The new Moderna Museet was inaugurated on 12 February with a trail of 30,000 candles leading over the bridge and up the slopes of Skeppshomen island to a banquet presided over by Sweden’s King Carl XVI and Queen Silvia. The first big event to usher in Stockholm’s year as European City of Culture, the evening had an emphatically Nordic theme as 500 guests from across the globe feasted on salmon and reindeer. The powers that be made up for the absence of snow outside by creating an elemental decor where chunks of ice melted in flaming metal crucibles while being pierced by fluorescent tubes. Queen Silvia herself turned heads by augmenting the royal earrings with two plastic glow worms taken from the table decorations.
Such Scandinavian spirit did not, however, detract from the Moderna Museet’s resolutely international outlook. The new building is the work of award-winning Spanish architect Rafael Moneo; the new director appointed in 1996 is the Englishman David Elliott, who came to Sweden after twenty years running the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford. And, although there is a subsidiary show chronicling 100 years of Swedish art, the Museet’s flagship inaugural exhibition “Wounds: redemption and democracy in contemporary art”, counts only five Swedish participants among its sixty-strong line-up.
“It was a bit like moving into a battle zone when I arrived here, because I am obviously not Swedish, and there were quite a lot of disappointed people who wanted my job,” David Elliott admitted to The Art Newspaper. “But the world is international—art is international—and the reason that I was brought in was because it got so incestuous and political that they needed someone who carried no baggage.”
Mr Elliott may not be a native of Stockholm, but he is well aware of the legacy of the Moderna Museet’s golden decade, from its foundation in 1958 to the early Seventies under the leadership of legendary director Pontus Hulten, who left in 1973 to become the first director of the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
Situated in the former gymnasium or “Drill House” on Skeppsholmen, the island that for centuries had served as the headquarters for the Swedish Royal Navy, the Museet in the Sixties transformed Stockholm into a world capital for radical avant-garde art. Duchamp, Rauschenberg, Oldenburg, Beuys, Tinguely and Nikki de St Phalle all came and worked here. Picasso’s concrete sculpture group “Déjeuner sur l’herbe” (1962) and Tinguely and St Phalle’s gaudy monumental collaboration “Le Paradis fantastique” (1966) still create an impressive presence in the surrounding gardens.
Throughout the Hulten years, the Museet also built up a collection of international twentieth-century works that is still considered one of the finest in the world in terms of selective quality and originality. Only Count Panza di Biumo’s collection in Varese and the Ludwig Collection in Cologne can compare with the Museet’s holdings in international art of the Sixties.
“The history of this museum is a great heritage to build on”, says Mr Elliott. “But it’s also a liability. I don’t like that mist in people’s eyes when they talk about the old days. When this museum was great everything was alive, filled with energy. We need to reinvent that intervention. My job is to animate this island—we need to feed on the old spirit and create more glorious moments.”
Some of these glorious moments are recreated in the Museet’s exhibition “Dialogues”, in which some of the gems from the Museet’s collection are placed in unexpected juxtapositions with works from other periods. For example, Brancusi’s “Le Nouveau né” (around 1920) finds itself surrounded by a swarm of glass sperm by Kiki Smith.
However, on first impression, the Museet’s new building seems an unlikely vehicle for Mr Elliott’s policy of reanimation. Built alongside its former Drill House home (which has been refurbished and now houses the Architecture Museum), the Moderna Museet blends into its surroundings in a way that is so low key as to be almost invisible. When approached on foot, the museum is almost completely hidden behind an old naval building and seems only one storey high. In fact, it houses four levels and some 20,000 metres of floor space. “The fundamental issue was to place a large building on Skeppsholmen without disturbing the well-established profile of the island,” declares Rafael Moneo, who is known for works such as the San Pablo airport in Seville, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid and the Pilar & Joan Miró Foundation in Palma de Mallorca.
From across the water the Museet emerges as a three-storey, russet-coloured Modernist building with a clustered pyramidal roof topped by lantern-like skylights that glow at night and by day illuminate the galleries below. Inside, the galleries provide an art-friendly setting, although Moneo’s heavy use of Swedish wood—notably the detailed wooden floors—can be a distraction.
