2015 Exhibition review of Stockholm Museum of Modern Art, Sweden

Museum of Modern Art (Moderna Museet) is a state museum for modern and contemporary art located on Skeppsholmen island, a setting of natural beauty. Opened in 1958, the building was designed by Spanish architect Rafael Moneo. In 2009, the museum opened a new branch in Malmö in the south of Sweden, Moderna Museet Malmö.

Moderna Museet is a state museum with a national mandate for modern and contemporary art. The collection is at the forefront of its kind in Europe. The museum is a meeting place for people and art with a strong foundation in society and the world at large. With its world-class programme of exhibitions, collection-based projects and educational activities, Moderna Museet has substantial local presence and international reach. The exchange with other art institutions around the world is extensive.

Moderna Museet has a long-standing history of hosting international artists for groundbreaking exhibitions, performances, and other presentations, as well as through its world-renowned collection. Experience one of Europe’s foremost collections of art from the twentieth century to today, featuring works by artists including Picasso, Dali, Derkert, and Matisse.

With an art collection comprising more than 130 000 works, Moderna Museet (Museum of Modern Art) is Sweden’s leading museum for modern and contemporary art. Moderna Museet has one of Europe’s finest collections of modern and contemporary art. The collections contain contemporary painting, sculpture, photography and art film from 1900 onwards, and in the case of photographs also from around 1840.

By combining international masterpieces by artists such as Warhol, Picasso and Dali with temporary exhibitions by prominent artists of the 20th and 21st century, Moderna Museet manages to attract many returning visitors for an ever-changing art experience. The original collection was dominated by Swedish and Nordic art, American art from the 1950’s and 60s, and French-oriented modernism, however, the collection has been extended to include more female artists and to create a more versatile collection with works from all over the world.

The Moderna Museet arranges several large exhibitions in both Stockholm and Malmö each year, a number of medium-sized and smaller exhibitions. In 2012, the museum in Stockholm had around 500,000 visitors and the museum in Malmö over 100,000 visitors.

Olafur Eliasson – Verklighetsmaskiner / Reality machines
In the exhibition Reality machines, a fan circles in an irregular orbit above our heads, water squirts up in cascades, and in another room we can walk in a labyrinthine architecture of coloured space. Reality machines is a matter of becoming aware of what we see, but also of being aware of ourselves in the act of seeing. Or, as the artist puts it, “seeing yourself seeing”, of acknowledging our presence and our participation.

Olafur Eliasson (b. 1967, Denmark/Iceland) is one of the most acclaimed international artists today. Since the early 1990s, his works have been presented in countless exhibitions all over the world. Eliasson uses a variety of media, including sculpture, photography, film and installation, but he also creates architectural projects and site-specific pieces for public spaces. Light, wind and water in every conceivable form feature prominently. And yet, nature is present in the works as material rather than as subject matter.

In the encounter with Eliasson’s installation, it is not always obvious where the art object ends and the viewer begins. The focus shifts from the art object itself to the actual experience of seeing. Eliasson’s works also give rise to situations that challenge, renegotiate and reinterpret our perception of reality. Perception is central to Olafur Eliassons’s oeuvre. He has described his works as devices for experiencing reality, thus creating new perceptions of the world. It is a matter of becoming aware of what we see, but also of being aware of ourselves in the act of seeing. Or, as the artist puts it, “seeing yourself seeing”, of acknowledging our presence and our participation.

In his early work Beauty (1993), a perforated hose is attached to the ceiling in a darkened room. A visible spotlight shines on the mist produced by thousands of droplets falling to the floor. But the work appears only when we find ourselves at a certain angle where we see the light refracted by the water. The experience of the visual effects that arise depends on your position in the room. Although the work consists of actual physical components, Beauty is transient and immaterial – an optical phenomenon. Illusions are shattered. The work, like our notions of the reality it recreates, are revealed as constructs.

Louise Bourgeois – I have been to hell and back
Moderna Museet’s Louise Bourgeois – I Have Been to Hell and Back is a major survey of Bourgeois’s oeuvre and, with more than 100 works, it is the largest exhibition in Sweden to date. It includes forty-seven sculptures, one cell, one painting, and fifty-four works on paper and fabric, stretching over seven decades.

Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010), is one of the most important 20th and 21st-century sculptors. Her art serves as a bridge from Modernism and continues to exert its influence on contemporary artistic practices today. One-third of the pieces in the exhibition have never before been shown publicly. The selection aims to show the range of Bourgeois’s work, and highlights her experiments in different materials, techniques and scale. Nearly one-third of the exhibits have never been shown in public before. This alone is sensational. The exhibition itself is divided into nine rooms, each highlighting a theme central to Louise Bourgeois’s work. The rooms do not follow any chronological order. Instead, the exhibition explores how themes were taken up by the artist and developed during various phases of her artistic career.

