After five years of extensive renovation and modernization, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm’s National Museum of Fine Arts, finally re-opened on October 13, 2018, offering visitors an enhanced experience underpinned by its mission to make art and design as accessible as possible. The same vision has been the driving force behind the museum’s new 300 seat restaurant and café which has taken over three impressive ground floor galleries previously closed to the public.
Conceived as an artistic project, the project gave a collective of designers the opportunity to work together to explore materials and methods, and discover old and new producers, in order to provide visitors with insights into the design process. The result of this collaborative process, which was helmed by Swedish designers Matti Klenell, TAF Studio, Carina Seth Andersson and Stina Löfgren, is NM& - En Ny Samling, a contemporary collection of furniture, light fittings, tableware and other decorative objects that celebrate the unfinished and uncertain in a House already filled with artistic masterpieces.
The collection’s name, NM& - En Ny Samling, which means “a new collection”, succinctly sums up the project’s ambitious nature but also references the Nationalmuseum’s enormous collection of paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints ranging from the Renaissance to the beginning of the 20th century and its impressive collection of applied arts and design that spans an even longer long period. In Swedish, ‘sampling’ also means gathering which not only alludes to the restaurant’s social aspect but also aptly describes the process of creating the NM& collection which involved 32 designers and 21 manufacturers from all over the Nordic countries.
This is not the first time that Matti Klenell, TAF Studio, Carina Seth Andersson and Stina Löfgren have collaborated. During 2012–2014, the Swedish designers worked together with Taiwanese artisans to create a series of contemporary objects made with ancient lacquer techniques under the auspices of the National Taiwan Craft and Research Institute. Titled “A New Layer”, the project went on to foster more international collaborations, the latest of which were unveiled last year under the name "A New Layer II: Crafting Identities / Design Stories from Taiwan".
Similarly to their previous collaboration, the concept of place and origin was at the center of the team’s assignment to design the Nationalmuseum’s restaurant and café, in this case as an assertion of the museum’s “national” character and its mission to monitor and collect design and applied arts from Sweden and the Nordic region. But more broadly, for a designer, the importance of place is manifested oftentimes as a requirement, inspiration, starting point or goal. In a globalized design scene where uniformity is the rule, local can mean unique and the manufacturing location can give distinctive character. Materials such as wood, metal, ceramics and glass are used around the world to make similar artifacts but it is place and tradition that set them apart and give them a distinctive soul.
At the same time, as the design team's collective journeys in Taiwan demonstrated, cross-cultural exchanges can be a force for innovation and renewal. With this framework in mind, the design team travelled together across the Nordic countries, exploring local manufacturing both for research and inspiration. From small scale workshops in Stockholm’s Old Town, to a weaving mill in the Värmland woods in central Sweden, all the way to a glass factory in Häme, Finland, the familiarity of the places they visited was both a blessing and a challenge. As the team confesses, “it is for sure much more difficult to work with your own legacy than to interpret someone else’s”.
What came out of their exploratory travels was a collection of more than 80 entirely new designed objects - each one given an archive code starting with NM& 001 similar to a museum inventory number - grounded in a shared palette of muted colors, eclectic materials and unpretentious craftsmanship. Utterly contemporary and boldly idiosyncratic, they nevertheless evocatively embody the region’s Nordic heritage. As the team explains, ”each product in the NM& collection has a sometimes messy but always well documented pedigree around its origins, and just as we hoped somewhere at the beginning of our journey, the overall final picture of a place, our place right here, right now, is just as motley and unpredictable as we hoped it would be”.