'Cool' Works by Women; Nordic Artists Featured

Article excerpt

Byline: Joanna Shaw-Eagle, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Danish Design and Swedish Modern movements had a powerful impact on American design in the 1940s but later got a bad rap through American designers' all-too-familiar knockoffs of Marimekko dresses and Eero Saarinen chairs.

The National Museum of Women in the Arts is setting the story straight with "Nordic Cool: Hot Women Designers," its first-ever design exhibit. The 100-year survey encompasses 240 objects designed by artists from Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Iceland.

In the whirlwind, 11/2-year time frame for preparing the show, co-curators Jordana Pomeroy and recently appointed Museum of Women in the Arts Director Judy Larson visited female designers and came up with a first-rate assortment of glass, ceramics, furniture, jewelry, architecture and digital short films.

"When selecting these objects for this show ... we looked for originality and creativity and not necessarily for artists associated with the larger firms such as Royal Copenhagen and Orrefors," Miss Pomeroy says. "We were surprised to find innovative designs in areas as new as clothes for nursing mothers and film."

The one important defect in this remarkable, if somewhat unfocused, show is that it bites off more than it can chew, including the work of some 20O artists. Too much for anyone to absorb.

For example, consider the forceful impact of the first display in the opening section, set before an expansive, hot-red background. This initial grouping - Camilla Diedrich's ceiling-hung "BPL Bubellampa (Bubble Lamp)," Nanna Ditzel's geometric "Bench for Two," Grete Prytz Kittelson's huge, rounded "Blue Enamel Dish," Rosa Helgadottir's rubber, puff-binder and aluminum "Spacebags" and Hanne Vedel's "Carpet Farre"- gives an idea of the techniques, design areas, materials and nationalities included in the show without overwhelming the visitor. The space and objects are designed sparely and invite viewers to meditate or, at least, pause for awhile.

Here, the curators follow Mies van der Rohe's famous dictum, "Less is more." Unfortunately, they largely ignore it for the rest of the show.

The opening section of the exhibit, "Design Pioneers," includes such earlier Swedish designers as glassmaker Monica Bratt-Wijkander and Karin Larsson, a groundbreaker. Also found here is a dress decorated with black swirls, reminiscent of Jackson Pollock's drip paintings, by Vuokko Eskolin-Nurmesniemi, who was among those who developed the signature Marimekko look.

Works by several of the more famous designers in the exhibit are shown in this opening section. They include: Nanny Still, whose "Harlequin," a turned mold blown turquoise glass grouping, is one of the show's signature works but is set unobtrusively on a low stand; Lillian Dahle, who shows her consummate use of dark woods in her Japanese-inspired "Folder" and "Bowl"; and Ann Wahlstrom, whose tall glass vases ("Soap Bubbles") derive from blowing soap bubbles.

While it would have been inadvisable for the most part to cluster works by individual designers, there are exceptions. …