15 December

God giving birth! The best exhibitions of the year according to Adam Kleinman, director of Kunsthall Trondheim.

Monica Sjöö, God Giving Birth, 1968. Photo: Krister Hägglund / Skellefteå museum.

Monica Sjöö, The Great Cosmic Mother, Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Contemporary art discourse underscores the necessity to broaden concepts of care and empathy for the purpose of fostering greater solidarity. Simultaneously, shame is utilised as a deterrent in equal measure. In Sjöö’s groundbreaking retrospective, a distinctive approach is taken to further this tactical triad. The exhibition, intricately curated by Jo Widoff and Amy Budd, weaves together the herstory of gender and ecological activism throughout Sjöö’s life’s work while establishing a compelling connection with the often overlooked power of art to inspire spiritual unity. Summing up the enormity of this project in a few words is a daunting task, so let’s simply refer to it as soul work.

Sol Colero, Las seis ventanas (De seks vinduene), 2023. Bilde fra workshop, Stavanger Kunstmuseum, Stavanger. Foto: Marie von Krogh.

Sol Colero, Las seis ventanas (The Six Windows), Stavanger Art Museum, Stavanger

It can be exhausting to constantly justify art, especially when the support feels more like a defense than a celebration. Personally, I prefer empowering skeptics by providing them with tools to cultivate their curiosity rather than engaging in what ultimately seems like an unproductive explanation. Colero’s resplendent show subtly critiques traditional panoramic painting, exploring its ties to spectacle and exoticism. The real brilliance, however, lies in how guests are invited to engage with the installation by creating DIY mosaic panels for the floor. Understanding how something is made is often a key to comprehending its essence. Additionally, it’s worth noting that the European elitist high/low distinction between art and craft, often viewed from a rather macho perspective, is not universally applicable, particularly in the Global South and several Indigenous communities. 

Matti Aikio, Oikos, 2023. Stillbilde fra video.

Interpret, Colonial Present: Counter-mapping the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in Sápmi and Matti Aikio, Oikos, Helsinki Biennial, Helsinki Art Museum and Helsinki Central Library Oodi, Helsinki

Let’s talk about windmills. Or said in another way, let’s talk about the intersection of art, activism, and Indigenous rights in the context of greenwashing in the Nordics with a focus on of how clean energy is pitted against enduring cultural heritage. Both of these artworks, each featured independently in the Helsinki Biennial, center the ongoing conflict between Sámi pastoral life and its disruption through land management programs by extractivist nation states. Like art, the value of nature should not be quantitatively measured alone. Instead of trying to solve the question of utility here, I leave you with Ivan’s ethical challenge from The Brothers Karamazov (crudely paraphrased): Would you agree to be the architect of a more perfect society if you had to raise your edifice on the foundation of a child’s unrequited tears?  

– Adam Kleinman is a writer formerly for Artforum, and director of Kunsthall Trondheim. 

For this year’s contributions to the Advent Calendar, see here.