The highlight of the building, however, is its spectacular, wrap-around watery vista of the various shorelines of Stockholm, punctuated by the massive boat-shaped Vasa ship museum and the opulent nineteenth-century façades of the Strandvagen.
Mr Elliott’s desire to consolidate the past while looking to the future finds its fullest expression in his inaugural exhibition. “Wounds: between democracy and redemption in contemporary art’ (co-curated with writer and critic Pier Luigi Tazzi) opens with works by three artists from markedly different eras: Théodore Géricault’s arrangements of dismembered limbs dating from the early nineteenth century; Edvard Munch’s “The death of Marat” (1907) and Jake and Dinos Chapman’s recent 3-D reworkings of Goya’s “Disasters of war”.
In this thoughtful show, the curator seeks to show that “modern art bears witness to the wounds that have arisen between rational political ideas and the dreams of individuals”. This finds especially effective expression in a room which brings together Kienholz’s chilling “The state hospital” (1966) with epic works by Jannis Kounellis and Louise Bourgeois, as well as in a sequence of lower-level rooms containing work by younger artists, such as Damien Hirst, Richard Billingham, Mona Hatoum and Cathy de Monchaux.
Stockholm’s Moderna Museet may present a less conspicuous profile than the other major contemporary art museum that has opened to the south over the last year; but its lack of flamboyance is underpinned by history, vision and a steely resolution. “We are the complete opposite to Bilbao,” declares David Elliott. “First, we have a director who has a policy of his own—I’m not run by politicians. Also, there’s a history and a collection here and an expression of will that people at the grass roots want to see a new museum here, which you don’t feel in Bilbao. What is its relationship to art other than as a commodity? I think that such institutions are completely without necessity, without purpose and without any kind of ethos. The Moderna Museet has to be one of the leading museums in the world as regards showing art, in research and in artistic activity. There are no alternatives here.”
Stockholm ‘98 contemporary art events
Forty different exhibitions of contemporary art, organised by both Swedish and international curators in seven different sites throughout Stockholm—including the Swedish Maritime Museum, the Royal Coin Cabinet, a disused power station and local TV. Some artists intervene in their surroundings—catch Sigmar Polke at the Technical Museum (16 March-26 April)—others seem oblivious to them. But the locations are great. For details of shows that change throughout the year: % +46 8 698 1998, fax +46 8 661 6749
Window Dressing Sunday: (INSYN)
Contemporary art and commerce cross dress in this city-wide project where artists run riot in the city’s shop windows. Displays range from the polemical—Bigert and Bergstrom’s “Death Watch”, where soiled underpants have the names of those executed in Texas sewn into their waistbands and their last meals etched into the window at Gotgatan 30—to Birgitta Stenberg’s histrionic carryings-on with her laptop in the window of Stureplan 4.
For details: Cultural Capital HQ: % +46 8 698 1998, fax +46 8 698 1999
Dimensions Variable: New Works from the British Council Collection
Until 22 March. Forget “Sensation”—you have to go to Stockholm’s Royal Academy to see one of the best surveys of young(ish) British art to date, with intelligent British Council purchases of Whiteread, Hirst, Wallinger, Taylor-Wood, Creed & company augmented by some well placed loans. The Stockholm Royal Academy of Free Arts, Fredsgaten 12, third floor. % +46 8 402 3577, fax +46 8 402 3592
Stockholm Art Fair 1998
4-8 March at the Sollentuna Exhibition Centre. The eighteen year-old event is joining forces with Smart Show, a group of young artists and dealers who in previous years broke away from the show as an avant-garde alternative to the more mainstream fair. For details: % +46 8 92 5900
Permanent fixtures in the city
Aside from its City of Culture festivities, Stockholm has become a leading centre for radical new art, both home-grown and international. Here are some of the best places to feel the action.
