The exhibition Century of the Child: Nordic Design for Children 1900 to Today has seen several configurations since it debuted at the Museum Vandalorum, Sweden in 2014. As the exhibition’s curator here at the V&A Museum of Childhood, I am responsible for recasting this exhibition so that it’s relevant and exciting to our family audiences. Thanks to funding awarded by the Jonathan Ruffer Curatorial Grants Programme, I was able to undertake a research trip to see the latest rendering of the exhibition at the Nordic Embassies (Felleshus) in Berlin, and gain insights into what would work for our diverse range of visitors.
When I arrived, I was warmly welcomed by Mari Hellen and Hanna Robertz, who work at the Felleshus and the Swedish embassy and who were instrumental in securing the exhibition’s run at the Felleshus. The pair were generous with their time and advice, showing me around the exhibition and sharing their experiences of putting on this exhibition. The exhibition space is dazzling. Unlike so many Museum galleries, the Felleshus is unhindered by partition walls or light restrictions and is instead an open space filled with natural light. The exhibition’s Nordic objects looked perfectly at home in this bright, open planned space with its blonde wood and cement interior.
It’s really exciting to see the original items which you’ve been researching. Despite their familiarity, the scale, appearance and arrangements of the real objects still surprise you. I was thrilled to see how items such as the Swing Cradle, Danish lucky Storks mobile and the bright Marimekko fabrics animated the space. It made me re-evaluate how some of the objects would need to be displayed here at the V&A Museum of Childhood. We’d need to ensure that these elements are carefully balanced out across the exhibition sections, to create accents. It also highlighted how the clothing and smaller items would need to be displayed, so that they have the maximum impact.
By their very nature, the objects within this exhibition are child-friendly, but the themes, displays and interpretation are very much aimed at adults. It poses a challenge as to how to make a child-related exhibition aimed at adults, relevant for children. Observing how the younger visitors explored the exhibition I saw that they eschewed the label and wall text panels and experienced it through the exhibition’s interactives. Sadly, interactives are usually the costliest part of an exhibition’s build and are subject to budgetary restraints. But working with our Exhibition and Learning teams and the teams from David Sudlow Designers and Simon Leach Design who have generated such imaginative and resourceful interactive ideas, I hope that we have successfully developed a range of exciting family-friendly interactives and activities that will make these remarkable Nordic designs engaging and fun for all our visitors!
I am hugely grateful to The Art Fund and for the Jonathan Ruffer Curatorial Grant Programme for supporting this research trip. The trip proved invaluable, offering new insights into how to display and interpret objects.
The exhibition Century of the Child: Nordic Design for Children 1900 to Today was created by Museum Vandalorum, Sweden, in collaboration with Designmuseum Danmark and Design Museum Helsinki. It grew out of Century of the Child: Growing by Design, 1900-2000, an exhibition organised by Juliet Kinchin, Curator, and Aidan O’Connor, Curatorial Assistant, at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York.