Waiting for Spring

Despite rather uncertain prospects, these are the art events we look forward to in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.

Arne Ekeland, Untitled, ca. 1978-80. Part of the triptych to be shown in the inaugural exhibition of Nitja Centre of Contemporary Art.

Thus far, 2021 has not exactly lived up to fondly held expectations that it would free us from everything that was wrong with 2020. COVID-19 restrictions are stricter than ever in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, and there is much to suggest that this will continue for quite some time. In such uncertain times, it is difficult, if not impossible, to come up with a definite guide to this year’s spring in art – especially in Denmark, where the anti-virus measures are most stringent and all exhibitions have been closed. Even so, Kunstkritikk’s Nordic editors have taken a glimpse at what we can (hopefully) look forward to in the coming months.

Mariann Enge, Editor-in-Chief, Oslo

Even though the Norwegian museums are closed, as yet until 19 January, all smaller exhibition venues are allowed to remain open as long as they can legally pass as a “shop” by pointing to a sales activity of some sort. At present, just going out one’s door can feel like an act of foolhardy transgression. But I promise to lather myself in sanitiser, don my face mask and maintain a safe distance to anything that draws breath as I set out to visit as many of the open gallery exhibitions as I possibly can during the coming weeks. Gerd Tinglum’s explorations of colour – which take the form of new works encompassing embroidery and painting, presented in the skylight hall at Kunstnerforbundet – certainly sound like an aesthetically rewarding start to the year. Her show opens this week.

Other than that, the art event I look forward to most must be the inaugural exhibition at the former Akershus Kunstsenter, which has changed its name to Nitja Centre for Contemporary Art in connection with its relocation to a brand-new building designed by Haugen/Zohar Architects. If all goes to plan, Nitja – located in Lillestrøm, a ten-minute train ride from Oslo – is scheduled to open to the public on 30 January with the group exhibition Above Us Only Sky. The title is, of course, taken from John Lennon’s visionary classic ‘Imagine’. Whether Nitja is a utopian place remains to be seen, but I certainly look forward to seeing a vast triptych by Arne Ekeland (1908–1994) unfold in the new building alongside contributions from fourteen living artists from Norway and abroad. Sadly, the officially opening party has been postponed until summer. If the new centre is at all able to open in a couple of weeks, it will need to impose limits on the number of people admitted at a time.

Another major international group exhibition to look forward to this month is Actions of Art and Solidarity at Kunstnernes Hus, curated by the Office for Contemporary Art (OCA). According to the texts issued in advance, the show addresses cultural and socio-political issues of solidarity in various contexts from the 1950s to the present. Two of the most important things in life, art and solidarity, in one and the same package – surely this must be good? Well, not necessarily, of course, but I live in hope.

Having taken over as Kunstkritikk’s editor-in-chief in August, I thought I would take a tour of the Norwegian art world’s most important cities this year. So far, I have only been to Bergen. Perhaps I will soon be able to head west again to see Stavanger Art Museum’s major Bill Viola retrospective, which is supposed to open next week and run until mid-May. Or perhaps I am more likely to have another (fervent) wish fulfilled: that it will soon be possible to stream Steve McQueen’s miniseries Small Axe (2020) in this country. (And yes, I have tried to fool both the BBC and Amazon with VPNs…)

Claude Cahun, Golden Mask, 2020, wrapped book published by Hermetiske Skygger (Bouquiniste). Photo: Hermetiske Skygger.

Stian Gabrielsen, Norwegian editor, Oslo

Those of us who were too busy to go in December have a second chance this week to visit the exhibition venue Hermetiske Skygger’s reopening of its pre-Christmas exhibition Christian Death, featuring Vera Wyller, Mai Hofstad Gunnes, Karen Nikgol, and (many) more. I tend to see these densely hung group exhibitions as interludes in the programmes of artist-run spaces, but I am in the process of reassessing the general preference for the solo show’s isolating format.

If you are in the vicinity of Kunsthall Trondheim at some point from February to April, you will be able to see the premiere of Korakrit Arunanondchai’s Songs for dying, a film commissioned by the kunsthall and the Gwangju Biennale, where it will be screened later this year. Also on display is an exhibition featuring Diana Policarpo, in which the main role in a narrative that ranges far and wide through history is played by the ergot fungus. Both appear to fit the speculative eco-politics that have come to typify the venue’s unusually consistent programme.

The book that really got 2021 off to a start for me was Eirik Høyer Leivestad’s Frykt og avsky i demokratiet (Fear and Loathing in Democracy). Launched at the end of last year by the pan-Scandinavian literary journal Vagant’s newly started publishing branch, it is an impressively informed historical portrait of the fear of the masses that has dogged the heels of modern democracy up to the present. With an American civil war looming on the horizon, there is something meta-reassuring about Leivestad’s authoritative (in the best sense of the word) voice, which makes the challenges facing this form of government seem almost manageable.

