Danish Formgiver

A book review by Michael Webb

Form WegnerThis volume written by Christian Holmsted Oleson is as impeccably designed and produced as the furniture it explores in rich detail. Its title—Wegner: Just One Good Chair—is taken from a remark by Hans J. Wegner (1914-2007), one of the greatest Danish modernists: “If only you could design just one good chair in your life…But you simply cannot.” In the course of a long career, 500 of his designs went into production. Most were chairs and several have achieved classic status: timeless and instantly recognizable like those of Mies, Le Corbusier and the Eameses. JFK and Richard Nixon sat in the round chairs (aka The Chair) for the first of their historic debates. Designed in 1949, the same year as the Wishbone chair, it is still made to the original specifications though inferior copies proliferate.

Like Charles Eames, Wegner was a hands-on perfectionist and problem-solver who (in contrast to architects who extolled the machine) created organic forms that are as pleasing to the eye as they are supportive of the body. Oleson, who wrote this book to accompany a centennial exhibition in Copenhagen, describes Wegner as “an artist who could not stop himself…bursting with ideas he had to express…One perceives an unusually unencumbered joy of creation.”

He was apprenticed to a cabinetmaker and taught by Kaare Klint at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, giving him a grounding in craftsmanship and creativity. It helped that Denmark was a progressive country, open to fresh ideas. At age 26, Wegner was invited by architects Arne Jacobsen and Erik Møller to design all the furnishings for their prestigious Aarhus City Hall and that commission launched his career.

Like Italy and Finland, Denmark had an explosive burst of creativity in the aftermath of the second World War, and Danish modern became all the rage in the U.S. and Europe. Wegner was one of the leaders, drawing inspiration from Ming armchairs, Shaker rockers and the English Windsor chair. Everyone can enjoy the beauty of his work; designers will treasure this book for the juxtaposition of working drawings and historic images.

Wegner: Just One Good Chair. Christian Holmsted Oleson. Hatje Cantz and the Danish Design Museum. DAP, $60

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