Art off the beaten track in Stockholm

Katarina Wadstein MacLeod
Katarina Wadstein MacLeod - [email protected]
Art off the beaten track in Stockholm

Art critic Katarina Wadstein MacLeod slips into the suburbs and side streets of Stockholm in search of hidden gems outside the mainstream.



Maps carry a fundamental symbolism concerning health, wealth and visions for the future. We all know how distorted they can be and how out of date for example the world map from 1576 is, but it still influences how we feel about space, size and importance.

For Stockholm art lovers the map of galleries has expanded substantially in recent years. While previously a gallery tour would stretch from Östermalm to Vasastan with perhaps some detours to museums in Djurgården and Skeppsholmen, the ardent gallery-goer of today has to have more enduring stamina and work both compass and tube ticket harder. But there’s often a handsome reward, with subversive art and a suburban cityscape the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Maps, both mental and geographical, are in focus at Konsthall C in Hökarängen, two short stops before the end of the green line southbound. In the middle of this suburban area, with its typical 1940’s architecture of small flats and few elevators, a group of artists have taken over a former laundromat and turned it into an exhibition space.

The current show -- ‘The Map: Navigating the Present’, which runs until June 14th -- traces the significance of maps through 30 different artistic projects in which geography, politics and identity are closely intertwined. Maria Lantz has drawn a map from memory, a simple drawing that says more about our collective understanding of the world than it does about the memory of one individual. Michael Lundberg’s map on the other hand is a more personal account. With the help of a GPS device he traced his own steps for a year. The free life of an independent artist soon proves to be a series of repetitive journeys between home, studio and nursery.

In Liljeholmen, one stop west of Södermalm on the red line, we find one of the first alternative art spaces to establish itself in Stockholm. Located in a former paint factory, hence the name Färgfabriken, it’s not so much a bona fide gallery as a centre for culture.

From the outset, the space was synonymous with its founder and director, Jan Åman. But he departed recently, amid rumours of money poorly spent and a blurring of the divisions between the private and the professional. Where the gallery heads now remains to be seen.

In the meanwhile we can enjoy their summer exhibition which explores the complicated subject of what installation art really is, opening on May 22nd. Look forward to artists such as the internationally acclaimed Dane Olafur Eliasson, famous for his big sun that pulled in the crowds at Tate Modern in London five years ago. Botkyrka Konsthall is also in Stockholm’s southern hinterlands.

Take the commuter train and get off at Tumba C. With its tall, repetitive apartment blocks this 1970’s area has been promised a facelift and the hope is that the neighbourhood will change dramatically. The gallery, with its extensive outreach programme and a studio for visiting artists, will play an important part in the aesthetic changes.

On May 16th the contemporary artist Martin Karlsson will take over the exhibition space, looking in detail at the everyday in the nearby world around the gallery. People, houses, trees and railway tracks are equal players in the world of Botkyrka as captured by Karlsson’s brush.

At the other end of the suburban art trail on the blue line, Tensta Konsthall has made quite a name for itself. Having endured multiple changes in directors and community heads recently, they seem determined now to once again enter the international art scene.

In his first show -- Polyglottolalia, running until May 30th -- new director William Easton, himself an artist and former head of Berghs School of Communications in Stockholm, tries to explore and define the limits of language. A polyglot is someone versed in many languages, and glossolalia is a more elegant word for speaking in tongues. Religion, languages and boundaries of communication are at the core for many of the really quite excellent works of art on display. One of the highlights is Candice Breitz’s desperately funny stage play based on the 150 Japanese words, from Bonzai to Suzuki, that the artist could extrapolate from her own vocabulary.

Back in town, the trail taking art lovers off the beaten art track leads to Södermalm and a couple of artist-run galleries. Tegen 2, Bjurholmsgatan 9b, is situated in a small and very picturesque courtyard off Katarina Bangata.

The gallery has a specialised interest in showing art from the margins, where politics, power, religion and sexuality are often the orders of the day. The aim is to show that art can be both disturbing and necessary. More often than not they succeed.

The current exhibition -- Gaza: Boningar, until May 17th -- stages photographs of homes that are marked by bullet shots, bombed out and generally both miserable and dangerous. Swedish photographer Kent Klich’s images from the Gaza Strip portray personal disasters. Sitting in our own sofas we engage, but perhaps only for a minute or two as the scenes flicker by on the TV screen. At the gallery we’re forced to take our time and watch again. The artist reminds us that as long as we don’t see we need to keep on looking.

The last stop on this trail is at the nearby gallery Candyland on Gotlandsgatan 76. This is run by a group of artists who managed to convince the property owner Fabege that an industrial building turned into an office block in Hammarby Sjöstad needed some eye candy. In September paintings and video art were unveiled in elevators, stairways and on the building’s facade.

With a quick turnover of exhibitions at the gallery, this spring’s latest offering is a collection of colourful paintings and drawings of the fictitious Elvis lookalike musician Pino y la Banda de Pepinos from Spain. From May 8th to 31st we get to follow Pino’s long journey, which involves many surprises but no final destination.

Taking the art road less travelled is harder work than sticking to the mainstream offerings and the quality is not always consistent. But the increased pleasure when you do find something really good always makes it feel worthwhile.



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