Ilmari Tapiovaara - Design, myth and reality in Finland

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Despite a number of informative and engaging texts delineating key aspects of Ilmari Tapiovaara’s design and career which spanned more than four decades of the twentieth century, it was still possible for critic Roberta Smith to characterise him in the New York Times of 8 June 2001, two years after his death, as ‘an important if overlooked Finnish designer’. Her review had marked the occasion of what was promoted as the first exhibition of Tapiovaara’s work in the United States at the R Gallery, Franklin Street, New York, containing 33 pieces of which 27 were chairs or stools. Further recognition of the significance of his rehabilitation as a major figure in Finnish and international design was further boosted almost a decade later, in 2010, on the 75th anniversary of Artek (established 1935). This Helsinki-based company had long been acknowledged internationally as a major champion of the Finnish modern design heritage of celebrated Finnish architect and designer Alvar Aalto, one of its co-founders. Artek’s acquisition of the rights to Tapiovaara’s furniture designs was also accompanied by the formation of a joint manufacturing, marketing and distribution initiative with furniture manufacturer Martela Ltd and Aero Design Furniture Ltd and followed up by the opening of Artek’s first North American showroom in New York in March 2011. In 2013 the company was acquired by the well known Vitra company, whose long-serving chairman Rolf Fenbaum stated that the rights to Tapiovaara’s furniture collection was significant in extending the number of featured designers and architects from Finland at a time of renewed interest in Nordic design. However, when measured in other ways, such as the holdings of leading museums featuring design, the profile is somewhat different. In the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, for example his work is represented in its collections by his stainless steel Polar cutlery (1963), manufactured by Hackman and Co (1968) and four samples of furnishing fabrics (1960) designed with his wife Anniki for the up-market London design retailer, Heal & Son Ltd. Furthermore, Tapiovaara is absent from the Design Museum London’s collections. Nonetheless, as this chapter reveals, his work and outlook was widely recognised in Britain (and elsewhere) in a number of design spheres, especially in the 1950s and 1960s when his international career was at its height.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationIlmari Tapiovaara: life and design
EditorsAila Svenskberg
Place of PublicationHelsinki
Number of pages24
ISBN (Print)9789529878840
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jun 2014


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