An Exhibition in Helsinki Places Iittala at the Center of Nordic Modernism

Helsinki’s Design Museum celebrates the glassworks’ 140-year history through a multifaceted exhibition that reflects the evolution of Finnish culture.

Through September, an exhibition at Helsinki’s Design Museum sees the brand as a node in the development and circulation of Modernism. On show are glassware and materials representing many well-known postwar Finnish designers. Tirri (Little Tern), by Oiva Toikka, best known for his “Birds by Toikka” Iittala collection. Courtesy Iittala

A lightly populated expanse of forests and lakes, Finland may be a curious place for the inception of a Modern design nucleus that wove together some of the 20th century’s most lauded designers. But that’s what happened with the founding of glassworks company Iittala 140 years ago. The anniversary is now being marked with a sprawling, multifaceted exhibition at Helsinki’s Design Museum that demonstrates how the company’s trajectory mirrors the Nordic nation’s emergence as a crucible of aesthetic functionalism and commercial design. “Iittala is approached simultaneously as a brand and glassworks, and also as a concept which remains linked to the 20th-century Nordic ideal of ‘beauty for everyday life,’ ” say curators Ville Kokkonen and Florencia Colombo. Beyond key glass and ceramic pieces, the exhibition, titled Iittala—Kaleidoscope: From Nature to Culture, also includes a host of accompanying content such as molds, prototypes, photographs, texts, and tools. The curators approached the project less as a chronological narrative of the brand and more as a “cultural index,” which arranges Iittala artifacts to convey its epoch- and nation-defining personality.

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