throughout Scandinavia focused on producing inexpensive, functional, and beautiful ceramics for mass production. They also had the unique opportunity to design one-of-a-kind or limited- edition pieces in special studios the factories established for creative pursuits. Other potters and glaze specialists set up small, independent workshops, where they created some of the finest pottery ever produced in Scandinavia. A number of these artists came with background training in painting, graphic design, sculpture, engineering, and architecture. Many ceramicists spent their entire careers at a single factory or workshop.

Inspired by Chinese ceramics, in addition to porcelain and earthenware ceramicists in Scandinavia began to focus on the creation of decorative stoneware in the twentieth century. Stoneware's subdued, multi-color glazes and the rich texture of the clay encouraged designers to create an assortment of new shapes and color palettes. Sweden's Wilhelm Kåge (1889–1960), Denmark's Axel Salto (1889–1961), and Finland's Kyllikki Salmenhaara (1915–81) worked masterfully in this medium, creating innovative, organic forms reflective of the natural world. Although they shared similar ideas about modern ceramics, each ceramicist produced unique variations in their designs. Modern Form: Scandinavian Ceramics 1930s–1960s displays studio pottery by each of these highly distinguished ceramists as well as the work of many of their contemporaries.

This exhibition was made possible through a generous loan from Forrest L. Merrill and Sid and Terry Garrison.
A selection of circa 1950s Salto pieces for Royal Copenhagen

Axel Salto, a remarkable innovator in the field of ceramics, was trained as a graphic artist and also enjoyed a lengthy career as a painter, illustrator, and designer of jewelry and metalware. After exploring new techniques with master ceramicist Carl Halier (1873-1948), Salto was recruited by Royal Copenhagen in 1934 to develop his organic forms. Salto applied special color effects by letting the glazes flow over and between the nodules and through the grooves of the surfaces of many of his vases. His pieces are often suggestive of fruit or growing plants as Salto explained: "These naturalistic models were worked into my ceramic pieces in such a way that, without obtruding themselves as copies of nature, they were made to inhabit, almost covertly, the ceramic material. My pieces thus, through their ability to recall something once seen or sensed in nature, release pleasure in the spectator."

Wiinblad designs dating to the early 1960s

Danish-born Bjørn Wiinblad trained at the Polytechnic in Copenhagen, Denmark. He worked in numerous design fields including textiles, glassware, silver, and graphic arts. One of the most internationally famous of all the Danish ceramicists, he is best known for his decorative works adorned with highly stylized motifs. Many of his designs evoke the playful spirit of Scandinavian folk art. This whimsical style came to epitomize the decorative revival that occurred in Scandinavia design during the 1960s. Beginning in 1956, Wiinblad designed numerous ceramic pieces for the German porcelain factory Rosenthal.

Pieces from Kåge's 1930s Argenta line

For Wilhelm Kåge, "ceramics was a universe, and life existed in order for him to discover and artistically express its dizzying possibilities," wrote the design specialist Arthur Hald. One of Scandinavia's most important designers, Kåge trained as a painter and graphic designer. He gained recognition as a poster designer before being recruited by the Gustavsberg ceramics factory in 1917. His appointment came as a direct result of the Swedish Society of Craft and Industrial Design's campaign to persuade manufacturers to employ artists in order to improve the design of everyday objects. Kåge had a tremendous impact on Swedish ceramics. He designed successive lines of beautiful, functional dinnerware, and like many of his contemporaries, he also produced remarkable studio pottery. Kåge's Argenta, one of his most famous lines (seen here), was introduced at the Stockholm Exhibition of 1930. The green-glazed ceramics emulated the look of oxidized bronze. The Argenta line, with its decorative silver overlay, displays the strong influence of the Art Deco style on Scandinavian design during the 1930s.

Modern Form: Scandinavian Ceramics 1930s–1960s is located in Terminal 2.

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