Wuthering Spring

The Iron Throne is vacant. Hardly any Norwegian artists have solo shows at the major museums, and everyone worries about sustainability.

Marianne Bratteli, Krigsbarn (War Child), 1999. Oil on canvas. Photo: Nasjonalmuseet / Børre Høstland.

New year, new opportunities – certainly for those vying for the Iron Throne of the Norwegian art scene: the position of director at the National Museum. Last week, a press release proclaimed that Karin Hindsbo will resign when her term expires, after six stormy years at the top. The museum thus joins the ranks of Norwegian institutions that are currently between directors.

At an opening shortly after the announcement of Hindsbo’s departure, I was drawn into a party game which consisted of putting yourself in the role of director of the National Museum and laying out a plan for the course ahead. Among the more outré proposals was a suggestion to burn the weaker parts of the collection and enter into unethical sponsorship collaborations (à la the Fredriksen agreement) with wild abandon in order to create space and the financial wriggle room necessary to concentrate on making good exhibitions. Obviously, these are not realistic manoeuvres. Yet, behind this alcohol-fuelled brainstorming, one sensed a shared yearning for a museum that wants to achieve something more as an arena for art.

Exactly how much a change in directorship impacts a given museum’s exhibition programme varies greatly, and in the case of the National Museum there is probably quite some distance between the director and concrete programming decisions. Regardless of the various factors that affect the programming process, there is nevertheless something strikingly laid-back – or, to put it harsher, tame – about the National Museum’s programme this spring. The only solo show features American artist Carroll Dunham, presenting a selection from a total donation of 161 prints that the museum received from the artist. Surely worth a visit, but can it be true that there is not a single contemporary Norwegian artist the museum longs to highlight?

The Munch Museum is more daring in its interaction with Norwegian contemporary art. It has two solo shows coming up this spring: a presentation of American artist Alice Neel (1900–1984), known for her – often conspicuously big-headed – portraits of people from her circle of friends and acquaintances, opens in February, while Norwegian Marianne Bratteli, one of “our really great painters,” if the museum is to be believed, will follow March. I am not too familiar with Bratteli’s oeuvre, suggesting that she has not been very visible on the Norwegian art scene in recent years, and the exhibition fits neatly into the trend of making amends for past sins of omission.

Carroll Dunham, Deformed Characters C, 2000. Photo: The National Museum / Andreas Harvik.

After Solveig Øvstebø took over the reins, the Astrup Fearnley Museet has come back to life as a museum. As the only private museum in Norway of a size that can compare with the public ones, the Astrup Fearnley is something of an anomaly in the local context. When the museum celebrates its 30th anniversary with an exhibition this summer, it will, taking works from the collection as a starting point, shine a spotlight on the trends that have defined its identity through the ages. Before that, the museum presents the Palestinian duo Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme in an exhibition about community and oppression.

First up at the Henie Onstad Art Center is the oneiric colourism of Marc Chagall. Opening in March, the exhibition will feature some fifty works, including costumes from the ballet Aleko, and is created in collaboration with the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt. April is time for the second edition of New Visions. The Henie Onstad Triennial for Photography and New Media, this time focusing on artists based in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia. In keeping with the zeitgeist, particular attention will be paid to the ecological and social consequences of energy production and resource extraction. Next to follow is a retrospective solo show featuring Per Barclay, a venerable pioneer in what might be called extended photography. His oeuvre will be seen in the context of the Arte Povera movement – a rather unexpected connection.

Norwegian-Sudanese Ahmed Umar is this spring’s first exhibitor at Kunstnernes Hus in Oslo. Like several of Umar’s previous exhibitions, this too takes its starting point in the artist’s Muslim background. The ninety-nine sculptures featured in the show are made from materials originating from commercial souvenirs imported to Norway and Europe through missionary activities and tourism, among other things. From mid-April, the venue will present a newly produced essayistic film installation by artist and filmmaker Sara Eliassen which looks at issues such as the media’s role in the production of collective memories.

At Oslo Kunstforening, February will see an exhibition devoted to a South Park-inspired animated satire by Ewa Einhorn and Jeuno Je Kim about the fictional island of Krabstadt, where the Nordic countries have sent their “unwanteds,” according to the description on the series’ website. Other immediate takeaways: seasonal winter depression is treated with penguin porn and the characters speak an annoying toneless Icelandic-broken English. In March, the exhibition rooms will be taken over by a duo show featuring Elisabeth Haarr and Marianne Hurum. I venture to guess that the two artists will remain faithful to their respective idioms: savage textile art firmly rooted in its material (Haarr) and naïve-graceful, watered-down painting (Hurum).

Marc Chagall, The Falling Angel, 1923–47. Oil on canvas, 148 x 189 cm. Photo: Martin P. Bühler.

