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The forgotten art of Oluf Gravesen

Danish advertising for items of domestic design in the 1960s and 1970s often followed a very specific format. The featured product would be photographed in a room setting together with items by other manufacturers that were generally considered to be amongst the most prestigious and desirable designs of the time. These secondary items were not identified in the advertisement and were not themselves being promoted; rather, their presence was intended to signal the prestige and desirability of the advertiser’s own product.


Thus Fog & Mørup, Lyfa and Louis Poulsen lights featured in many different furniture producers’ room settings, the example above being an advertisement for Ryesberg Møbler chairs by Illum Wikkelso (featuring the F&M Formland), and the following three being for G Thams-designed seating at Vejen Polstermøbelfabrik (first with the F&M Milieu and Verner Panton’s Topan for Louis Poulsen, and then with Lyfa’s Konkylie) and a Matador sofa group at Eran Møbler (with the F&M Hekla).




Conversely, furniture by manufacturers including Fritz Hansen, France & Son, Getama and the like often formed the background room setting for Fog & Mørup’s own advertisements. Most of the items that were called into action for this supporting role are easily identified today, but an exception exists in the case of an artist called Oluf Gravesen, whose artworks were employed by Fog & Mørup and others. Gravesen’s work went unrecognised in this context for decades until it was spotted recently by our friend and research collaborator Sune Riishede in two late 60s images – one an F&M Diskos advert and the other a picture of a Danish Furniture Manufacturers’ Association display at the London Earls Court International Furniture Show (both reproduced below).



Sune had become close friends with Oluf Gravesen when both moved to Copenhagen after being at boarding school together in the late 1950s. In 1961 the 18-year-old Gravesen became the youngest person to be admitted to the Danish Royal Academy’s Spring Exhibition at Charlottenborg, exhibiting three small scrap metal reliefs. A successful solo exhibition at Den Permanente in the mid-60s brought his work to the attention of Copenhagen’s stylists and led to its inclusion in room settings such as those above. Later he worked on his artworks, all made entirely of nails, in Paris, London and New York. Gravesen’s exile meant he was not widely known in Denmark, so when he returned home from New York in the mid-1980s with a deadly disease, his tragically premature death was marked only by his family and closest friends and came, in the words of Pittsburgh’s Concept Art Gallery, “before he could see the influence his work would have on the late 20th and early 21st century New York art scene”.


Photograph of Oluf Gravesen reproduced by kind permission of Ray Dean

UPDATE 26 December 2011: Our sharp-eyed friend Sune Riishede has spotted another of Oluf’s artworks, this time featuring in a 1966 Fog & Mørup advertisement for Jo Hammerborg’s Trombone table lamp. Sune tells us: “I remember that Oluf had a short period in the early 1960s where he would penetrate a thin metal sheet with nails to create a landscape of holes, and also to hammer a shape in the metal surface. I imagine that this one belonged to interior designer Bent Kilåe’s collection, since I never saw those works again.”


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