Against a bright seascape, the type that reminds one so strongly of a summer day at the beach that it is almost possible to smell the salty air, oversized and misshapen shells are scattered haphazardly. They fill the foreground of Royal Copenhagen’s poster like beached whales: awkward, commanding, and strangely beautiful. The storied Danish ceramics company, which shared retail space at 683 Madison Avenue in New York with fellow countryman Georg Jensen, presents a whimsically literal poster advertising their collaboration with another Danish designer: Arje Griegst (b. 1938).
Griegst’s “Konkylie” or Triton collection (designed 1973-1976) consists of nautical dining, tea, and coffee services (examples of which are in the Cooper Hewitt’s Product Design and Decorative Arts Collections), manufactured in porcelain by Royal Copenhagen, in addition to thematically linked jewelry in various media. The title is a nod to Greek mythology; Triton is a son of Poseidon who is depicted as a merman. In the poster, the strangely naturalistic placement of the dining service against the idyllic beach backdrop, evokes the lore of mermaids, lounging along the surf, never far from the water’s edge.
These mythological reference points are appropriate for Griegst, who strikes a balance between precision and playfulness in both his ceramic designs and jewelry. In the case of Triton, a service executed in porcelain from a historic national factory, the familiar, oceanic subject matter and forms act as counterpoints to the connotations evoked by the material. It seems fitting that Griegst’s take on a beloved and elite medium is also self-referential. Porcelain, after all, was named in part because it reminded Italians of cowry shells.[i] The Triton service, like Royal Copenhagen’s poster, is as delightful as a day at the beach. As Henrik Sten Moller writes in his book on Greigst, “One is thrilled, yet amused by this porcelain. It can help to give a meal strength, spirit, and character.”[ii] Indeed.
[i] Thessaly La Force, “The European Obsession with Porcelain,” The New Yorker, November 11, 2015.
[ii] Henrik Sten Moller, Arje Griegst: a World in Gold, trans. Dale Curtis Malony (Copenhagen: Rhodos, 1982), 32.
Caroline O’Connell is the Collections Assistant in the Drawings, Prints & Graphic Design Department at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.