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Peanuts and snowglobes – an afternoon with Lasse Åberg

Jesus playing ice hockey and Jimmy Carter as a giant peanut? There's more than enough to entertain at Åbergs Museum, the brainchild of iconic comedian Lasse Åberg.

Peanuts and snowglobes - an afternoon with Lasse Åberg

Set in leafy surroundings on the outskirts of Bålsta, a small commuter town 40 minutes north-west of Stockholm, Åbergs Museum houses one of the world’s most comprehensive Disney collections, among other cartoon delights.

On approaching the home of Åbergs Museum, a lovingly restored 1895 farmhouse, certain preconceptions are unavoidable when meeting Swedish funnyman Lasse Åberg. Creator of the hugely popular Sällskapsresan films and the infamous character of Stig-Helmer, Åberg is a veritable comedic institution in Sweden.

Expecting a vision of creative dynamism — somewhere between Stig-Helmer, Åberg’s archetypal bumbling misfit, and one the energetic characters from his hit children’s TV series Trazan och Banarne — it is hard not to be taken aback by the normality of Åberg. A far cry from his exaggerated alter egos, Åberg is in reality a quiet and dignified man, if not a little shy.

But beneath the guarded exterior, a terrifically witty and dry humour lurks, as his new exhibition on tasteless souvenirs demonstrates. Based on his new book with the breathless title Souvenirs – A glimpse of the world of form that flies far under the Radar of the Aesthetics, Åberg’s collection examines the role of souvenirs from a cultural and historical perspective.

However as his wry smile betrays, he clearly delights in the sheer ridiculousness of the items on display. Arranged within the section simply titled ‘Why?’ Åberg points out one of his favourites: “Look, it’s Jimmy Carter as a giant peanut. I mean, why would you even want that?!”

There are many more hilarious and tasteless souvenirs to choose from in the collection. For example, the celebrity section holds such bizarre creations as a mouth organ printed with portraits of Gorbachev and Ronald Regan, Che Guevara playing golf and a sculpture of Jesus in a hockey scrum entitled ‘Jesus is my coach’.

Alluring though the tacky delight of the souvenir exhibition may be, the museum is far more than ships styled out of shells and cheap snow globes. Painstakingly renovated over a two year period, the interior of the museum is an inviting space designed by Åberg himself. With deep red walls and original 19th century wooden beams, it is an harmonious blend of tradition and modern design.

Åberg explains how he wanted to steer away from the austere minimalism of stereotypical Swedish interiors: “I like a mix and the unusual” he comments.

“Scandinavian design, it can be very cold. No shit under your nails… No people. The opposite to all the flowers in English design. … I couldn’t live in a house with only Scandinavian design, it’s like the house doesn’t need me. I’m destroying the effect by just being there!”.

Beyond the attentive interior design, the museum exhibits one of the world’s premier collections of Disney artefacts. Åberg explains why Disney has been such a massive influence:

“It started out when I went to Art School. I became very interested in Pop Art as the movement came during those years around 1962. The mantra of Pop Art is that if you can’t find anything to work with within one metre from you, then you aren’t a real artist. So from this, you can take a cartoon or a Mickey Mouse figure and draw him on a beer can or whatever, and I was fascinated by that. So I started to collect Disney things and use them as models for my painting and drawings”.

The Disney collection exhibits items from 1928-1938, including an original animation drawing from Steamboat Willy (the first sound film made by Disney from 1928), and storyboards and drawings signed by Walt Disney himself. Åberg describes this period as “The Golden Years, the fun years, the most adventurous years for Disney”.

The highly sanitize state of modern Disney clearly holds little thrall for Åberg. When asked who is his favourite Disney character, Åberg answers without hesitation:

“Donald Duck… Mickey was ok in the beginning but then it was very boring because it was the symbol for the American youth. They started clubs called the Mouseketeers and suddenly he was on a pedestal – he couldn’t be mean, he couldn’t hit people, he couldn’t do anything – he couldn’t drink beer or smoke. And Donald Duck can do all those things, nobody’s complaining. He’s a very human duck, he’s fiery, he gets angry fast”.

The Åberg Museum houses fascinating originals from such comic-strip giants as Prince Valiant, Tarzan, Superman, Spiderman, Popeye and The Simpsons to name but a few. The thought of spending an afternoon in a comic museum would no doubt send many running in the opposite direction, but in honesty the works on display here are genuinely riveting.

For those still not convinced by the thought of an afternoon looking at cartoons, Åbergs Museum also offers fantastic originals from Lichtenstein, Picasso, and Åberg himself amongst others.

The museum is clearly a very personal labour of love for Åberg, who is a significant patron of up and coming artists: “I’m not only choosing very safe artists, I’m buying a lot of young artists, if I feel with my stomach that it’s good. We have bought a lot of art before he or she became known, so that’s nice. This collection is over 400 pictures and we can only show half at a time. We are buying all the time – constantly trying to upgrade”.

With so much work in the art world, does this mean that Stig-Helmer has finally been put to rest? Certainly not, as Åberg explains: “The audience know him now…He’s an old friend for many people, people are curious as to what has happened to him”.

Åberg discloses that he is in fact working on a new film script, which he expects to be ready within two years.

