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Director's Choice: Anne-Louise Sommer talks about her favorite design objects

Listen in as Designmuseum Denmark’s director, Anne-Louise Sommer, shares insights on 26 of her favorite items from the museum’s extensive collection.

In the latest release from Scala’s popular and acclaimed book series, Director’s Choice, Designmuseum Denmark’s director, Anne-Louise Sommer, has curated a selection of her personal favorites from the museum’s rich collections. This collection takes the reader on an intriguing journey through these curious objects, offering a unique glimpse into some of the fascinating stories associated with them.

In addition to the book, starting from the release date, Friday, March 8th, it will also be possible to follow Anne-Louise Sommer’s narratives about the objects around the museum via a new audio guide, accessible through QR codes located in the museum’s lobby and exhibitions.

Below is the complete catalog of objects with direct links to the audio guide, which is also free to listen to. Each audio file lasts 2-3 minutes.

The book Director’s Choice is available for purchase in the museum shop.

Introduction

By Anne-Louise Sommer

“Can a museum building be considered as an object? If so, our listed building dating from the middle of the eighteenth century is the largest object in our collection. Over the last ten years we have spent an incredible amount of money and time on the restoration of this wonderful but previ- ously poorly maintained building. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, it has been reborn and now provides the setting for the ever increasing number of visitors from all over the world.”

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Portrait of Pietro Krohn, 1887

Peder Severin Krøyer, 1851–1909

“The subject of the portrait is Pietro Krohn (1840–1905), a man of many talents and a gifted practising artist. In 1893 he became the first director of the Kunstindstrimuseum. He was a painter and illus- trator, the artistic director of the porcelain factory Bing & Grøndahl, the head of finance and costumier and opera director at the Royal Danish Theatre, and, last but not least, a man of vision who embraced a new age.”

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Grave figure: woman in a long robe, 618–906

Unknown artist, Tang dynasty, China

“Death is the decisive point in life, and it is marked by the grave. I find looking at this small, rather modest, Chinese clay figure of a woman in a long robe dec-orated with red, green and black paint very moving. It is from the Tang dynasty (618–906) and had survived for centuries before it came into the museum in 1923. It is a grave figure, but we know little else about it. It tells us something about the dead person, and it may have had a service to perform in the afterlife.”

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Bottle, 9th century

Unknown artist, Syria

“This little iridescent glass bottle from ninth-century Syria is only 11 cm high but it provides fascinating evidence of a vanished age and culture. The bottle was brought home by the Danish geographer and explorer Barclay Raunkiær (1889–1915), who undertook an extensive expedition to the Arabian Peninsula in 1911–12. We do not know much about this find from Syria, but we may assume that it has a rightful place in the museum’s collection because of its material and technique.”

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Jug with handle and spout, Chinese, 1403–24

Unknown artist, Ming dynasty, Yongle period

“One of the most prized pieces in our Far Eastern collection is a Chinese jug from the Yongle period of the Ming dynasty (early 1400s). The jug is unusual for several reasons. It is large and has a striking, four-sided spout. The shape can be traced back to the Middle East – to Persia – where jugs of this type are often found made in metal. The jug is a good example of how remote foreign cultures have influenced native cultures, in this case Chinese, and been modified, improved and further developed.”

NOT PART OF THE EXHIBITION

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Verdure tapestry with thistles, c. 1500

Flanders

“As the name implies, a verdure tapestry denotes one that principally depicts green motifs taken from nature, such as plants and trees. Tapestries were popular in the homes of royalty and the highest ranks of the nobility. They were described as ‘mobile frescos’ because they were transportable. They served several purposes: they helped to warm cold, draughty castles, they were decorative, and they told stories extolling glorious victories. The museum’s collection contains this rare example of a cultivated verdure (i.e. one that depicts a garden or orchard) from around 1500.”

NOT PART OF THE EXHIBITION

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Nautilus goblet, unknown origin, (?mid-)17th century

Carved, engraved and ink-washed nautilus shell

“Anyone who collected stones and shells on the beach as a child will know that the sea reveals precious gifts. The nautilus is a sea-dwelling mollusc that lives in a snail-like shell and is found in various shapes and sizes. Since ancient times conch and cowrie shells have been popular collectors’ items, extremely fascinating both in themselves and even more so when elaborately decorated. It is elegantly mounted on a very simple stem and a hexagonal base of gleaming mother of pearl. Our nautilus goblet is undated, but is probably from the mid-seventeenth century.”

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Snuffbox (tabatière) in the shape of a rat, c. 1750

Unknown artist, Meissen, Germany

“Every age has its whims of fashion, and the eighteenth century was the heyday of snuffboxes, known as tabatières in French. Both men and women took snuff; those who were well off would own several snuffboxes and, depending on the social occasion, they might make use of a particular box when meeting other people. It may surprise us that this tabatière came to be part of the Meissen range. Its splendid, fully modelled rat gives it a different character from the flowers, city views and erotic scenes typically portrayed on snuffboxes.”

