Summer Sonata – Sweden

Local artists take on climate change in Boden, a Nordic Biennial in Örebro, and a Golden Lion-winning filmmaker in Stockholm. This is the Swedish art summer.

Anna Jotta’s Who Cares?  is shown in the exhibition Three Moral Tales at Malmö Konsthall.

Tomorrow, 6 June is Sweden’s National Day. Those who want to use their day off to see art can go to the small village of Benarp, in Skåne, where the Torsten Andersson Foundation organizes its annual one-day exhibition in the artist’s former studio. This year’s guest is Staffan Nihlén, who will show five sculptures the courtyard in front of the studio building.

The artists share an affinity: where Torsten Andersson (d. 2009), widely considered to be Sweden’s foremost post-war painter, is famous for his paintings of imaginary sculptures, Nihlén’s sculptures can be described as images of themselves, a kind of painting in stone. 

A quite different outdoor exhibition is the biennial Open Art in the small city of Örebro, which opens on Saturday 8 June. Some sixty artists from nineteen different countries are shown throughout the city, with a particular focus on the Nordic countries. In addition, the Kurdish artist Fikret Atay – who has been the city’s ICORN (International Cities of Refuge Network) artist-in-residence since 2017 – has curated an exhibition with artists like Hito Steyerl, Anri Sala, and Thomas Hirschhorn, which opens at Örebro Konsthall the same day.

During the summer there are plenty of opportunities to see outdoor exhibitions around the country: Wanås sculpture park in Skåne presents the international group exhibition Not a Single Story II, a collaboration with Nirox sculpture park outside Johannesburg in South Africa. And in Stockholm, the Thiel Gallery, an Art Nouveau gem on the island of Djurgården, opens the exhibition Garden Tales on Saturday 8 June. New works by Christian Andersson, Fia Backström, and Linda Pedersen are shown amongst permanent sculptures by artists including Auguste Rodin and Norwegian Gustav Vigeland. On the occasion of his 150th birthday, the Norwegian sculptor will also be celebrated with an anniversary exhibition: Gustav Vigeland. The Power and Feeling of Sculpture, which opens on 15 June.

Linda Pedersen’s Gate (Piggy´s dream) (2019) is part of Garden Tales, opening 8 June at the Thiel Gallery in Stockholm.

An existentialist turn

In what can be described as an existential turn in contemporary art and culture, this summer, the mid-size institutions are dominated by thematic exhibitions which re-examine the human position in the world. Animalesque at Bildmuseet in Umeå (14 June) addresses our relationship with animals from an ecocritical perspective. The curator is London-based Filipa Ramos, and the exhibition has a line-up with seventeen well-known, international artists.

A more local line-up characterises Change at Havremagasinet in Boden (6 June) and The Measure of All Things at Lund’s Konsthall (29 June). In Lund, Hanni Kamaly, Santiago Mostyn, Sandra Mujinga, and Ulrika Gomm raise questions about who gets to be involved in a certain communities and who is excluded (e.g., through racism). The artists are described as having a regional connection, but what they also have in common is that they have received a considerable amount of exposure in the Nordic countries and abroad. In Boden, on the other hand, that the nine participants are related to Northern Europe is a more crucial aspect, as the exhibition is about what locally connected artists have to say regarding the climate crisis.

Gösta Adrian Nilsson’s Skapelsen [The Creation] (1918) is part of the exhibition Sailor Compositions at Sven-Harry(s) i Stockholm.

Practices as theme

It’s no exaggeration to say that today’s curators in Sweden want to contribute to the public debate. To bring together works based on a certain aesthetic principle (a medium’s contemporary or historical conditions, for example) is more rare. In fact, this so unusual that when an exhibition takes a firm grip on art’s own premises, it seems it often does not need to do more than just display that gesture. This appears to be the case with Within Realities at Alma Löv Museum (15 June), a Värmland farm, where thirteen artists present how they explore their own particular realities; it’s an exhibition which has the taste of a classic summer excursion.

Something similar seems to be happening in Three Moral Tales at Malmö Konsthall (15 June), where the continuity of practices over time seems to work as an external joining device for three artists who have “stood aside” the trends of contemporary art: Joëlle de La Casinière, Ana Jotta, and Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven. The exhibition, curated by François Piron, seems to be a playful articulation of ideas surrounding identity, brand, individuality, etc., with an angle of institutional critique in the tradition of Marcel Broodthaers and others.

