Finnish design on display at Minneapolis Institute of Arts


When it comes to innovation, Finland has a lot to offer. Their education system is the envy of the world, they are leaders in sustainability, and they brought us Angry Birds. For "Finland: Designed Environments," which opens this Saturday at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Jennifer Komar Olivarez, associate curator of decorative arts, has curated a fun overview of contemporary Finnish design that showcases a collection of sometimes ingenious, often practical, and aesthetically pleasing designs seen in the home, architecture, bicycles, fashion, and more. 

A collection of dinner dishes, created by ceramic artist Karin Widnäs, are displayed as you enter the exhibition. They set the tone for the playfulness mixed with sleek and practical elements seen throughout the show. The white plates, created for the dinner service for the 75th anniversary of the Savoy Restaurant and for the 2012 World Design Capitol Helsinki, are simple. But they also carry surprises, such as the little egg-shaped and globe-shaped containers that hold treats, and the dessert plate specifically designed to allow the sauce to pour into the dessert. 

In another ceramic piece, Caroline Slotte has taken antique plates that all have different blue landscapes on them, stacked them all together, and cut out the white spaces, creating a multi-layered dreamscape where a windmill stands next to an ancient Roman structure which are framed with flowers, clouds, and angels. The work is intricate and beautiful, embracing vintage objects while turning them inside out to create a wholly new experience. 

Slotte's plate diorama goes well with the theme of permanence/impermanence that can be seen throughout the exhibit. On the one hand, a number of objects on view are made from recycled materials (a gorgeous necklace created from book paper and steel wire by Syvänoja, for example), or are made not to last (children's chairs made out of cardboard as an alternative to plastic). On the other hand, you have extremely durable furniture and other items that are built to last forever (the Pelago bicycle and the Lento hk002, a lounge chair made with as few pieces as possible).



There's also a real element of practicality in this exhibit, including a lounge chair that has speakers mounted on each side, and a low-hanging SAD light shaped like a disc to obstruct views as little as possible. 

On the other hand, sometimes great design is showcased in its own right, such as the various wall hangings that are seen throughout the show. Featuring colorful patterns and nature in inspired imagery and unexpected compositions, these cloths provide a whimsical backdrop for the exhibit. 

Perhaps what is most noteworthy about this show is not any particular design, but the idea that design can be used to problem solve with design thinking. This is especially apparent with the Finnish maternity box, distributed by Kela, the social insurance institution of Finland. Each box, given to new parents, comes with clothes and other necessary items for a newborn, and the box itself can be used as a place for the infant to sleep.

The box that the MIA shows was specially designed for the 2012 World Design Capitol Helsinki, and features a gender-neutral green-and-turquoise design with a family tree that people can fill out themselves. The box is a testament to what happens when design is used not just for creating beauty, but in making things that can actually have social value -- in this case, a program that aids in the health of babies when they are the most vulnerable. 


"Finland: Designed Environments"

Opens Saturday, May 10  and runs through August 17

Minneapolis Institute of Arts