Middling Horizon

Facing yet another Covid spring, Sweden’s exhibition season will be locally produced and unsensational. Nevertheless, there are some gems to look forward to.

Helena Lund Ek, Alice & Paula, 2018. Lund Ek participates in the exhibition Insights, Moderna Museet’s presentation of last year’s “corona purchases” opening on 5 February.

This spring, the pandemic looks set to affect the Swedish art scene in several ways. Firstly, through its newfound intensity: after keeping society open during the autumn, the government decided on new restrictions last week, allowing a maximum of one person per 10 square meters at indoor venues. In order to deal with the increased spread of infection, vaccine certificates are also required for events with more than fifty people in attendance. Exhibitions may, in other words, remain open, but must allow for a lot of space between visitors. At the same time, the spread of infection is expected to increase during the coming weeks, and it’s difficult to predict what may come. In any event, there won’t be any public openings or events in the near future.

Secondly, the effects have to do with its duration. As the pandemic enters its third year, the conditions for planning large-scale events have been difficult. But where art institutions in 2021 were forced to postpone, extend, or rearrange their exhibition programmes, the coming season still looks quite normal. Indeed, the pandemic seems to have left few traces in the form of thematic exhibitions on epidemiology, or critical seminars on the state of exception as a means of political power, and so on. Perhaps the art world, above all else, wants life to go back to the way it was.

On the other hand, there will obviously be fewer international exhibitions, and other large events that require a lot of travel. Also, there is an increasing tendency to view art institutions as places of production rather than spaces for showing art that has travelled from far away. The typical exhibition this spring is a solo show produced on-site by a Swedish artist. 

Whether this will have any far-reaching artistic consequences remains to be seen, but if we are to believe Moderna Museet’s Director Gitte Örskou, the museum is in the process of a major reorientation with a focus on sustainability and working with what is already at hand. In other words, the blockbusters with international art stars that distinguished Moderna Museet in the 2010s seem to be a thing of the past. Instead of Olafur Eliasson, we get Jeppe Hein, whose exhibition will open at the museum on 21 May; instead of Marina Abramovic, we get Every Ocean Hughes, with a show opening 1 May. In other words, less an international museum than a medium-sized kunsthalle with a focus on interactivity, performance and experimental display formats that coincide with the market and politicians’ common interest in social control and commanding the public.

Lap-See Lam, Phantom Banquet Ghost, 2019. Installation view from Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm, 2022. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Nordenhake. Lams solo exhibition Dreamers’ Quay, Dreamers’ Key opens at Bonniers Konsthall on 9 February.

Another consequence of the restrictions is the opportunity to develop a more inquisitive view of one’s own immediate surroundings. Indeed, this seems to have influenced the choice of several artists showcased this spring, whose work is playful, imaginative, and humorous in a way that has long been taboo in the po-faced Swedish art world. I am thinking of an artist like Åke Pallarp (1933–2013) – who collaborated with Marie-Louise Ekman and Enno Hallek – whose colourful and expressive naivety is highlighted in its own right at Färgfabriken in Stockholm, 30 April. Also in this category are figurative painters such as the artist-duo Tilpo, whose exhibition at Moderna Museet in Malmö also opens on 30 April, and Nina Bondeson, who will exhibit at Gothenburg Konsthall on 20 May. Catering to the recent surge of interest in figurative painting, these shows might inform contemporary art with some sorely needed flair and unorthodoxy.

Bondeson will also be part of Moderna Museet’s two-part exhibition Swedish Acquisitions, a presentation of last year’s “corona purchase.” The list of participants has not yet been made public, but about sixty of the total of 168 acquired artists will be shown in an exhibition whose first part, Insights, opens on 5 February. Moderna has acquired a broad range of artists in terms of expression, age and geography, and more than two-thirds are new to the collection. Presenting a selection in a way that allows the works to come into their own in an exhibition will be quite a task.

Bonniers Konsthall is always eager to present emerging artists in early, career-defining exhibitions, but at the same time tends to make quite safe choices. Therefore, it’s hardly surprising that Lap-See Lam’s first major show at a Swedish institution, entitled Dreamers’ Quay, Dreamers’ Key, will take place at the private konsthall on 9 February. Lam already made a hugely successful debut at the prestigious Galerie Nordenhake while still a student at the Royal Academy, and her Virtual Reality-based “chinoiserie as critique” (to borrow a phrase from the most recent issue of Mousse) is poised to be a critic’s favourite. From 9 February, Bonniers Konsthall will also present a solo exhibition with the Finnish-Sámi artist Outi Pieski.

Barbro Östhlin, NY Law School, oil on canvas, 183 x 142 cm,  1968. The first major Östlihn-retrospective in twenty years opens at Gothenburg Art Museum on 12 March.

Meanwhile, the public art institutions in Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmö are all going for minor Swedish classics from the 1960s and 70s. On 2 April, Moderna Museet will open a retrospective with Björn Lövin (1937–2009) based on reconstructions of his large-scale installations, while Malmö Konsthall will show the experimental poet Åke Hodell (1919–2000) starting 19 March (previously shown at Tensta Konsthall). Two seminal artist and social critics get to meet a contemporary audience, while also prompting us to reflect on where similar critiques are formulated today.

I am also very much looking forward to Gothenburg Art Museum’s Barbro Östlihn-retrospective (1930–1995), which is co-curated by the art historian and Östlihn expert Annika Öhrner. Surely, Östlihn will not be canonised on the same level as her husband Öyvind Fahlström (1928–1976), yet the time may be right for her in a way that it wasn’t twenty years ago when she was last shown at Norrköping Art Museum. On the other hand, audiences today may be too weary of 1960s Pop aesthetics to give her work a fair hearing. In any case, I will be there when the exhibition opens on 12 March, as the Art Museum’s galleries seem particularly well suited for her large-scale paintings.

Fina Miralles, Images del zoo, 1974. Courtesy of MACBA, Barcelona. Miralles will be shown concurrently at Index and Marabouparken in Stockholm from 19 February.

Among the few notable international exhibitions this spring, I would like to mention two in particular: the Catalan conceptual artist Fina Miralles, whose work will be shown concurrently at Index and Marabouparken from 19 February; and the Turkish artist Gülsün Karamustafa at Lund Konsthall later this spring. Both have been active since the 1970s, but as far as I know, have never been shown in Sweden before. The Miralles exhibition is curated by Teresa Grandas and has travelled from MACBA in Barcelona, while the Karamustafa show is curated by Charles Esche for the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven and will contain new works produced for Lund.

Lund Konsthall will also host a travelling exhibition about playground sculptures based on international material with some domestic additions. The Playground Project opens on 5 February and stands out among all the solo exhibitions this season by approaching public art from a very different perspective than the debates about monuments and political representation that have played out in recent years. Indeed, juxtaposing art, children, and the public sphere might complicate the current tendency to disavow any claim to universal equality and community.

Finally, one of the spring’s few notable group exhibitions, framför, vid, under (before, at, under), will take place at small Varberg Konsthall on 12 February, featuring the half-forgotten Swedish surrealist Thea Ekström (1920–1988) together with artists such as Gordon Matta-Clark, Cecilia Edefalk, and Flaka Haliti. The exhibition is curated by Emily Fahlén and seems to present a much-needed case for art and the human imagination’s ability to produce their own states of exception alongside the political ones.

Egon Møller-Nielsen, Tufsen (The Tuft), 1949. Photo from the artist’s studio by Sune Sundahl. Møller-Nielsen is included in The Playground Project, opening at Lunds konsthall on 5 February.