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Temple with a spiral staircase, 1760

Lorentz Spengler, 1720–1807

“The temple with a spiral staircase is an astonishing creation. We can never tire of looking at the intricate details and our wandering gaze becomes lost in the nooks and crannies and ingenious inventions. A divine spiral staircase, whose helical movement twists around its own axis and slowly straightens out. The upward journey is dizzying, as if the force of gravity no longer exists. Turnery was the highest form of handicraft. It is hard to imagine that this was created by a mere mortal.”

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Four-sided serving dish from the Flora Danica service in painted porcelain with gold ornamentation

Flora Danica, 1752–1803 / Long-stemmed herb with white flowers

“The magnificent Flora Danica porcelain dinner service came into being as a result of the desire in the Age of Enlightenment to have everything systematised. In 1790 the book found its way from Christiansborg Palace to the newly established Royal Porcelain Factory, and this move triggered the start of production of a royal dinner service decorated with enchanting flower paintings and lavish gold ornamentation. We do not know for certain the intended recipient of the first service, but it is said to have been the Russian empress Catherine the Great, who had an interest in botany.”

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Tsuba, Japanese sword guard, c. 1775

Sano Naoyoshi, Japanese

“From 1603 until the last half of the nineteenth century Japan was closed to the West. It was therefore an unknown country of great exotic beauty that opened up in 1868. Tsubas are very sophisticated items of metalwork and closely associated with the thousand-year-old samurai culture. The tsuba was placed between the blade and the hilt in order to protect the warrior’s hand. The decoration – depicting people, animals, landscapes, everyday scenes or mythical figures – invested the bearer with special powers and was thus even more important than the functionality.”

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Vinaigrette, 1791

Michael Steen, 1738–1821, Norwegian

“We could perhaps refer to vinaigrettes as jewellery with a function. At all events they were once an indispensable part of the wardrobe of the affluent classes and underpinned their social codes. We have various vinaigrettes in our collection, but I have chosen this one because it tells a number of stories. Despite its small size, this vinaigrette is both a functional object and a masterpiece, a splendid example of decorative workmanship in coveted, prestigious silver that symbolised class and social status.”

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Hansen Writing Ball, 1870s

Rasmus Malling-Hansen, 1835–1890

“To me the design seems visionary and transformative, created to improve people’s lives. All this is manifest in the Writing Ball. When I saw the Writing Ball on display in the home of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in Weimar, I understood the true scope of the invention. Nietzsche was almost blind when he acquired it in 1881. It was in order to help the blind that Malling-Nielsen developed this little miracle that made it possible for people to produce writing when their sight was failing – a piece of industrial design developed with love.”

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The Heron Service, wine cooler, 1885–88

Pietro Krohn, 1840–1905

“The Heron Service is opulent and exuberant. It was also inno- vative. Designed by Pietro Krohn and inspired by Japanese art, it attracted great attention. It was the fruit of a collaboration between Fanny Garde, Effie Hegermann-Lindencrone and Ludvig Brandstrup. Together, these four artists created a unique dinner service. On many pieces the heron flies in lonely majesty or in a flock, painted on the surface or in relief, in whole or in part, and often against a background of almost ornamental feather structures. The heron was a popular Japanese motif and well known in Denmark.”

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Jug Self-portrait, 1889

Paul Gauguin, 1848–1903, French

“At first sight this little jug looks very modest, yet it is a masterpiece in the field of both craftsmanship and art. The great French artist Paul Gauguin made no distinction between the two categories and considered ceramics to be art. The work is a powerful expression of emotion that bears witness to a difficult phase of the artist’s life. Emphasised by the materiality of the surface and the dramatic oxblood glaze, the emotion it expresses really grips the viewer. The combination of portrait and vase is akin to Pre-Columbian ceramics, which Gauguin first encountered during his childhood in Lima, Peru.”

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Pin in gold enamel with opals and brilliants, 1898–99

René Jules Lalique, 1860–1945, French

“René Jules Lalique’s splendid jewel has successively been called a hatpin, a brooch and a hair ornament. However, it is undoubtedly a pin, and wherever it may have been worn, it is superb: one of nature’s many everyday scenarios is elevated here to the status of world-class jewellery work. The works of the French jeweller were enormously popular, so they were expensive and often ordered in advance. Nevertheless, the museum succeeded in acquiring this fine example of his masterly skills.”

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Porcelain vase, 1899–1900

Effie Hegermann-Lindencrone, 1860–1945

“This lump of a vase seems to be a handful of flowering blossom. We may even wonder whether it is a vase, as it cannot hold water because of the pierced porcelain. This moves this work by Effie Hegermann-Lindencrone into the category of free art. The museum acquired the vase at the 1900 Paris Exposition, and its pierced body, richness of detail, and the way the leaves and flowers weave in and out of one another attracted attention.”

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Nilfisk vacuum cleaner, L10, 1922

Fisker & Nielsen A/S

“In 1906 two enterprising young men, P. A. Fisker and H. M. Nielsen, opened a little backyard electric motor factory near Copenhagen. Under the name Nilfisk, it soon became a global market-leading Danish company developing modern domestic and industrial cleaning equipment. The L10 vacuum cleaner of 1922 was particularly striking. In all its simplicity it is an unrivalled example of early industrial design.”