Andreas Brandstrom: Nybrogatan 25, 11439 Stockholm, % +46 8 660 41 53, fax +46 8 660 41 68
The space where Sam Taylor-Wood first showed her video of the slow-mo solitary nude dancer “Brontosaurus” and where Tracey Emin painted naked in the “Exorcism of My Last Painting”, Brandstrom’s first floor gallery also represents a stable of prominent Swedish artists such as Lars Nilsson (one of artists in “Wounds”) and “Archipelago” artists Stig Sjolund and Sophie Tottie.
Across the courtyard is another of Stockholm’s leading young art spaces, Galleri Axel Mörner, showing Vanessa Beecroft throughout March.
Nybrogaten 25, 11439 Stockholm, % +46 8 663 30 85, fax +46 8 663 81 04
Galleri Charlotte Lund, Riddargarten 17, 114 57 Stockholm, % +46 8 663 0979, fax +46 8 663 0978
Small but perfectly formed space set up in 1993 that shows the latest in contemporary art from Sweden: Anders Widoff, Johanna Ekstrom, Maria Friberg, as well as an international crowd including Graham Gussin, Andres Serrano and Gary Simmons.
Nordenhake, Fredsgatan 12, 11152 Stockholm, % +46 8 21 18 92, fax +46 8 109641
The artists represented by this leading figure in Stockholm’s art scene include Miroslav Balka, Nan Goldin and Esko Manniko.
Also catch . . . Andrehn-Schiptjenko Markvardsgaten 2, 11353 Stockholm, % +46 8 612 0075, fax +46 8 612 0076, whose artists include Peter Johannsson and the UK’s Abigail Lane; Index Gallery (which is also associated with Index, Sweden’s leading contemporary art magazine), S:t Paulsgatan 3, 10465 Stockholm, % +46 8 640 9492, fax +46 8 641 9608; and Magasin 3, Stockholm Konsthall Stockholm’s Frihamn 115 56; % +46 8 665 90 41; fax +46 8 665 32 44. A remote, somewhat desolate dockside is a surprising location for an important and long-standing independent art space which, as well as having a collection of its own, has just opened a sequence of new galleries filled with works by Gilbert and George until the end of March.
Lydmar Hotel, Sturengaten 10, S-114 36 Stockholm, % +46 85661, fax +46 8 5661 1301
e-mail: email@example.com; www.lydmar.se
Stockholm’s art world hotel and hangout since its 1994 takeover by thirty-something collector and overall cultural dynamo Per Lydmar. A changing programme of exhibitions in the two restaurant bars organised by international dealers and artists has included Andres Serrano, Nan Goldin, Wolfgang Tillmans, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Bruce Nauman and Sean Landers.
The Moderna Museet’s exhibition programme
o 14 Feb-19 April: “Wounds: between democracy and redemption in contemporary art”, “Homage to Eddie Figge” (the artist-instigator of new Moderna Museet) “Dialogues: International art from the collections”, “No one’s dogs: 100 years of Swedish art from the collections”,
o 16 May-23 August: “Joan Miró: A creator of new worlds” (first major exhibition of Miró in Sweden, will concentrate on earlier works. Accompanied by a special display of the Museet’s Surrealist holdings.
o 23 May-16 Aug: “Avatar” (artists engage with communication systems)
o 3 October-15 Nov: “InVisible Light: photography and classification in art, science and the everyday” (expanded version of exhibition curated by Elliott at MOMA Oxford)
“Photography in Sweden: the 1930’s and 40’s”
o 5 Dec-14 Feb, 1999: “Ulrik Samuelson: A Retrospective” (early and overlooked Swedish maker of neo-Duchampian rooms)
“Oscar Gustave Rejlander (1813-1877)” (Swedish-born photographer who worked in Great Britain)
“Jean Fautrier: paintings, sculptures, works on paper” (celebration of artist’s centenary using the Museet’s large collection)
“Moderna Museet Projekt” (a changing programme of young artists, both inside and out of the museum, curated by dynamic, newly appointed Museet curator Maria Lind.
Moderna Museet, Stockholm. + 46 8 5195 5200, fax +46 8 611 8311