Embracing Cubism: Poul Henningsen’s negotiations of Danish national traditions and international Modernism

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The Danish architect, designer and cultural critic, Poul Henningsen, 1894–1967,
was one of the most internationally oriented figures in Danish modernism.
His PH-lamp system was a highly praised example of industrial design, produced
by Louis Poulsen from 1926 onwards and promoted by figures such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Alvar Aalto. Henningsen was also editor-in-chief of Kritisk Revy, published from 1926 to 1928, the Danish critical periodical that was closest to international avant-garde journals in its polemical tone and experimental lay-out. But even if, in Danish public opinion during the 1920s, Henningsen would play the role of a full-blown modernist, he nevertheless maintained that Danish conditions and traditions were distinct and that Danish architecture and art industry had found its own way into modernism, that is to say, he advocated a certain Danish exceptionalism. Accordingly, in the later 1920s, in several articles in Kritisk Revy, he still expressed reservations about Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius, whom he saw as being too propagandistic and as reducing modernist ideas to a narrow set of stylistic motifs or even a fad. It took the modernist splendour of the Stockholm Exhibition in 1930 and Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany in 1933 to convince him that the doctrines and international idiom of functionalism was a necessary path towards modern culture and, with it, towards an egalitarian society. This change of heart seems to have developed from a somewhat belated re-engagement with cubism, which he understood as a paradigmatic aesthetic turn and a political worldview, and on this basis he came to embrace the international style. Thus, rather than merely a shift in aesthetic preferences, this reveals Henningsen as an interesting example of ongoing negotiations around the role of national traditions and international movements in art, design and architecture in twentieth-century Denmark.
TidsskriftArt History
Udgave nummer2
Sider (fra-til)284-307
StatusUdgivet - apr. 2020

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