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Lamp, PH lighting system, 5/5, 1926

Poul Henningsen (PH), 1894–1967

“Here at the museum we made history in the development of lighting when, in 1926, we became the first electrically lit museum in Denmark using this very lamp. Today a PH lamp is synonymous with good design and is found in many Danish homes and public buildings. This is precisely what Paul Henningsen wished for – to create an object that is useful, classless and accessible to everyone.”

NOT PART OF THE EXHIBITION

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Red Chair, 1927

Kaare Klint, 1888–1954

“The Red Chair is a classic example of how a historic object can be transformed and adapted to the needs of a new age.  This approach laid the foundations for a modern tradition, in which Danish furniture design mirrored Danish virtues and qualities, but with echoes of timeless international inspiration.”

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Tree pattern, 1937

Marie Gudme Leth, 1895–1997

“When a man walks on to the stage and creates something new, he is hailed as a master in his field, a founding father or a genius, depending on his achievement and temperament. When a woman appears and makes a striking impression, she is a pioneer, which says something about how rarely this happens. However, there are examples of this unusual occurrence, and they must be remembered. One such is Marie Gudme Leth, who was a pioneer in the field of fabric printing, which she reintroduced as a craft in Denmark in 1930.”

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Butterfly coffee table (prototype), 1949

Finn Juhl, 1912–1989

“Driven by the art of furniture-making, the great Danish design adventure and the 20th-century Danish golden age of design had begun. The exhibition stand of the architect Finn Juhl, in collaboration with master carpenter Niels Vodder, was like no other. In the museum’s paper collection we have Finn Juhl’s original watercolours and drawings of the Chieftain chair and sofa, the Egyptian chair and the incredibly elegant Butterfly coffee table.”

COMING MID-MAY

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No giraffes, please – but almost anything else, c. 1950

Aage Rasmussen, 1913–1975

“A good example of the humorous note that became a part of marketing as we entered the jet age can be seen in Aage Rasmussen’s poster No giraffes, please – but almost anything else of around 1950 for Scandinavian Airlines. In this poster the heroic note was toned down in favour of lightness and an amused smile, when SAS advertised with the slogan that they would take almost any cargo on board … with the exception of giraffes.”

NOT PART OF THE EXHIBITION

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Upholstered easy chair with free arms, 1953

Marianne Riis-Carstensen, 1927–2019 and Finn Juhl, 1912–1989

“During the 1950s Juhl had employed the newly qualified interior designer Marianne Riis-Carstensen in his drawing office. She had a solid sense of colour and a real mastery of watercolour painting, working with effects of light and shade in a sometimes dramatic way. The pair made a very special team, in which a refined aesthetic sense produced the resonance in the collaboration.”

COMING MID-MAY

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Margrethe bowl, 1954

Sigvard Bernadotte, 1907–2002, and Acton Bjørn, 1910–1992

“Can anything as humble as a mixing bowl claim a place in the history of design? If you were to ask me, the answer would be yes. I often point out the Margrethe bowl of 1954 as a faultless piece of industrial design that changed everyday life in the home for the better and continues to do so, because it is equally popular today and sells just as well.”

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Panton Chair, 1960/1967

Verner Panton, 1926–1998

“You can hardly help being happy when you see Verner Panton’s iconic chair from 1960 in bright, vibrant colours. And however much I love Danish furniture-making, the associated carpentry skills and the democratic approach of the previous decade, there is something liberating about the provoking gesture of the Panton Chair. It is an absolute knockout.”

COMING MID-MAY

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Bow Chair, 1963

Grete Jalk, 1920–2005

“Grete Jalk’s chair looks both relaxed, like a casual flourish taking shape on a piece of paper, and striking. It belongs to the school of shell furniture, whose experiments with laminated wood in the mid-twentieth century became defining for organic modernism.”

COMING MID-MAY

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Plate from the Mega Mussel service, 2002

Karen Kjeldgård-Larsen, born 1974

“The story of Mega Mussel seems almost like a fairy tale, with a classic beginning, a surprising middle and a happy ending. It is impossible to imagine a more iconic example of Danish porcelain than this blue fluted china service. It is part of porcelain history, and the Royal Copenhagen factory’s early success in the nineteenth century was associated with exactly this kind of ware: white porce- lain, finely hand-painted with the characteristic blue pattern. Simple yet expressive, extremely detailed and delicate.”

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Urban Complex VII, 2016

Karen Bennicke, born 1943

“Karen Bennicke is one of our great Danish ceramic artists with a very individual way of expressing her ideas and a fascinating system- atic and investigative approach to form and space. We have a number of her works in our collection, but I have chosen the ingenious Urban Complex VII, because it stands out from the 2015–16 series of a total of eight sculptures.”

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Inside Out, lamp, 2019

Katrine Barbro Bendixen, born 1991

“‘What’s that?’ asks a curious visitor approaching this surprising installation of a central light source surrounded by an unidentifiable material. ‘And what’s it doing in a design museum?” This object provokes many questions, but the answer is really very simple. It is a lamp created by the Danish designer Katrine Barbro Bendixen in 2019.
However, it is more than just a lamp. It is a statement.”

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