A couple of large-scale, intellectually forward-looking exhibitions are poised to define Sweden’s autumn season. I’m thinking here mainly of the 10th edition of the Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art (GIBCA 2019. Part of the Labyrinth), curated by Lisa Rosendahl, and Mud Muses. A Rant About Technology, by Lars Bang Larsen at Moderna Museet in Stockholm.
What’s special about GIBCA 2019 is that Rosendahl has been appointed artistic director not only for this year’s edition, but also the next one GIBCA 2021. The later version will coincide with the four-hundredth anniversary of the city of Gothenburg, which Rosendahl, who is associate professor of Exhibition Studies at Oslo Arts Academy, will take as a cue to look back towards the 16th century and the advent of modern, instrumental reason. A similar stance informs Mud Muses, which seeks to expand our view of ‘technology-as-high-tech’ by looking to science fiction author Ursula Le Guin’s more inclusive definition of technology as “the active human interface with the material world.” Both projects favour a feminist, post-humanist view of humanity as implicated in an array of relations defining a fundamentally collective being.
Given that a starting point for Bang Larsen is Robert Rauschenberg’s installation Mud Muse (1968–1971), which is part of Moderna Museet’s collection, Teddy Hultberg’s new book Experiment mot alla odds (Experiment against all odds)can perhaps be read alongside the exhibition. It is the first comprehensive study of the experimental filmmaker Åke Karlung, a central, albeit somewhat forgotten, figure in the circle around Moderna Museet in the 1960s. The book includes a disc containing ten newly restored Karlung films, and is set to come out this week. Mud Muses opens on 12 October, while GIBCA 2019 opens next week, 7 September.
Other thematic exhibitions that enter into a discussion about life’s precariousness under late capitalism are Sensing Nature from Within at Moderna Museet in Malmö and Cosmological Arrows at Bonniers Konsthall. The former opens on 28 September and the latter – which is also strongly influenced by Le Guin – opens this weekend.
For a society without men
If the 1990s was characterized by a fascination for theory, then artists and curators today often seem to favour activism and poetry. For instance, both Bang Larsen and Rosendahl emphasise authors as intellectual catalysts for their exhibition concepts, with GIBCA 2019 borrowing its labyrinthine title from Danish poet Inger Christensen’s take on Descartes’s Cogito.
Meanwhile, artist-and-curator-run space Signal in Malmö will stage an homage to the feminist author Valerie Solanas in the exhibition Our friend, Valerie Solanas. Her SCUM Manifesto (1967) is another piece of visionary science fiction, arguing for women to take control of technology and stop giving birth to men once they are no longer needed for reproduction. Everything should be automated, and when technology finally solves the problem of death, giving birth at all will be rendered redundant. The exhibition – a “tribute to strength and fragility, politics and aesthetics, willfulness and clarity” – will open 20 September, and include Ellen Cantor, Chiara Fumai, Pauline Oliveros, Carole Roussopoulos and Delphine Seyrig
This spring saw the inauguration of Mint, a small curator-run space in the former ABF (Workers’ Educational Association) gallery space in Stockholm. Run by Emily Fahlén and Asrin Haidari, the idea is to re-establish a connection between contemporary art and the labour movement. On 25 September, Mint will open an exhibition with artist Fernando Sánchez Castillo, poet David Väyrynen, and Inger Ekdahl (1922–2014), one of Sweden’s first non-figurative painters.
Peinture féminine and its heritage
Another pioneer associated with the second wave of feminism is the American painter Nancy Spero (1926–2009), whose work will be showcased at the Nordiska Akvarellmuseet (The Nordic Watercolour Museum) on the Swedish west coast from 22 September. Malmö Konsthall exhibited Spero in the 1990s, but this showing will, to my knowledge, be the first large retrospective of her work in Scandinavia. The exhibition explores Spero’s political engagement as an artist who transformed painting by representing female bodies and experiences. This summer it was installed at the Museum Folkwang in Essen, and next year it will travel to Louisiana Museum of Modern Art and the Art Museum in Lillehammer, Norway.
One of many followers of Spero’s peinture féminine – which, if memory serves, she spoke of in reference to Hélène Cixous’s écriture feminine – could be the Estonian painter Merike Estna who has a show coming up at Moderna Museet in Malmö later this fall. On the museum’s website it says that Estna aims to “examine tradition-laden structures” while the artist herself, more succinctly, claims to want to challenge the idea of painting as a “masculine territory.” Which is fine, although a good 150 years of women artists doing exactly that should call for a nuanced reading of painting as a male-coded genre. In any event, Estna’s exhibition opens on 22 October, and will be worth a closer look.