Before entering the exhibition, visitors encounter her monumental work Maman, a gigantic spider sculpture, which is standing outside the museum. The art of Louise Bourgeois is complex, radical and full of subversive humour, danger and fear. She succeeds in formulating that which is hard to find words for, and her creative urge was intimately linked with her need to understand, imbuing her oeuvre with a compelling psychological dimension.

Adrián Villar Rojas – Fantasma
Moderna Museet presents the first exhibition of the Argentinian artist Adrián Villar Rojas in Scandinavia. Adrián Villar Rojas – Fantasma includes installation, photography, objects and film, of which several pieces have been produced for the exhibition. It presents a number of works and fragments of works, including A War on Earth (2015), Pieces of the People We Love (2007), Ghost (2015), Two Suns (2015) and The Theatres of Saturn (2014).

Adrián Villar Rojas (born 1980) is based in Rosario, Argentina, but works and travels incessantly with his team of collaborators. Villar Rojas compares his practice to a virus that lives in and off the art world. Although his works are rarely overtly political, they are ideologically charged in how they are produced and positioned outside any economy. Time as the catalyst to which all matter reacts is essential to Villar Rojas’ entire approach. His works in organic materials have a radical ending inscribed, as in dramas or in life itself, they sprout, change and disintegrate.

Villar Rojas is best known for his site-specific, often monumental works in unfired clay and other organic materials, such as moss or fruit, integrated with sneakers, cutlery or tablet computers. His time-based installations build worlds we have never seen before, places we have never been to. Villar Rojas describes his practice as organic. An idea, channelled via discussions and collaborators, grows into a piece, an exhibition, an inclusive performance. All is part of the work – from concept and experiment, to production and final deterioration.

Adrián Villar Rojas’ works undertake an elliptic time voyage that undoes the notion of the finished, completed work. His objects embark on a movement towards dissolution the moment they are created, yet can be seen as something entirely new in every phase. Another kind of alchemical process is also at play here, transforming the simple materials into precious objects, says curator Lena Essling. Following a period of conceptual work and research a team is tailored for the production at hand, an endeavour that may require months of on-site work. Several of the team members have a background as artists; others are craftsmen – fuelling the developing project with their own creativity. Altering the position of his nomadic studio to that of a theatre stage or film set, Villar Rojas has compared his role to an artistic director or leader of an ensemble. Carefully casting and writing the role of his crew into the script of the work; meanwhile questioning and challenging notions of both ownership and authorship.

In Fantasma we encounter an enhanced museum environment, its surreal dimensions and artificial light are suggestive of a mausoleum. A setting shaped by sealed chambers and blind alleys, both spatial and ideological, and centering on a collection of rare objects in metamorphosis. The exhibition title Fantasma – ghost in Spanish – covers several aspects of memory and absence. At the core is an exploration of the memory surrounding and shaping objects, where each work can be understood as a recording device, tracing its experiences. The exhibition also embraces another of Villar Rojas’ obsessions – disappearance. Not least the void after artistic projects that no longer exist in the material world but have been reduced to reminiscences and documentation.

After Babel
After Babel is a major group show about the many languages that form part of contemporary art. The common denominator for the participating artists is that they build bridges between different languages and continents. Several of the artists are represented in the museum’s collection and some of the works have also been installed elsewhere as corresponding parts of a larger context that allows the museum to widen the view beyond the standard western perspective of art history.

After Babel serves as a hub for this building of bridges between languages and traditions in which the multifaceted works of the artists can create new meanings and openings to a wider world. There really is a tower at the heart of the show. It is based on a concept by Simon Denny (New Zealand/Germany) in collaboration with Alessandro Bava (Italy/ United Kingdom), that provides a tangible form for the ideas of the legendary exhibition Poetry Must Be Made By All! Transform the World! (MM1969). In the twenty-first century version poetry is written and produced “on demand” and the tower becomes a place for readings, discussions and conversation.

Grouped around the Babylonian tower are works by George Adéagbo (Benin/Germany), Etel Adnan (Lebanon/France), Kader Attia (Algeria/France), Yael Bartana (Israel/Netherlands), Paul Chan (Hong Kong/USA), Rivane Neuenschwander (Brazil/Great Britain), Michelangelo Pistoletto (Italy) and Haegue Yang (Korea/Germany).

Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm
The Stockholm Museum of Modern Art is a state administrative authority under the Ministry of Culture, and has, according to its instructions, the task of collecting, preserving, displaying and communicating 20th and 21st century art in all its forms. Moderna Museet shall promote international contacts through collaboration with institutions outside Sweden in the form of touring exhibitions, and shall also be responsible for Swedish participation in international art biennials. The Modern Museum is also a central museum, with national responsibility in its area.

