21 December

This year’s top-three list from Kunstkritikk’s Norwegian editor, Stian Gabrielsen, exposes him as an irritable aesthete.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Remains of the [so-called] Temple of Ancient Hope, plate made before 1756. Etching on paper,
12 x 19,5 cm. Photo: Andreas Harvik/Ina Wesenberg.

Piranesi and the Modern, The National Museum of Norway, Oslo

Becoming part of a montage of archival material that makes it feel as if you are walking around inside a coagulated image search is the price old pictures have to pay to access an age obsessed with its own significance. Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s (1720–1778) exquisitely precise graphic depictions of ancient ruins and imaginary prisons nonetheless penetrate this fog of contrived relevance – even as they are patrolled by paranoid museum guards smacking your nose every time it gets too close to the pictures (those not already at a safe distance one and a half metres over your head).

Mari Slaattelid, Blason på plate 1 , 2020. Tempera on wood, 62 x 42 cm. Photo: Tor Simen Ulstein.

Mari Slaattelid, Blason, Kristiansand Kunsthall

I stumbled across the year’s most beautiful picture in Mari Slaattelid’s large-scale exhibition Blason at Kristiansand Kunsthall, featuring new and older paintings. It is a modest tempera work poised precariously on the verge of noise. In articulating the unique form of communication that is painting, it also bears witness to the epoch-making struggle for the conditions of visual culture unfolding deep down in the obscure interplay between inherited templates, the instinctive decisions of the hand, and the pigment’s reactions. The stakes here are visible only to believers, and so the perceived struggle is perhaps already an echo.

René Magritte, Jeune fille mangeant un oiseau  Le Plaisir, 1927. Photo: Walter Klein / bpk Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf. 

The Savage Eye, Munch Museum, Oslo

Now that we have to come to terms with humanity not being the central subject of history, it is appropriate to bring out Surrealism again, as the Munch Museum did with its capable exhibition The Savage Eye (which also demonstrated the museum’s impressive ability to borrow works). The Surrealists gave pictorial form to the ur-modern cognitive dissonance of our being both suddenly free from nature’s demands and promptly caught up in the troublesome consequences of having used this power to try to do away with nature – not realising that, logically, this meant eventually replacing ourselves.

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