Cecilia Widenheim new director of Tensta konsthall

The soon-to-be former director of Malmö Art Museum stresses the importance of continuity for the small konsthall in Tensta, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2018.

Installation view from Show and Tell at Malmö Konstmuseum 2016. Photo: Jenny Ekholm.

Cecilia Widenheim is leaving her directorship of Malmö Art Museum to succeed Maria Lind as director of Tensta konsthall in Stockholm. Widenheim has been at Malmö Art Museum since 2012. Her contract was renewed couple of years ago, to run through 2020, but she will now leave prematurely to take over at Tensta in January, 2019.

Under Widenheim, Malmö Art Museum has gained a more prominent position, locally and nationally, with a number of site-specific exhibitions centering on Malmö as a city or on the museum itself. Tensta konsthall has, on the other hand, under the directorship of Maria Lind (2011–2018) housed several projects dealing with questions of local community and cultural heritage. These projects will now be developed by Widenheim, who stresses the importance of continuity for the small konsthall, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2018. 

Malmö Art Museum holds one of Sweden’s largest art collections. However, the museum facilities in the Malmö Castle complex are impractical and much too small. This has been a topic of debate for years, but 2017 saw a breakthrough in the discussions and today there is wide political support for building a new museum in Malmö.


Cecilia Widenheim.

During your six years at Malmö Art Museum you have raised the museum’s profile with several critically acclaimed exhibitions, such as Show and Tell (2017–2018) and The Society Machine (2016) (curated by Lisa Rosendahl). Furthermore, plans for a new museum are now well underway. Why, at this stage, have you decided to move on?

I’ve been in Malmö for six years now, quite a long time. I’m really happy with what I have achieved, but I also realize that under the current circumstances it’s difficult to do much more. We have raised awareness and built understanding about how a museum housed in a new and suitable building could contribute to the cultural life in Malmö, but it is a long process, which I will now hand over.

As you return to Stockholm, where you were previously a curator at Moderna Museet, what will you miss about the art scene in Malmö?

Malmö has a unique ecosystem, which has been great to be part of. The dynamics are very different compared to Stockholm, with more artist-run initiatives here. When art students graduate from Umeå Art Academy in the north of Sweden, they all move down to Malmö because it’s easy to find studio space and people to work with. I’m going to miss the contacts I’ve built between the museum and other institutions in the city. There is still a lot to do with regard to working with Malmö konsthall and Moderna Museet Malmö, for example. We have only just begun to explore interesting areas of collaboration.

What have you learned in Malmö that you will be taking with you to Tensta?

Malmö is a city with a very young population. Some 150 languages are spoken here and, as in Tensta, many people have transnational experiences, which challenges and enriches the arts and culture in many ways. And Tensta konsthall is 20 years old now. Maria Lind started something called Tensta museum, a sort of platform for thinking about what it takes to create larger continuity for the konsthall. What history is in place now, after 20 years in Tensta? I have followed that project and find it interesting, from several perspectives, in connection to the discussion about cultural heritage in Sweden, and the debate about museums. What does the sign above the museum entrance say? To what extent can museums withstand being politicized? What is the true mission of museums? Whose cultural heritage do we talk about?

Tensta’s exhibition programme for next year has been set by Maria Lind. How will you spend your first months in Tensta, and can you say something about what we can expect thereafter?

I will, of course, get to know my new team and the place. In May, Tensta konsthall will show a collaboration between Malmö Art Museum and Konstfack’s CuratorLab, which we’ve been working on for a year. The students have been in Malmö looking at our collection, and the result will be a project about “the common,” and rethinking how to work curatorially with public art collections. Towards the autumn, what Maria has planned begins to peter out, but we haven’t looked at that in detail yet.

Tensta has been a platform for methodology and knowledge development, and there are several projects that would be a pity to archive. I’d rather look at how they can be developed. For example, Reports from new Sweden, an exhibition about Tensta as a residential area that was part of Tensta museum, and the series about the model society. What community was the “million programme” project of public housing meant to serve? What is it today? And that’s part of what made me take this job. It’s very exciting and has to do with the relationship between art and society in a way that I think is productive.

Peter Geschwind and Thomas Elovsson, Time – Space Shuttle (Apollo Pavilion), 2013. The work was shown during the first installment of Tensta museum, 2013–2014.