The Moderna Museet was inaugurated in the exercise house on Skeppsholmen, May 9, 1958. The Superintendent of the National Museum, Otte Sköld, reminded in his inaugural speech that as early as 1908 the problem of current local art in the National Museum had been taken seriously and the idea of a new building for these collections. Shortly before his death, Otte Sköld saw for himself the museum realized and his commitment to creating the new museum had been decisive. Together with, among others, the Friends of the Modern Museum, which was founded in 1953, he gave the National Museum’s collection of 20th century art its own home. The museum’s driving superintendents Pontus Hultén and Olle Granathcame with their contacts and initiatives to pursue these intentions in the following decades.

On 14 February, 2004, the museum building was reopened with festivities. In addition to repairs, the opportunity had been taken to improve some of the spaces, partly to make it easier for visitors to move through the museum, and partly to utilise the upper entrance space more adequately. At the same time, the museum’s graphic profile was updated. Another major new feature at the reopening was the introduction of museum hosts – people who have a variety of skills, from life-saving to being able to tell visitors about the works of art in both the permanent and temporary exhibitions. The reason for introducing new hosts was to cater for the large increase in visitor numbers since the admission fee was abolished.

In 1901 architect John Smedberg established a beautiful electricity plant building on Gasverksgatan 22. Nowaday, the mission to transform the building into a more appropriate museum went to the award-winning architect firm Tham & Videgård Hansson Arkitekter. They chose to establish a new annex – a contemporary addition to the historic building. And give the interior an entirely new spatial order.

Moderna Museet’s passion is to mediate art for people. To embrace, challenge, and inspire people and we are driven by an ambition to speak with many. Moderna Museet inclusive and to celebrate diversity by recognizing that people arrive from different starting points. Moderna Museet engage a broader audience through sharing the wonder of art.

The extraordinary power of art is our lifeblood. Art arises in and reflects its own time. It enables questions that generate new perspectives; artists are an enormous force and stimulate broader creativity. Moderna Museet champion art because it forges new paths and enables a reflective view of both history and the present.

Moderna Museet wasa stimulating platform for people and art, to be a vibrant, open, and dynamic museum that exists as a spirit, one that offers audiences elevant, engaging, and direct ways of encountering art on equal terms. Moderna Museet inspire, and create space for new ideas by being a stimulating platform that makes world-class art accessible to a broad audience. We set new standards for art museums worldwide.

Moderna Museet collect, preserve, display, and mediate modern and contemporary art. Moderna Museet manage our cultural heritage based on the highest standards of excellence and generate research that leads to high-quality international collaborations and recognition. Moderna Museet is a leading institution within our field and we believe in sharing our knowledge.

Moderna Museet’s collection, research, exhibitions, mediation, and communication must complement and fertilize each other; these activities cannot stand alone. Moderna Museet define ourselves on the basis of the contexts in which we are involved. Our aim to make the greatest art available to as many people as possible must rest on sustainable practices that take into account environmental and social impacts. Moderna Museet must be driven by the courage to experiment, dare to push boundaries and take new paths in the way we manage our tasks.

The Collection
Since the start in 1958, the Museum has been known for its close relationship to artists – Marcel Duchamp, for instance, signed several of his works in Stockholm towards the end of his life, and Andy Warhol had his first solo museum exhibition in Europe at Moderna Museet in 1968.

The Moderna Museet collection now comprises some 6,000 paintings, sculptures and installations, 25,000 watercolours, drawings and prints, 400 art videos and films, and 100,000 photographs. The Collection covers paintings, sculptures, installations, films, videos, drawings and prints by Swedish and international artists from the 20th and 21st centuries, and photography from the 1840s until today.

Thanks to focused collecting initiatives, the Museum has successfully increased the breadth and depth of its collection. Back in 1963, The Museum of Our Wishes was launched, transforming the Museum instantly into a leading European art institution; the government contributed SEK 5 million, for the acquisition of iconic works by Giacomo Balla, Francis Picabia, Kurt Schwitters, Giorgio de Chirico and many others. A few decades ago, the exercise was repeated, but this time spotlighting women artists only – works by Louise Bourgeois, Dorothea Tanning, Judy Chicago, Susan Hiller and others were added to the collection.

Only a fraction of the collection can be on display. But it allows us to explore and reformulate the standard art historical narrative through new insights and constant changes in the exhibition. This includes Moderna Museet Malmö, with its innovative angle on selecting and showing works from the collection since opening in 2009.

A large art collection is the best possible starting point for visual and intellectual experiments. Moderna Museet, as an open and living museum, is constantly rewriting the standard history of modernism by frequently rehanging its collection in radical new ways. Since 2009, the Museum has two locations, Stockholm and Malmö, where innovative selections of works from the collection have been featured regularly since the opening. A few of the iconic works, such as Henri Mattisse’s Moroccan Landscape (Acanthus), Robert Rauchenberg’s Monogram, and Eva Hesse’s sculpture Untitled, are nearly always available for check.