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Stockholm Exhibition

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The 1930 Stockholm Exhibition was organized by the Svenska Slöjdföreningen (Swedish Society of Industrial Design) as a means of promoting a Swedish Modern aesthetic, a reflection of the influence in progressive design circles of the social utopian ideals promoted by the Deutscher Werkbund in Germany in the mid‐1920s. The Society's aim was also to promote to an international audience the achievements of Swedish design that had been gaining increasing critical admiration at exhibitions in the 1920s. These included the 1923 Gothenburg Exhibition and the Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels in Paris in 1925, as well as smaller‐scale exhibits such as a special exhibition of Swedish design at the Metropolitan Museum in New York in 1927.

At the 1930 Stockholm Exhibition advertising played a prominent role, being seen to epitomize the dynamism of modern life and the forging of links between design, manufacturing industry, and marketing. The neon‐lit 260 foot (80 metres) tall ‘Social Democrat’ advertising tower provided a focal point of the exhibition. Topped by the Sigurd Lewerentz exhibition symbol, an abstract motif of a pair of delta wings in flight that symbolized the exhibition's orientation towards the future, the tower could be seen for miles. Gregor Paulsson, who had become the Svenska Slöjdföreningen's director in 1917, was the 1930 exhibition's general director with Gunnar Asplund overseeing the architecture, much of it characterized by lightness and transparency, standardized elements, and a clarity of construction. Summarizing the progressive spirit of the exhibition Paulsson commented that ‘the fundamental changes which have taken place in the technical and social structure of our society are in process of creating a zeitgeist, philosophy of life, or whatever we like to call it, which objective observers regards as different from that of the previous era’. Notions of social reform were implicit in the modern forms and interior furnishings and equipment of the flats and housing on display, as well as in the schools and hospitals exhibits. Involved in the design of many of the interiors were Modernists such as Uno Ahrens, Gustaf Clason, Erik Friberger, and Sven Markelius. The concept of Existenzminimum (living in the minimum space) was one of the key themes shared with avant‐garde designers in Germany (See Schütte‐lihotsky, Margarete), Holland, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, and Britain (See Coates, Wells) and members of CIAM. Exemplifying the prevailing functionalist aesthetic at Stockholm were products such as tubular steel chairs, Wilhelm Kåge's austere 1930 Pyro oven‐to‐tableware manufactured by Gustavsberg and Alvar Andersen's utilitarian modular furniture manufactured by the Tenants Furniture Company. Numerous examples of modern lighting could be seen in the Lighting Hall where products manufactured by Orrefors, Böhlmarks, and others were on display. Transportation, another rapidly evolving dimension of 20th‐century life, also played an important role at the exhibition with attention being paid to cars, buses, trains, and aeroplanes.

There were positive contemporary responses to the Stockholm Exhibition, not least from the British critic Philip Morton Shand who wrote in the Architectural Review that Sweden had ‘prima facie, the ideal equipment for gauging both the potentialities and limitations of the machine, and the machine aesthetic, in a degree which no other country can claim…The new machine architecture is not the herald of world Bolshevism. It is destined to be imbued with wholesome Nordic sanity.’ However, the exhibition also aroused fierce controversy, not least in Sweden itself where many viewed the new style as rather stark, austere, and lacking in human values. The traditional values and craft aesthetic embraced by many designers, especially those in the Swedish ceramics and glass industries, were generally more sympathetically received. Indeed, such was the volume of opposition that Gregor Paulsson, Gunnar Asplund, Sven Markelius, Ekil Sundahl, and others decided to publish a defence of the ideals of the exhibition in 1931. Entitled Acceptera (‘Accepting’) and designed with a modern typeface and clean layout, the authors argued that a new way of life, new materials, and modern technological advances required new approaches to living. However, as the 1930s unfolded a somewhat less austere, yet contemporary, style evolved. Known as Swedish Modern, it more readily embraced natural materials such as wood (as opposed to tubular steel) and was associated with designers such as Bruno Mathsson and Josef Frank and the textiles, furniture, lighting, and other products marketed by the Swedish store Svenskt Tenn.


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