New and old modernists

My impression is that a critical stance (rather than a marketing principle) in relation to a single practice is more common when it comes to historical artists. In those cases, institutions often have a clearer agenda such as shedding light on more marginalised actors, to nuance or deepen current narratives, etc. This applies to the Swedish-French modernist Greta Knutson-Tzara (1899–1983), whose work is shown at Norrköpings Konstmuseum until 1 September, and Ester Almqvist (1869–1934) opening at Marabouparken in Sundbyberg, 29 June. Two thoroughly researched exhibitions, I think it’s safe to conclude.

A bit less original is the decision to show Gösta Adrian Nilsson (1884–1965) at the private museum Sven-Harrys Art Museum in Stockholm. Although historically marginalised due to homophobic sentiments, in recent years GAN – his nom-du-guerre – has become canonised as Sweden’s first Cubist (or was he a Futurist? Opinions differ.) But the exhibition has an interesting premise, namely to reconstruct GAN’s breakthrough exhibition at Gummeson’s Art Gallery in Stockholm in 1918, where he showed his scandalous ‘sailor paintings’, saturated with homosexual desire and love for the modern city.

Arthur Jafa, Mickey Mouse was a Scorpio, 2016 . Jafa’s exhibition at Moderna Museet in Stockholm opens on 29 June.

Good timing

As for solo exhibitions, there are of course several to choose from, but one of the high points of the summer might be the American filmmaker Arthur Jafa, who recently won the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennial. A large exhibition of his work – featuring Ming Smith, Frida Orupabo and Missylanyus –opens on 29 June at Moderna Museet in Stockholm. Good timing.

The Gothenburg artist Per Svensson is less of an international superstar. But on the other hand, he promises to turn Röda Sten Konsthall into a “cosmic sanctuary.” The exhibition opens on 5 June and is inspired by the tradition of alchemy. Also at Röda Sten this summer, Miguel Angel Ríos will show video works made from his experience fleeing across the border from Mexico to the United States in the 1970s.

One of the Swedish artists who has most consistently worked with the installation form since the 1960s is probably Ulrik Samuelson. This summer, his presence is twofold: partly with his collected writings, Sättarens anmärkning (Arvinius + Orfeus, 2019), and partly with an intimate exhibition at Evert Lundquist’s Studio Museum at Drottningholm in Stockholm. Here you can also see work by Stina Persson, who recently received the newly established Erland Cullberg scholarship for young artists. Another exhibition slightly off the beaten track of the art world is Clara Gesang-Gottowt, who will show new abstract paintings in the crypt under Lund Cathedral. Gesang-Gottowt recently exhibited there together with the icon painter Lars Gerdmar. On 13 July she returns to the cathedral with a solo exhibition.

The German-Jewish exile artist Lotte Laserstein’ painting Summer Idyll from the 1940’s is part of Småland – Idyll and Roads Astray at Kalmar Konstmuseum.

New institutions, new networks

This spring, curators Jonatan Habib Enqvist and Mike Bode launched New Småland, a “collaborative triennial” which brings together several arts institutions. The marketing potential of the project is evident, but there is also a critical ambition to look closer at Småland – a classic Swedish cultural environment associated with author Astrid Lindgren, IKEA, and Wilhelm Moberg’s epic novel The Emigrants, about the mass migration of Swedes to the US in the 19th century. On 15 June the Danish group Superflex will show a work about migration at Österängens Konsthall in Jönköping, while the material-based Norwegian artist Ane Graff – whose work is currently on view in the Nordic Pavilion at the Venice Biennial – will be showing at the Glass Factory in Boda towards the end of summer, 24 August.

Also, another Norwegian artist, Ane Hjort Guttu, will introduce a new work – a Beckett-inspired film that takes place in an IKEA department store – in the exhibition Småland – Idyll and Roads Astray at Kalmar Konstmuseum. The exhibition is open until 3 September and collects about fifty historical and contemporary artists who reflect on Småland as a place and theme. In September, Hjort Guttu will return to Virserums Konsthall with a new work, also within the framework of New Småland, that builds on what she showed in Kalmar.

Finally, 6 June sees the opening of the Jewish Museum on new premises in a former synagogue in Stockholm’s Old Town. For the inauguration, artists Åsa Andersson Broms and Ulrika Sparre have created object- and archive-based installations thematising how Jewish life has been regulated in Sweden since the 18th century. Most certainly worth a visit for those who have planned a vacation to Stockholm this summer. 

Installation view from the new Jewish Museum opening June 6 in Stockholm.