As I chew my way through heaps of press releases, exhibition guides, and websites, unexpected gems suddenly pop up that halt the steadily encroaching autopilot mode and make me warm with anticipation. One example is the exhibition featuring the half-forgotten Italian artist Luigi Zuccheri (1904–1974), which opened at Standard (Oslo) last week. Zuccheri was a contemporary of more famous compatriots such as de Chirico and Morandi, and like theirs his paintings veer close to Surrealism, but are subdued in tone and subject and anchored in rural landscapes. Many of his works are small temperas on panel that use subtle shifts in scale as a primary device. Other than this, the gallery has two group shows in the pipeline this spring – and a major presentation of Danish artist Nina Beier.

A K Dolven kicked off the season at OSL Contemporary last week with an exhibition of works that (judging by the descriptions in the press release) are results of the human body coming into close contact with various surfaces, for example, paintings made by the artist rubbing their shoulder across the canvases by means of some sort of rope system. I get inappropriate flashbacks to the scene in The Big Lebowski (1998) where performance artist Maude comes hurtling naked through the room on a rope rig, brandishing splashing paintbrushes in her hands. (NOTE: I imply no similarities here beyond the purely technical setup.)

VI, VII will usher in 2023 this week with an exhibition featuring photographer Rob Kulisek’s fifteen photo collages that juxtapose SoMe icon Meg Yates and promo images from the Paracelsus Recovery Center – “the most expensive rehab centre in the world,” the claim goes. Presumably the subject here is how the digital media economy sets the body up for constant oscillation between extreme self-consumption and equally extreme self-care.

A comprehensive exhibition featuring American artist Oscar Tuazon opens at Bergen Kunsthall this week. The show includes a large pavilion installation that extends through all four halls inside the venue. It is linked to Tuazon’s project Water School (2016-ongoing), where the power games that regulate access to land, water, and infrastructure are the main theme, and which also includes an education centre founded by the artist in 2018. It will be exciting to see how this geopolitical and educational dimension meshes with the deadpan and absurd assemblage aesthetic I associate the artist with. In May, it will be time for Camille Norment’s festival exhibition. In an interview with Kunstkritikk last autumn, she talked about how she looked forward to using the Kunsthall’s “terrible acoustics” as a sound palette.

Luigi Zuccheri, Untitled (Aia con anatra, coniglio e figure umane), 1955–1960. Tempera on panel, 40 x 45 cm. Courtesy of the artist, Standard (Oslo), Oslo and MMXX, Milan. Photo: Lea Stuedah.

Several of the artist-run spaces and initiatives in Bergen speak of surprising cuts to the support allocated from Arts and Culture Norway at the tail end of last year. It is too early to say how this will affect the city’s art scene. A drop in activity is surely to be expected, but there is still life in some of them, at least. Volt will premiere a performance by Lithuanian artist Egle Budvytyte in February, and is also behind a performance by Satch Hoyt at Landmark in early May, for which he will play African musical instruments from ethnographic collections.

The spring’s most unusual exhibition at a Norwegian museum is, as far as I can tell, the agitational, climate-aware More Meat Less Meat at Trondheim Kunstmuseum. With the aid of multisensory artworks by the artist group (and band) Chicks on Speed and the artist-led think tank The Center for Genomic Gastronomy, the exhibition intends to put questions about meat consumption up for debate. There is reason to believe that the menu will prove more engaging than the fried mealworm with cheese spice I accidentally ate during a visit to Universeum in Gothenburg ten years ago.

Ideas about how to best approach the future are also found in the exhibition Kunna Guanna Concha at Kunsthall Trondheim, which opened before Christmas, but runs until 12 March. A collaboration between artists Elin Már Øyen Vister, Sissel M. Bergh, and Carolina Caycedo, keywords for this event include matriarchal cultural heritage, Indigenous People, queer, and ecofeminism. It will be exciting to see what new impulses Adam Kleinman, who took over as director at the start of the year, will bring to the venue’s programme. Presumably we will get a taste of this in the autumn.

Another overwintered exhibition that urges us to care more for our surroundings is Dilemma at the Northern Norwegian Museum of Art in Tromsø. Among the Norwegian and Sámi artists who, until late May, remind us that we are dependent on nature and must therefore look to change the way we live – meaning: leave behind our fantasies about growth in favour of more sustainable development goals – are Marianne Bjørnmyr, Tomas Colbengtson, Olav Christopher Jenssen, Jet Pasqua, Synnøve Persen, and Silje Figenschou Thoresen. The exhibition also marks the opening of the museum’s collaboration with the art centre Nordover in Svalbard, which was inaugurated last year. From there you have front row seats to nature’s own (accelerating) slow performance: the melting of the ice in the Arctic.

Oscar Tuazon, Ile de Seguin, 2012. Photo: Rebecca Fanuele.