Art exhibitions you mustn’t miss

Art exhibitions you mustn't miss
From the Pre-Raphaelites to the Danish surrealists, art critic Katarina Wadstein MacLeod samples the season's most eye-catching exhibitions in Sweden and Denmark.

As the snow melts away it’s a good time for some springtime romance. At the National Museum we get our fill in a rare opportunity to see an extensive survey of the Pre-Raphaelites, a 19th century secretive brotherhood of romantic artists.

Their previous bad reputation as masters of kitsch has been shed. Instead the Pre-Raphaelites have come to influence popular culture, advertising and importantly several new generations of artists. It might suffice to mention Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue’s video ‘Where the Wild Roses Grow’, where Minogue lies half drowned in a scene taken from John Everett Millais’ painting Ophelia. From today’s perspective their art seems innocent enough but back in Victorian society the medieval-inspired images and minute attention to detail was thought ugly, and the themes of prostitutes, unmarried but deflowered women, the poor and workers, radical to the point of unacceptable.

If the Pre-Raphaelites in their time were controversial and have long waited to be taken seriously, the popularity of the Swedish artist Carl Larsson has never lost its power. At Waldemarsudde until May 31 we get to see Larsson’s paintings of scrubbed interiors, painted wood surfaces, and the simple yet colourful textiles created by his wife Karin, that have made an impact on more or less every home across the nation. His paintings have become a visual representation of brand Sweden. In an unusual gathering of one hundred pieces we get to follow this national hero on his journey from a novice in Paris to a refined and singular artist who came into his own when he discovered watercolour. It’s hard to resist his pastel shaded countryside scenes, forever baked in summer, fiestas and flowers. Yet there’s more than meets the eye and perhaps it is the artist’s anxiety and idyllic, albeit conservative, understanding of women and children that still make these scenes of interest today.

Loretta Lux, the German artist trained as a painter, exhibiting at Kulturhuset until May 17, makes some of the weirdest yet most subtly manipulated photos in our computer art age. Populated by children with porcelain skin and slightly enlarged eyes and heads she comments on the myth of childhood. By creating an eerie atmosphere where there isn’t a movement in sight, only overly grave kids, she wants to break apart the idea that childhood is an innocent sanctuary. Instead, in her digitally created world, a happy childhood is a conspicuous fantasy created and maintained by adults.

The Swedish Artist Helen Billgren, at Angelika Knäpper Galleri until April 19, has become famous for her witty and sexually charged images. In her trademark style of simple figurative paintings and drawings, the lead characters are women whose nature is a mixture of Pippi Longstocking’s cheek and Barbie’s exaggerated femininity. Coloured by a black sense of humour, Billgren explores typecast female sexuality and the absurdity of everyday realities.

Moderna Museet’s must see show this spring is by the German artist Andres Gursky, until May 3. Something of a superstar in the art world, this is his first and long awaited exhibition in Sweden. The exhibition contains a large number of small copies of his work but the real highlights are ten full sized pictures, measuring around two by four meters. Snapshot-like in character, his gigantic images are slow to produce, and Gursky makes piercing observations of the effects of commercialism and globalisation. It’s the sheer scale, the sharpness of the details and the simple yet utterly complex compositions that make these photographs iconic pieces.

Santiago Sierra, on show at Magasin 3 until 7 June, is the bad boy of contemporary art. Infamous for exploiting other people’s misery, his intent is to hold up a mirror to the injustices in the world. Sierra wants us to recognize political and inhuman problems around the globe: Mexico, Spain, India, Guatemala, and yes, Sweden. In this exhibition he manages to portray inhumanities without adding more damage to already suffering people. We see the pain of the outsider in the toothless smiles of excommunicated Romanies in Italy. We meet incomprehensible hierarchies through sculptures created by human faeces, material collected by lowest caste people in India, the so called ‘untouchables’. In certain areas the poor sewage systems necessitate humans to look after the debris to which, according to some, these people are predestined through fate.

At Malmö Konsthall until May 19, we get an opportunity to see David Goldblatt’s photo documentary of life in South Africa pre and post apartheid. Goldblatt has devoted most of his working life to portraying rough, poor and deeply unjust living conditions amongst the black, coloured and Indian population in South Africa. In this exhibition these earlier black and white photographs are juxtaposed with his later work in colour, signifying the period after the first democratic election in 1994. For half a century he has critically explored, through beautifully staged and quietly pensive images, the social, cultural and economic divides that characterize his society.

For all those who missed the opportunity to see the enchanting and equally enormous exhibition of the Surrealist artist Max Ernst at Moderna Museet in the autumn there is now a second chance at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebaek, Denmark, until June 1. We get to see some of the best pieces by this over productive and fickle artist. Every fifth year he seems to have changed partner, country and artistic direction. The result is a vast, varied and incredibly fascinating body of work that firmly holds its ground today.

Over in Copenhagen the Danish counterpart, Wilhelm Freddie, is given a significant amount of wall space at Statens Museum for Kunst, until June 1. In the earlier part of the 20th century the Danish surrealists were the enfant terrible of art and society, and Freddie the leader of the pack. Across two floors we get to see his work including all the highlights.

The most legendary piece is the sculpture ’Sex-paralyseappeal’. Regarded as unlawfully pornographic it was confiscated by the Danish police when exhibited in 1937 and held in custody for thirty years. Female bodies, violence, sexuality, death and a play with the uncanny are the running themes, all with a politically subversive subtext written into the surrealist dreamscape.


In Sweden

Pre-Raphaelites, until May 24th, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, website

Carl Larsson, until May 31st, Waldemarsudde, Stockholm, website

Loretta Lux, until May 17th, Kulturhuset, Stockholm, website

Helen Billgren, until April 19th, Angelika Knäpper Gallery, Stockholm, website

Andreas Gursky, until May 3rd, Moderna Museet, Stokholm, website

Santiago Sierra, until June 7th, Magasin 3, Stockholm, website

David Goldblatt: Intersections intersected, until May 19th, Malmö Konsthall, Malmö, website

Over the bridge

Max Ernst: Dream and Revolution, until June 1st, Louisiana, Humlebaek, Denmark, website

Wilhelm Freddie, until June 1st, Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, Denmark, website

Katarina Wadstein MacLeod