“That’s a museum piece” or “that’ll end up in
a museum” are familiar expressions. They are used to refer to objects
or things which are no longer believed to be up to date or relevant. On the
other hand, if a work of art or an object ends up in the collection of New York’s
MoMa, for example, the artist or designer considers it well worth mentioning
in his or her curriculum vitae. A museum’s image in respect of designed
products may be either positively or negatively charged. It’s a place
to get into, willingly or unwillingly. The commercial dimension of craft or
design museums also adds to this dualistic aspect of museums, leading to a situation
that is far from always clear. A look at the history of the Designmuseo gives
one an idea of the variegated motivations that have been behind the acquisition
policy of craft and design museums as well as their exhibitions.
Designmuseo is the only museum in Finland that covers the field of design comprehensively.
Its activities embrace a broad spectrum of design, from crafts to industrial
and graphic design. Designmuseo started up in its current building in 1978
but it had already had a long and colourful history by then. Its history was
entwined with events of fundamental importance to the “grand story” of Finnish
design, and to this day it has also retained a solid and active link with the
national trend in the sector. Also, the museum has always been the focus of
expectations with a supporting role in the “grand story” of Finnish design.
On the same ideological foundation as the Victoria & Albert Museum, which derived from Henry Cole’s Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, the Museum of Applied Arts (today’s Designmuseo) based on a liberal economic policy was started in Finland on the initiative of the University of Helsinki’s Professor of Aesthetics Carl Gustaf Estlander. The idea was for Finland to have a collection of models, partly for educational purposes in support of the School of Arts and Crafts established two years previously, and to disseminate, through examples of good design, awareness of design among the public in general and in particular among artisans in other words, to found a kind of shrine of industry and a permanent global exhibition. Since its inception, the activities of the Designmuseo have been closely linked to stimulating interest in the aesthetic aspects of the industrial arts. On the other hand, the dynamic activity in the sector was a consequence of both Finland’s rapid industrialisation and the spread of nationalist ideas in Finland. The trend was amplified in a small country which was seeking a sovereign position in the community of nations.