Abstract

A recurring theme of debates about Danish design is that it was largely uninfluenced by international trends and that its modern qualities are timeless virtues originating from national traditions of simple functionality and crafts-based refinement. Such protectionist rhetoric has been observed elsewhere, despite obvious international exchanges. Denmark represents a rich case study of such a contradictory discourse, and this article presents examples from 1900 until the present day. Where recent research has focused on a historiographical critique of the myth-making used to promote Danish design to foreign audiences, this article traces the discussions that made designers and critics believe in the myth of Denmark as an exception to the impact of industrialization.

This discourse runs contrary to general historical developments in the geography of design but mirrors the way in which the proximity of Germany as an industrial superpower around 1900 caused Danes to focus on small cultural differences rather than the industrialization taking place in Denmark. As Danish Modern became an international success in the 1950s this discourse was manifested as self-exoticization, insisting on strong ties to traditions, crafts and the cultural history of Denmark. It remains active, repeating some of the same counter-factual ideas in marketing and debates.

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