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Artists' take on Sweden at the Moderna Museet

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Artists' take on Sweden at the Moderna Museet
Esther Shalev-Gerz, Sound Machine, 2008/Moderna Museet
09:36 CEST+02:00
Every four years, Stockholm's Moderna Museet presents a sampling of what's new in Swedish contemporary art. Contributor Jennifer Lindblad takes a look at this year's exhibit, which opened October 2nd.

Now on view at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm is "The Moderna Exhibition 2010". Running until January 9th, it is the second in a series that occurs every four years.

The intention is to present an overview of Swedish art today, but of course, it is nearly impossible to define Swedish art simply by its national borders. For this reason, the exhibition includes many international artists who are active in Sweden, as well as Swedish artists who are active abroad.

This year's installment features the work of 54 artists (28 women and 26 men). As the artists' works are so varied, there is no overarching theme for the show.

Rather, as Moderna's curator of Nordic Artists Fredrik Liew explains, they have identified four contexts where these artists intersect: “images of Sweden, discussions about authorship and narration, revisiting modernist formal idioms, and the ethereal and spiritual.”

The overall aesthetic of the installation is airy and light, but the strongest works are to be found in the darkest rooms, in video installations from Ann-Sofie Sidén, Petra Bauer, and Maria Lusitano Santos, as well as in Christine Öglund's ephemeral Thought-Forms and Leif Elggren's mysterious curio cabinet.

No stranger to the Stockholm art scene, Sidén has just opened a solo show at Christian Larsen Gallery. Her video piece at Moderna is first encountered in the preceding room, where the sound of ringing bicycle bells and mooing cows can be heard.

In a narrative with an old western feel, two horse riders are filmed during a 38-day journey from Stockholm to Skåne. Images move in a panoramic flow from right to left, and private moments - church bells, a woman planting lavender at a loved one's grave - are juxtaposed with humorous still images of country folk looking suspiciously at the camera crew. The clip-clop of horse hooves drag the viewer along in this mesmerizing 38-minute long video work.

In contrast, the video piece by Lusitano Santos is much less produced. It, too, examines the image of Sweden, but from an immigrant's point of view. With a format somewhere between essay film and documentary, the artist combines interviews with snippets from Sweden's public radio and animation featuring Bamse the bear, a popular Swedish children's television programme. As gentle snow falls in the background, the artist wonders what it means to be a foreigner in Sweden, and what constitutes home.

Ownership and authorship, one of the central axes of the exhibition, is explored in Kajsa Dahlberg's A Room of One's Own/A Thousand Libraries. In this project, Dahlberg borrowed every copy of Virginia Woolf's novel available in Swedish libraries and photocopied each page, recreating readers' underlines and margin notes. By “republishing” Woolf's novel as an artist's book, Dahlberg's piece discusses re-readings, true authorships, as well as the relationship between public and private.

A similar idea is explored in Sarah Jordenö's installation, The Persona Project, after Ingmar Bergman's classic film. Through documentary-style video interviews and collected newspaper clippings, Jordenö dissects various aspects of the film, considering how the film is constantly reinterpreted, reedited, and reclassified.

In Johan Tirén's piece, Drawings Made from Collected Descriptions, the relationship between artist and patron is examined. In the project, a buyer conceives of a drawing he/she would like to purchase from the artist, and has an intermediary communicate this idea to the artist along with a contract.

Digitally reproduced copies of the drawings (not the originals), are exhibited side-by-side with the contracts. The artist and buyer never meet; the formality of the type-written contracts is contrasted with the diverse, whimsical, and often non-sensical drawings the artist produces.

The critics' reception of “The Modern Exhibition 2010” has thusfar been lukewarm. Nils Forsberg's review for the Expressen newspaper brings attention to the fact that, since the last installment four years ago, Sweden has passed through a financial crisis, and two parliamentary elections.

At the time of the 2006 installation, he wrote that the exhibition would certainly seem dated four years later, “But after seeing this year's edition,” he wrote last week, “I'm not so sure about that.”

In comparison with the 2006 installment, Sebastian Johans of the Upsala Nya Tidning (UNT) newspaper asserts that this year's show plays it safe; the art is more toned down, less provocative, its installment “a bit paler and less visually striking.”

Dagens Nyheter (DN) reviewer Sinziana Ravini takes readers through a roller-coaster ride in her review. She found the exhibition concept “as exciting as a cup of watered-down coffee” and the installation “unobtrusive and tidy,” lamenting the lack of provocative artistic choices. On first glance, it offers “no major surprises,” but as Ravini's path through the show progresses, the low-key quality becomes seductive as “delicate micro-worlds emerge,” and unlikely dialogues between artists become apparent.

On the whole, Moderna Museet seems to be trying to make their exhibition practices more transparent. In the exhibition catalog, which is published according to Creative Commons guidelines and complementary with museum entrance, there are numerous views of the installation process, with works leaning against walls, ladders exposed. The exhibition also includes a performance and research room, where visitors can find workshops that suit their interests. The calendar of lectures, workshops, and events is full to the brim, further adding to the museum's welcoming, energetic attitude.

This energy will likely be sustained as the museum ushers in a new director, Daniel Birnbaum, in November. Birnbaum is a philosopher, critic and curator, whose previous posts include the director for IASPIS (The International Art Studio Program in Sweden), as well as artistic director for the Venice Biennale 2009.

If the exhibition leaves you wanting more of the Swedish art scene, many of the artists whose work is included in this show are also exhibiting in Magasin 3 Konsthall's fall show “Thrice Upon a Time,” which is on view through December 12th.

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