Speaking of books and democracy: perhaps the pandemic shutdowns will usher in a new spring for the artist’s book, lifting the genre out of its rather shadowy existence as a lavish calling card. Could they be mass distributed as leaflets or flyers? Kurt Johannessen’s razor-thin haiku publications, shown alongside book works by Rita Marhaug, Imi Maufe, and Randi Annie Strand at the exhibition opening at Kristiansand Kunsthall this week, would be perfect as airdropped emergency rations to the aesthetically starved masses.

Nicole Eisenman, Death and the Maiden, 2009.

Frans Josef Petersson, Swedish editor, Stockholm

In Sweden, you can still show art these days, as long as you do so for commercial purposes. The museums are closed for the time being, but the galleries are open as usual, and this year’s first round of gallery shows offer plenty to look forward to. I am particularly interested to see Galleri Magnus Karlsson’s presentation of Swedish artist Bruno Knutman’s (1930–2017) drawings, opening in Stockholm this Saturday. This is the gallery’s second exhibition of Knutman’s work since his passing in 2017, and marks the first time it will show his drawings – which I, and undoubtedly many others, know primarily from the legendary 1986 book published by Kalejdoskop (a personal favourite). I expect that seeing the drawings ‘live’ will further enrich and deepen the experience.

Another exhibition that I really look forward to is Nicole Eisenman at the Astrup Fearnley Museet in Oslo. An extensive presentation curated by the new director, Solveig Øvstebø, this show marks the beginning of her programming for the museum. Sadly, I am unlikely to be able to see it, at least not without being quarantined for ten days, as travellers to Norway are required to be at present and presumably for quite a while yet. Also, the Swedish recommendations to avoid all travel except when ‘necessary’ will probably remain in force for some time to come. Those of us staying around in Stockholm can look forward to Bonniers Konsthall’s presentation of Lawrence Abu Hamdan, which opens in April and is accompanied by the first major monograph on the artist’s work. And for the hardcore quarantine purists who prefer to keep strictly within the walls of their own homes, I recommend the new issue of OEI, which continues the magazine’s long-standing exploration of concrete poetry with a 300-page double issue on concrete and visual poetry in Yugoslavia 1968–83.

As for historical exhibitions, I was looking forward to the retrospective featuring the Brazilian artist Leonilson (1957–93), which was scheduled to open at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm in March, but which I am just being told has been cancelled. Fortunately, in this case, we will get a second chance: the exhibition, which follows Leonilson’s “eclectic subjectivism” from his early paintings to the embroideries he created after being diagnosed with AIDS in 1991, will be shown at Malmö Konsthall in June. Moderna will instead showcase danish artist Lea Porsager. Her solo exhibition has been installed since November, but not yet opened to the public.

Jean-Paul Gode, Constructivist maternity dress, 1979, in collaboration with Antonio Lopez, New York © Jean-Paul Goude.

Pernille Albrethsen, Danish editor, Copenhagen

Thankfully, soft fluffy snowflakes have been gently falling from the sky in Denmark these days. They offer some consolation in a country where snow has become something of a rarity, soothing us at a time when almost all of society is shut down; except for places selling medicine or food. And with the arrival of a new and particularly contagious variant of coronavirus, there is much to suggest that the many restrictions will continue for quite some time yet …

But if we continue this thought experiment and imagine a time when our freedom of movement is restored, one of my first institutional ports of call will be Louisiana. Not just because of the Arthur Jafa exhibition – which has been gathering dust since early December, when it never got to open – but also to view the exhibition Mother! about motherhood in twentieth and twenty-first century art. I’m constantly looking at the beautiful press photo of Grace Jones wearing the fabulous maternity dress designed for her by Jean-Paul Goude in 1979. I saw it once at an exhibition of Goude’s designs in Tokyo, so the photo transports me back to times of travel, of dancing along to Jones’s electro-disco and other things we never dreamed would become forbidden in our lifetimes.

The exhibition featuring Romanian pioneer of conceptual art Geta Brătescu at Kunstforeningen Gl. Strand – a recent acquaintance for me, first encountered at Documenta in 2017 – also reminds me of how much art used to be about traveling. Laure Prouvost will visit Kunsthal Charlottenborg, too. Oh, the French pavilion at the last Venice Biennale was so beautiful – and what a fun after-party we had in that piazza!

Back to our present-day reality, where I gird myself before going out, armouring myself in a hat, mask, and headphones – unless I’m going for a walk in the snow with a new friend, one of the few good things to come out of these twelve strange months. Otherwise, I regularly take up position on my yoga mat for a round of online Pilates, or read some more of the latest book by Suzanne Brøgger, which I was generously allowed to pick up from an otherwise closed bookstore. Her first essay blew me away. Called ‘Shawl dance’, it follows threads from the French Revolution by way of 1968, to #MeToo and our new moral age where art has lost its special status, which is why artists can no longer act as unassailable influencers – all the things, in various incarnations, we have talked about this past year.

Kunstkritikk’s Nordic editors: Mariann Enge, Stian Gabrielsen, Frans Josef Petersson, and Pernille Albrethsen. Illustration: Jenz Koudahl.