Why Swedes can’t stop arguing about this smurf-like sculpture

Why Swedes can't stop arguing about this smurf-like sculpture
The sculpture that has sparked a row over art in Sweden. Photo: Jan Stenberg/artist's impression
A Swedish artist's sculpture, which appears to parody the appalling mascots dreamed up by leisure centres worldwide, has provoked even the most liberal of Swedish critics.

The seven-metre-high blue cartoon figure – with moving eyes, tongue and hat – is scheduled to be erected outside the new sports centre in the Stockholm suburb of Kungsängen by the end of this year

The work, called Ping Pong, is setting the municipality back nearly 800,000 kronor ($90,000) and has horrified many residents, with one describing it as “terrifyingly ugly”on a local Facebook page, and another saying it resembles “a smurf on crack”.

Andrev Walden, a columnist for the Dagens Nyheter newspaper, wrote in an article on Monday that the work was “so ugly that it is difficult to take in”.

“I once wrote, 'I would like just once before I die to be provoked by 'provocative' art,” he wrote.

“But now it has suddenly happened, that hunched over the culture pages one late summer morning, I find myself being provoked by art.”


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The artist, Peter Johansson, said that while he always hoped to generate a reaction, this time he had not expected it to be so strong.

“My own feeling was that it is a really happy sculpture, a thing to laugh about, and, you know, get a smile out of, so I got surprised really,” he said.
Johansson made his name by slicing up and vacuum packing the brightly painted Dala horses which are both a symbol of a Sweden and a kitsch tourist souvenir, and his work is generally humorous and gently satirical.

But this time around he insisted that he had had no hidden agenda.

“It's really not political at all. The only thing that is different from you know, a cartoon, is that I call it art actually,” he said. “It's just supposed to be fun.”

He said he had taken the rough outline of the figure from a toy he had had as a child, and decided to make the eyes move from the side to side in reference to table tennis, which will be the centre's speciality.

“You remember the video game Ping Pong? It was really that way your eyes just follow the ball backwards and forwards,” he said.

He decided to raise the figure on poles both in a reference to the signs set up by US highways and to make the artwork function as a marker, allowing residents to find the centre.

The blue colour meanwhile, is taken from the shade used for table tennis tables and bats.

The overwhelming majority of the 800,000 kronor cost would go on building, he pointed out, with he, himself, receiving less than 50,000 as a fee.

Hannah Rydstedt Nencioni, the county councillor in charge of culture and leisure, said her committee had chosen Johansson's work because of its “playful expression”.

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