On the domestic front, Liljevalchs in Stockholm will mount a large-scale retrospective of Helen Billgren, while neighbouring institution Waldermarsudde will be showing an exhibition of newly commissioned works by Meta Isaeus-Berlin. Both artists have in recent years returned to painting, albeit in quite different ways. Billgren is characterized as one of Sweden’s most “obstinate” and “playful” artists, while Isaeus-Berlin is described in more intellectual terms as someone who explores the transgressive state between being awake and dreaming (descriptions that probably reveal as much about the institutions as the artists). Isaeus-Berlin’s exhibition opens on 5 October, and Billgren’s on 11 October.
What about textile?
The Thiel Gallery in Stockholm has in recent years staged a number of exhibitions with craft-orientated artists who have been somewhat marginalised in Swedish art history. This fall, it is Karin Frostensson, one of the lesser-known artists around the legendary journal PUSS, which was founded in 1968 by her then-husband Lars Hillersberg. The exhibition opens 12 October. Another artist who was part of the radical circles of the 1960s and 1970s is Stefan Teleman, who opens a partly retrospective exhibition at Norrköping Art Museum on 28 September.
Given the importance of textile art for current feminist and technology orientated discourses, the absence of a large-scale intuitional exposé of Swedish textile art is striking. There have been some attempts, but none that live up to the subject’s timeliness and importance. Väva, fläta, fästa. Textila pionjärer och samtida uttryck (Weave, braid, attach. Textile pioneers and contemporary expression) at Västerås Art Museum has the potential of being a piece of the puzzle. A story of how textile art was vitalised during the 1960s at the intersection between experimental aesthetics and the Swedish welfare society’s growing need for public art is conceptualised through Kaisa Melanton (1920–2012) and Sten Kauppi’s (1922–2002) monumental tapestries for Västersås City Hall. The exhibition opens this Saturday 31 August, and features artist of different generations, such as Margareta Hallek, Viveka Nygren (1925–2015), Edna Martin (1908–2003), Kristina Müntzing, and Åsa Norberg & Jennie Sundén.
Institutions with a taste for research
Art historical survey exhibitions are scarce this autumn. Nationalmuseet (Sweden’s National Museum of Art and Design) favours contemporary design (Hella Jongerius, 17 October), and an exhibition on the politically turbulent year 1989, opening on 5 September. Waldermarsudde will, on the other hand, mount an ambitious presentation of the pre-Raphaelite Edward Burne-Jones, while another Stockholm institution, Millesgården, will present an exhibition with Hilma af Klint, Tyra Kleen, and Lucie Lagerbielke – three artists from the early 20th century with a common interest in spirituality. An opportunity to counter the narrative elevating Hilma af Klint to a lone genius and block buster, perhaps. The exhibition at Waldermarsudde opens 14 September, and the one at Millesgården 5 October.
This fall will also see an array of solid solo shows. Two offerings by Cuban artist Carlos Garaicoa will run simultaneously at Lunds konsthall and Skissernas Museum in Lund; both exhibitions open 5 October. Malmö Konsthall will be showing the Iraqi American artist Michael Rakowitz, whose exhibition about historical artefacts destroyed in Iraq and Syria will open 14 September. Also, Stockholm University’s new art institution, Accelerator, will open on 6 September with an inaugural exhibition by performance artist Tino Seghal.
The close connections between the Swedish and Norwegian art scenes means that we will be seeing a lot of Norwegian artists this fall. Ane Hjort Guttu will exhibit at Virserum Konsthall on 8 September, Sissel M. Bergh at the Art Museum in Skövde on 7 September, and Liv Bugge at Marabouparken in Stockholm on 19 September. These artists all engage in research-based practices, which seems to be a way to the hearts of Swedish curators, whether in Skövde or Stockholm. The topics addressed include the legacy of the Nordic welfare state, IKEA, and the situation of the Sami people. The techno-patriarchy will likely endure, but at least the Swedish art autumn gives ample opportunity to reflect on the premise of its disappearance. In fact, this feels like one of the more promising seasons in quite a while.