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Copenhagen Salon: The Legacy of Modernism

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4th Oct 2009

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Hub Culture sat down for a discussion on influences and images that define Scandinavia, set against the backdrop of the recent Nordic Art Fair. Regularly touted as one of the world's best places to build a business, raise your kids, escape the rat race, and generally enjoy a wonderful quality of life, Scandinavia also suffers from a kind of malaise that, as the locals say, comes from having it too easy.

Socialized health care and good public systems, efficient transportation and a taste for design... all of these make up the image of the north, and Denmark in particular. This year the spotlight is on Copenhagen, where global environmental leaders, NGOs, CEOs and mayors will all gather in December to work on new important climate agreements at COP15.

As a result, Copenhagen is taking the opportunity to showcase its leadership in alternative energy, sustainable design and more. But does the hype match the reality?

A wandering Salon discussion over dinner included a very global group with some strong opinions:

Peter Huagstrup - Imagine When, Copenhagen

Marc Boeder - Imagine When, Berlin

Tim White-Sobieski, - Artist, New York

Kath Alexenadrine Danneskiold-Sams e - Copenhagen

Tommy Hyldahl, - Metropol, Arhus

Lauren Prakke, Prakke Contemporary, London

Peter Amby, - Art Consultant, Copenhagen

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Fritz Hansen chairs
The evening kicked off with frozen delights and snuggies inside a walk-in freezer at the IceBar Copenhagen - a good idea once, but which post-crash now seems a little dated. After downing some elderberry vodkas, the group moved to Copenhagen's main shopping street and Badstuen for a little warmer chat over duck and other game.

The conversation opened with a question: What is the Nordic lifestyle? The answer was met swiftly, with Peter, Peter and Marc talking about the social contract and safety net that is integral to the country. Peter Amby thought "the difference between the common Dane and those outside is perspective - we generally have a very positive attitude, and with the safety net, its really hard to go hungry."

Cath backed it up - "everything here seems so easy - its crispy and the architecture is integrated - but step outside and its different - we are expected to be average and we don't like standing out - this makes little space for creativity in the mainstream."

No one failed to point out that Denmark really is rich, and not just because of materials. "Luxury good in other countries are standard here - Fritz Hansen and Bang & Olufsen... I think the real luxury here is to be an individual."

Coming from Berlin, where the vibe is usually considered excellent but material wealth is in some shorter supply, Marc observed that "its very comfortable and nice, but what's missing here is a common goal or something inspiring."

The feeling was that because of COP15 "lots of forces opening that put Copenhagen under a microscope", giving great opportunities for Danes at large. And its just in time, because the group collectively hit on the idea that perhaps Danish modernism has had its day - its tired, formulaic and hard to get excited about - even if it is beautiful.

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Kvadrat Clouds
And what of style?

The conversation turned to where the most modern design is now. 60 years later, Denmark is trapped in modernism.

"The ones that are dynamic are the Dutch", says Lauren. She should know, having just corralled over a dozen of the world's top artists into her show opening in London this October - Play | A Festival of Fun. The show features a fresh and inspired look at art from inside the gloom, and comes out with an inspired take on the moment - live play, live action, and stunning interpretations on the subject from Jake & Dinos Chapman, Jeppe Hein, Carsten Holler, Sol Lewit and others.

Others pointed to Istanbul, Thai and South American influences - the cabaneros.

"The worst job you could have today is to be a furniture designer out to conquer the world" submitted Tommy - the resident fashion icon and a business success in Scandinavia with Metropol's brands like St. Martins. "Typical Danish design needs to go out" he says - referring to the new century of designers who are exploring the world for their influences.

Meanwhile, Cath defended the idea of Danish designers leading the way out of modernism - she talks about craftsmanship and how the younger generations are losing the skill - just as workers in China and India seem to be learning it on a mass scale. "But the most innovative brand in Denmark is Kvadrat - working with lots of artists" and sparking innovation.

Peter summed it all up beautifully as he remarked on the brain drain that afflicts cities like Copenhagen as globalization makes migration very easy: "Everyone wants to come back for their funeral, but not live to there in the meantime." It's so Nordic. A little dark, yet somehow... practically optimistic.