The comedian illuminates why Stig-Helmer and his ill-fated capers are so enduringly popular to the Swedish people: “I think they are holding up a mirror, people can see themselves. .. I’m no fan of American slap-stick-type movies. I’m trying to show how we really are when we go on a charter trip or a boat trip and so on.”

On the inspiration behind his memorable lead character: “I know a couple of Stig-Helmers…The name is from my uncle. He doesn’t mind though, he’s dead. Not by hearing that I did a film about him mind you…”

See also: Photo Gallery

Åbergs Museum is open:

Tuesday to Wednesday 11:00 – 15:00

Thursday to Sunday 11:00 – 17:00.

Prices (with entrance to the Art Hall and the Trazan Hut):

Adults SEK 80, annual season ticket SEK 150

Children 3-15 years SEK 40, annual season ticket SEK 70

Family (two adults, two children) SEK 200

Directions:

By car:

From Stockholm about 45 km. Use the E18 north towards Enköping. Take the first exit to Bålsta, then left towards the town. Follow the sign posts.

From Stockholm Central – Bålsta:

Take the pendletåg (commuter train) line J35 to Bålsta. From T-Centralen, the journey takes about 40 minutes. Once at the station, the museum is about a 15 min walk away – for directions, just follow the yellow duck feet painted on the ground!

For those travelling with children, a pushchair is advisable as the walk would probably be too far for most.

Åbergs Museum

Box 233, 746 25 Bålsta, Sweden

Phone +46 8-411 00 40 , fax +46 8-411 00 47,

Email: [email protected]

For more information, please see: www.abergsmuseum.se

(Website available in English).

Lasse Åberg is an ambassador for Sweden’s National Association for Disabled Children and Youths (RBU).

ART

Killer princesses invade Stockholm streets

Graffiti paintings of Disney’s fairytale princesses brandishing guns and knives have been mysteriously appearing on walls around Stockholm, garnering global attention after photos went viral on Facebook. The man behind them is a Swedish Street Artist known only as “Herr Nilsson”.

Killer princesses invade Stockholm streets

The mysterious artist spoke with The Local via Facebook.

What are you trying to say with your work? Some people have speculated you’re saying “Don’t trust anyone”, others reckon it’s a criticism of pop-culture. Who’s right?

I like these discussions – and they are both right. Because of my kids I´m surrounded by toys, games and movies for the moment. Of course there’s a lot of creativity in the toy and entertainment industries for children – but most of the cartoon characters, female in particular, are very stereotyped and predictable. Always so innocent, fair and harmless. The Dark Princesses are a comment on violence, but they are also a comment to how we look upon good and bad in the world. Everybody expects a fairytale princess to always look good and behave well. If I was one of them I would revolt after a couple of days. And in my world they do.

SEE A GALLERY OF HERR NILSSON’S FAIRYTALE PRINCESSES HERE

Your mascot is “Herr Nilsson”, the pet monkey of Pippi Longstocking, holding a Molotov-Cocktail in his hands. Why?

My daughter has a cuddly toy of Herr Nilsson and he was with us everywhere a couple of years ago. She could not be without him. He is a harmless character compared to Pippi in the stories. That made me start to think of the revolting monkey, throwing a burning molotov cocktail at Villevillakulla with Pippi’s ponytail as a fuse.

So Herr Nilsson is rebelling against his owner?

My main intention was to let a harmless creature act very violently. Why he did it is up to you as a observer to interpret. But yes, your reading sounds reasonable.

Say, how old are you?

I can’t tell you that, I’m afraid.

Alright, so when did you start with Street Art?

I started about 1 and a half years ago. The monkey with the molotov cocktail was my first piece.

I have created a lot of exhibitions in different types of galleries but these ideas didn’t work out there. I wanted to stage a situation where my artwork interacted with people on the street and the real environment, not a fictional environment in a gallery.

Were your pictures similar to those you’re doing now or something different?

I have worked with a lot of media but it has always been images, mostly drawings and paintings. Sometimes a gallery or museum is great but then the audience is prepared to look at art. But when you put up a piece in the street you talk directly to the audience without that prepared shield. The street audience also includes people without any interest in art, the ones that never would go in to a gallery or museum.

So, galleries and museums are outdated because they do not reach the public?

In Stockholm the discussion about art is very cramped. It’s highly intellectualized in the newspapers. If you travel down to Skåne in the south of Sweden art is enjoyed by ordinary people without any education in arts. Everybody can talk about the pieces without having the feeling that they don’t understand. Sometimes the works of art demand a very high level insight or preparation, like Bruce Nauman for example. He is great, but my pieces in this project are comments about violence, good and evil, feminine and masculine. I also use very strong symbols from pop culture and cartoons. These comments and symbols are for everybody, not only the art audience.

Stockholm has a “Zero Tolerance” Policy to Street Art, in 24 hours a picture is supposed to be removed. Ever thought of doing your art in another city?

Yes but it’s more of a practical thing because I live here.

If someone would ask you to put your street art in a gallery, would you do it?

I have been thinking of it and it has to be solved in an other way. These pieces are made for the specific sites.

In your opinion, how should the city handle street art?

Like a voice. We have the right to say what we like. In the public space it´s only rich companies who can speak to the public with their brainwashing ad campaigns.

But they pay for the advertisement space.

Yes of course. It means that only the rich have the right to speak.

SEE A GALLERY OF HERR NILSSON’S FAIRYTALE PRINCESSES HERE

By Steffen Daniel Meyer

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