Autumn Sonata – Sweden

Stockholm’s gallery scene is transformed, while new directors take over at several of the major institutions. And one of Scandinavia's oldest biennials is reawakened and rejuvenated.

Behzad Khosravi Noori, Professor Balthazar and The Monument to an Invisible Citizen, 2018. Opens at Marabouparken on 15 September.

Several major art institutions in Sweden are changing directors this fall. Firstly, Nationalmuseum in Stockholm will reopen on October 13, with art historian Susanna Petterson as new director. Considering that the Swedish national museum for art from the period 1500–1900 has been closed for renovations since 2013, many had surely hoped for something more radical than an exhibition of American painter John Singer Sargent (1856–1925) and what looks to be a rather conventional re-hanging of the collection. Yet, Petterson, who has previously been director of Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki and The Finnish Institute in London, started the position just a month ago and will be able to make her mark on the museum over the next few years.

More crucially for the contemporary art scene, director of Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Daniel Birnbaum, will leave at the end of the year to become director of Acute Art, a private production platform for virtual reality-based art in London. The transition from a state-run museum to the international tech-industry might seem like a stretch, yet the idea of distributing art through apps and smartphones for the audience’s viewing pleasure, is actually not so alien to Birnbaum’s tenure at Moderna Museet (2010–2018), which has been characterized by post-national group exhibitions and global brand-name artists such as Olafur Eliasson, Jeff Koons and Marina Abramović (who incidentally have also collaborated with Acute Art in the past).

Making art accessible for everyone – everywhere, all the time – would certainly be congruent to contemporary business models seeking to find ever new ways of integrating consumers into the digital flows and networks of the global market. Perhaps the hiring of Birnbaum signals the definitive breakthrough for incessant, 24/7 access to consumption in the sphere of art as well? 

Anton Vidokle, The Communist Revolution Was Caused By the Sun (still), 2015. Vidokle will exhibit at Tensta Konsthall on October 30.

Withdrawing into a privileged IT bubble will hardly be possible for the curators of The Moderna Exhibition, a survey of the Swedish art scene recurring every fourth year. This year’s edition will open on October 20, and is curated by Joa Ljungberg, curator at the museum, together with the Stockholm-based, American artist Santiago Mostyn. Historically, The Moderna Exhibition grew out of a thematic exhibition at the museum in 2002 that dealt with how globalization and migration transforming contemporary notions of national identity. This particular discussion was toned down in subsequent editions, a strategy that will hardly suffice in 2018 with a political climate gearing towards reactionary nationalism, and with an upcoming parliamentary election where a former Neo-Nazi party is anticipated to finish third at the polls.

The Moderna Exhibition will, in any event, be this season’s most important exhibition at Moderna Museet. Other projects include yet another exhibition about the museum’s golden era in the 60s, in this case about Andy Warhol’s first solo presentation which actually took place at the Stockholm museum in 1968. Furthermore, Moderna Museet’s branch in Malmö will host an extensive exhibition by Rosmarie Trockel, opening on September 29.

A much smaller venue for contemporary art in Stockholm, Index – The Swedish Contemporary Art Foundation, also has a new director as Spanish curator Marti Manen recently took over for Axel Wieder, who moved on to become director of Bergen Kunsthall in Norway. The former director’s program will last until the end of November, however, with the group show And Tomorrow And which opened two weeks ago. During Wieder’s tenure, Index has lost some of the specific acuity which made it a significant venue in the 90s and 00s, when it was a place where it could be crucial for young artists to exhibit early in their career. Today, Index’s position is somewhat unclear, a dilemma the new director will have to confront in the years to come.

Susanne Winterling, Vertex, 2015–.

Two of Stockholm’s mid-size institutions – Marabouparken and Tensta Konsthall – will have new directors by the end of the year. Bettina Perhsson is leaving Marabouparken to take charge of Kalmar Art Museum in southern Sweden, while Maria Lind is heading for new adventures after having run a much noted program at Tensta Konsthall since 2010. Filling her shoes will be difficult, yet her strategies for combining international contemporary art with the specific social and political challenges of being situated in the suburban periphery of the Swedish capital is not the only option. An earlier director, such as the locally-based artist Gregor Wroblewski who founded the konsthall in 1998, worked with an entirely different institutional model, which many considered to be successful then. Trying to duplicated Lind´s tenure under a new directorship would in any event be the least likely way to ensure the institution’s continued artistic relevance.

Until then, Lind, during her last season in Tensta will present an exhibition by one of France’s superstars of the 90s, Phillipe Parreno (date still undetermined), as well as, from October 30, artist and e-flux founder Anton Vidokle’s film trilogy about Russian cosmism and its notion of universal equality and eternal life for all. Additionally, there will be appearances by noted philosopher Boris Groys, among other things.

