Talking collecting and Scandinavian design with Modernity Gallery founder-director, Andrew Duncanson


Connoisseurs Club

Scottish-born, Stockholm-based gallerist Andrew Duncanson is a widely recognized expert in collectible design. Over the last two decades, the gallery he founded in the heart of central Stockholm's design district, Modernity, has earned a stellar reputation for collectible furniture, ceramics, glass, lighting, and jewellery from notable 20th-century Scandinavian designers like Hans Wegner, Finn Juhl, Arne Jacobsen, Alvar Aalto, Axel Salto, and Berndt Friberg.

With Duncanson and gallery director Isaac Pineus at the helm, Modernity works not only with significant collectors and private clients but also with some of the world's finest museum collections, including MoMA New York, LACMA, and the Swedish National Museum. Alongside his work with the gallery, Duncanson lectures on 20th-century design, has served on the jury for the Swedish Design Association's annual exhibition at Stockholm's Museum of Architecture, and is a member of the selection committee at the Pavilion of Art & Design fairs in London and Paris. All of which is to say, Modernity's founder has well and truly honed his chops in the upper echelons of the European and modernist design worlds.

We couldn't pass up the opportunity pick the brain of this midcentury modern maven, picking up a generous raft of insider tips along the way.

 

Gretta Louw: What is your connection to design and, more specifically, Scandinavian Modern design? What drives you to do what you do?

Andrew Duncanson: I have been working in design for thirty years. I started collecting international design while I was still living in Scotland, but realized I could make a living at it once I moved to Sweden. I opened my first shop with my original collection, and have been going ever since. It was a natural step to deal exclusively with Scandinavian design.

GL: What is it about Scandinavian Modern design, do you think, that makes this style so eternally coveted?

AD: It’s a question of excellent craftsmanship and clean lines. This type of furniture also pairs well with the ways in which people decorate today. It looks seamless paired with contemporary art.

Carl Hörvik cabinet and chairs Photo © Modernity GL: You work with some of the rarest and most collectible pieces of 20th-century design around; can you tell us about a couple of the most special pieces and why you love them?

AD: One of the best pieces we’ve ever had was the Carl Horvik cabinet. This cabinet came from the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris, which is usually referred to as simply the Paris Exhibition of 1925. The cabinet is, in my opinion, one of the most important pieces of Scandinavian design ever made. It is now in the Swedish National Museum’s collection.

Another important piece was the Mobile necklace by Vivianna Torun Bülow-Hübe. She believed that the Mobile necklace was why she won the Lunning Prize in 1961. It took me 20 years to locate this piece, and it turned out to be the actual necklace photographed in the book Torun.

GL: What is your definition of good design?

AD: There are many criteria, but for me the most important is the level of manufacture, the comfort and, not least of all, the aesthetic value. I don’t know how you could prioritize, but the aesthetic value is high up there.

GL: We all know the big name Scandinavian Modern designers, but which lesser known designers from that era do you think haven't yet had the recognition they deserve?

AD: That’s a tough question. Perhaps Hans Bergström. He was the head designer at Ateljé Lyktan in the 1950s and created beautiful lamps. Danish designer Kaj Gottlob also deserves further attention.

GL: How do you approach incorporating modernist design classics into a contemporary interior?

AD: My opinion is that vintage Scandinavian design works in any interior. It’s exciting to mix styles, even woods. For me, that’s what gives a room personality.

Modernity at Pavilion of Art & Design Genève 2018 Photo © Modernity GL: Modernity has been at the forefront of the European modernist design scene since it opened in 1998. How has the demand or market for modernist design changed since then?

AD: When I opened in 1998 there was a wave of interest in Scandinavian design. Design magazines—specifically Wallpaper*—were constantly featuring articles about Scandinavian design. This created a market and many design shops were opening. These shops often compromised quality. Most of these shops are gone now, as collectors have become more discerning with time. The market has become more refined and international interest has continued to grow.

Modernity founder Andrew Duncanson and Modernity director Isaac Pineus Photo © Modernity GL: Fairs are a big part of the collectibles market these days. How do you feel about the rise of fairs, and how does it affect your operations at the gallery?

AD: I am quite often amazed that we, in the age of the internet, still have to take our wares half way across the world. Collectors want to see, touch, and try what they’re interested in. Some of our best clients only buy at fairs, as they don’t have the time to browse. They take the time to come to fairs. In 2018, we participated in seven fairs—the most we've ever done in a year. Fairs are a very important way of meeting with new and existing clients. We do two fairs in London and two in New York, as these are our biggest markets.

GL: Which designers working today would you say have most successfully carried on the Scandinavian Modernist traditions?

AD: I don’t think that Scandinavian design has lost its sting, but it hasn’t completely lived up to its heritage. The Danes may have an edge over the Swedish and Finnish. Mathias Bengtsson is an interesting designer working in a very sculptural way.

GL: If you weren't running Modernity Gallery, what do you think you'd be doing?

AD: I wanted to be a vet when I was a kid, but I wouldn’t want that now. I tried art too—maybe I would want to be an art dealer? Collecting art is my hobby now.

 

  • Text by

    • Gretta Louw

      Gretta Louw

      A South-African born Australian currently based in Germany, Gretta is a globetrotting multi-disciplinary artist and language lover. She holds a degree in Psychology, and has seriously avant garde leanings.

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