17 December

Which shows made a lasting impression on Artipelag-director Bo Nilsson?

Ragnar Kjartansson, No Tomorrow, still, 2017.

Ragnar Kjartansson, Epic Waste of Love and Understanding, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk

The international art world is in the midst of a rapid spiral of economic, social, and political change – which perhaps resonates, most of all, on a cultural level, as the boundaries between high and popular culture are being eroded. Immersive exhibitions are a sign of the times, attracting middle-class audiences to the icons of art history. In his first Nordic retrospective at Louisiana, Ragnar Kjartansson combined a wide variety of media such as painting, drawing, and performance with immersive installations full of references to popular culture. This is evident in The Visitors (2012), a tribute to ABBA. It is no wonder that this particular work has been recognised as the greatest artwork of the 21st century.

Rashid Johnsson, Black and Blue, video still, 2021.

Rashid Johnson, Seven Rooms and a Garden, Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Recent years have seen Black Lives Matter gaining momentum in the US. In the Nordic countries, we have largely been spared this cultural movement rooted in artistic activism – until now. But Moderna Museet’s exhibition with the American artist Rashid Johnson was hardly of the militant variety. Johnson belongs to the African American middle class, as shown in the exhibition’s video works in which he gathers his family around the dinner table with both sophisticated gastronomy and cultural interests. The same attitude permeated the artist’s dialogue with Moderna Museet’s collection, which displayed a respect for art history that went beyond a one-dimensional interest in African American identity.

Håkan Rehnberg, By an Oak and a Rock, installation view, Galerie Nordenhake. Photo: Viktor Sjödin.

Håkan Rehnberg, By an Oak and a Rock, Gallery Nordenhake, Stockholm

In art history, the term ‘iconic’ is often used to describe an important artist. This applies to Håkan Rehnberg, but his exhibition at Nordenhake hardly gave the impression of an artist trying to reinforce his identity. Throughout his career, Rehnberg has explored the language of painting. Indeed, the exhibition included both sculpture, drawing, and video works, but the artist did not try to keep his works together stylistically. He allowed them to deviate from Caspar David Friedrich’s Romanticism to modernist icons such as Edvard Munch, Alberto Giacometti, and on to Minimalism as well as post-Minimalism. Rehnberg has a unique ability to bring together historical references in the same elegant way that art historian Robert Rosenblum describes in his book Modern Art and the Northern Romantic Tradition (1977).

Bo Nilsson is director of Artipelag in Stockholm.

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