The solo exhibition appears as the given format at most midsize institutions. Marabouparken will host the Stockholm-based, Iranian artist and filmmaker Behzad Khosravi Noori’s first solo exhibition at a Swedish institution: Professor Balthazar and The Monument to An Invisible Citizen will open September 15. The same day Malmö Konsthall opens a retrospective on Maria Lindberg, who became known for her cunning paintings in the 90s, but who has been a less frequent exhibitor in recent years. In parallel, the konsthall will present an exhibition about Jacqueline de Jong and Situationist Times (edited by de Jong betwen 1962 and 1967). The exhibition is curated by Norwegian art historian and Kunstkritikk associate Ellef Prestsaeter along with the bookshop Torpedo, and opens September 15.

Installationsvy with work by sculptor Éva Mag, from NewMateralisms at Bonniers Konsthall in Stockholm. Photo: Jean-Baptiste Berangér

Several institutions appear to be experiencing a drought of ideas. Bonnier’s Konsthall will open a group exhibition with the less than original title New Materialisms, which will be followed by an exhibition by Spanish artist Dora Garcia (presently exhibiting at Tensta Konsthall across town). The former opens on September 5, and Garcia’s exhibition opens December 5. On November 17, Lund Konsthall opens an exhibition by Sami textile artist Britta Marakatt-Labba, and before then, from September 8, will show the somewhat more unexpected Phantom Stories: Leitmotifs of Post-Soviet Asia with art from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

In Malmö, the self-organized initiatives will feature some of this fall’s more intriguing events. Skåne’s Konstförening and Lilith Performance Studio arouse interest in different ways: Lilith by announcing a “mega performance” by American artist Lolly Lowe, including a football game with twenty “full size” players; Skånes konstförening by a carefully articulated group exhibition about migration in times of closed borders and swelling nationalism. The performance Game Over premieres October 6, and the exhibition No Country Like opens September 7.

What is more, it is the 20th anniversary of one of Malmö’s most versatile exhibition spaces, Signal, which celebrates with a season of “birthday gifts” from invited guests. First, Malmö-based Alta Art Space has put together a group exhibition that opens at Signal on September 14.

Gunnel Wåhlstrand The End of July (ink drawing) 2018. Opens at Gallery Andréhn-Schiptjenko on October 4.

Gothenburg too shows signs of exciting developments through the recently opened Galleri Cora Hillebrand, and a new konsthall headed by ICIA, an initiative run by Anna van der Vliet and Anna Bloch, who have previously worked with art in the public realm. Their new, permanent space is located at Ringön, a small-scale industrial area with artists’ studios in the port of Gothenburg. It opened on Saturday with a group exhibition of artists working in the building.

The energy of Malmö and Gothenburg, with new self-organized initiatives and collaborations, rarely appears in Stockholm (expensive rents and cultural policies that have prioritized large institutions are among the oft-noted reasons). Yet, things happen in the capital as well, such as the former heating station Kummelholmen, a self-organized initiative in Vårberg hosting quite ambitious projects since a few years back. This fall it will present two consecutive exhibitions by the Swedish sculptor Lars Kleen. The first one opens at 8:00 pm tomorrow, September 8.

In Stockholm we might be witnessing the end of the so-called Stockholm Gallery District around the Hudiksvallsgatan. This spring, Galleri Flach left their space only to reappear with temporary exhibitions at The Royal Academy of Fine Arts on Fredsgatan. Galerie Nordenhake has started an alternative project space in a different part of the city. And recently, Andréhn-Schiptjenko Gallery announced that they will be moving after 11 years at the same address. Where they will be next is as yet unknown, however they open their new gallery already on October 4 with an exhibition by Swedish painter Gunnel Wåhlstrand. The Stockholm gallery scene will not be the same in the coming years. Loyal Gallery, too, will open at a new location on September 20.

Finally, The Luleå Biennial returns after a few years’ dormancy, and appears to present one of this season’s most engaging exhibitions. The People’s Movements for Art Promotion is the new host institution for the biennial, hopefully bringing the stability and continuity that it needs. A young curatorial team consisting of Asrin Haidari, Emily Fahlén and Thomas Hämén will engage with the history and landscape of North Bothnia, and present an exhibition that branches Luleå, Jokkmokk, Boden and Kiruna in the northernmost part of the country. Additionally, the biennial has started its own monthly, The Lulu Journal, and will host an international anti-fascist conference towards the end of the exhibition period. The Luleå Biennial opens on November 17 and has this season’s most timely theme: “darkness” as a geographical and political reality.

The Swedish sculptor Lars Kleen exhibits at Kummelholmen in Stockholm on 08 September. The image shows Kleen’s Warship Monument in the Gothenburg harbour. Photo: Wikimedia commons.