New age dawning at Artek
Tom Dixon takes over as artistic director
By Hannu Pöppönen
"We do not plan to implement a revolution in the first year", says Tom Dixon, the new artistic director of Artek.
Dixon has come to Helsinki for a couple of days to examine the situation here, meet Finnish designers, and visit the Nuorten Forum ("Youth Forum") exhibition to see what kinds of ideas are growing here.
The appointment of Dixon to replace Ben af Schultén, who retires as Artek’s artistic director next week, was announced already in the summer.
Dixon is not yet talking about any details, but the main principles of Artek’s newest line of products seem to be ready.
"I meet as many Finnish designers as I can. I have some ideas that are ready. Artek will not have hero designer brands that, say, Cappellini has. The idea is to make unique products, like Snowcrash tried to do."
The Snowcrash brand was an attempt by the Swedish company Proventus, which owns Artek, to produce a more youthful line of furniture alongside the designs of architect and designer Alvar Aalto.
Dixon appears to be quite familiar with the history of Artek, which was set up in 1935 by Alvar and Aino Aalto, Maire Gullichsen, and Nils-Gustav Hahl. This is one of the starting points as he seeks to make his brand better known outside of Finland itself.
Artek has had an exhibit two years in a row at the Milan Design Weeks, featuring the furniture of Alvar Aalto. Therefore, it is now time to develop something new.
"When Artek was founded in 1935, it was a manifesto of creative people, who aimed at being more than just an export company. The attitude was very modern, and we should take Artek more in that direction, rather than keeping it as an Aalto museum, which it has been for some time now."
"Everybody already knows Aalto’s tea trolley but nobody talks about Gullichsen, the energy of the early days, or wood technology."
Dixon envisions Artek as a future design centre and artistic community something like it was in its early years, when Artek, under Maire Gullichsen, arranged art exhibits of foreign artists.
The new emergence of ecological thinking means that Artek’s wood technology could be a selling point.
Dixon sees his role at Artek as more than that of a creative manager. He will also be a consultant, and a minority shareholder alongside Proventus.
Proventus and Dixon jointly manage the Art & Technology Group. In addition to Artek, Art & Technology includes the Tom Dixon brand, which was established in 2001, and which produces products designed by Dixon.
"The purpose of my brand is to act in a more innovative manner. Artek has more material values. It is more Nordic."
The first new Artek products are to be completed in April for the Milan Design Week.
"The selection of products is not extensive but it shows a new attitude."
Dixon feels that filling what he sees as obvious gaps is the most important thing to do. "Artek lacks some functional items, such as tables with collapsible legs."
Dixon has already hired designers to work at Art & Technology, who can make designs for both Artek and for his own brand from London.
In addition to the British, New Zealand, and American designers, there is one Finn - industrial designer Tuukka Halonen, who lives in London, and whom Dixon got to know through Habitat.
"Halonen wants to add two or three basic elements to Artek rather quickly, and to fill in the existing gaps", Dixon says.
The two other new designers will also do work for Artek, Dixon says.
Asked if Artek’s line would remain Nordic by nature, Dixon answers with another question.
"What is Nordic? Is it just Scandinavia, or does it extend to the equator? The Japanese probably represent a more Nordic kind of design than the Finns do."
Dixon says that he will continue to use Finns, but they will not necessarily be designers.
"They can be engineers, graphic artists, photographers, craftspeople, and perhaps musicians."
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 27.8.2004
More on this subject:
BACKGROUND: Tom Dixon - a self-educated designer
Tank chair to remain in Artek repertoire
Artek News: Artek & Tom Dixon collaboration
HANNU PÖPPÖNEN / Helsingin Sanomat