Artists’ take on Sweden at the Moderna Museet

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.

Artists' take on Sweden at the Moderna Museet
Esther Shalev-Gerz, Sound Machine, 2008/Moderna Museet

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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Stockholm’s giant penis mural to be covered up after complaints

A giant blue penis painted on a Stockholm apartment building is to be covered up after just one week, the company which owns the building has said.

Stockholm's giant penis mural to be covered up after complaints
The penis was painted in blue with a yellow background, perhaps reflecting Sweden's national colours. Photo: Photo: Hugo Röjgård/Graffitifrämjandet
Atrium Ljungberg said it had come to the decision after receiving a barrage of complaints about the five-story high depiction of a bulging erection.  
“Of course we care about artistic freedom, but at the same time we must respect the opinion of our closest neighbours,” Camilla Klint, the company's marketing head, said in a statement. 
“By letting it remain for a short period, we are offering anyone who's interested a chance to experience the work.” 
The company said that it had been given no prior warning that a giant penis was about to appear on one of its blocks. 
“On Wednesday morning, April 11th, we saw  Kollektivet Livet's new work for the first time, at exactly the same moment as all the other people who live on Kungsholmen did,” it said in its statement.  
Under their arrangement, the artist collective had total artistic freedom over the works it commissioned for the wall, at Kronobergsgatan 35 on the central Stockholm island of Kungsholmen.  
The decision will come as a disappointment to the artist Carolina Falkholt. Her first giant penis painting, which she plastered on a wall in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in December, lasted only a few days. 
She said on Wednesday that she expected her native Swedes to be more receptive. 
Atrium Ljungberg did acknowledge that many appreciated the painting. 
“Some people are positive about the work and see it as playing an important part in the debate around sexuality, the body and gender,” the company wrote.
“Others, particularly neighbours, have received the work less well, and experience it as offensive.”