2016 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’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 will be a 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 will 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.

Yayoi Kusama – In Infinity
Yayoi Kusama – In Infinity is the first major retrospective presentation of Kusama’s oeuvre in Scandinavia, spanning her entire artistic career from the early 1950s until today. The exhibition features a rich selection of paintings, drawings and sculptures, including spatial installations and performance-related material, paying particular attention to works from the late 1980s, after Kusama’s return to Japan. It is also the first comprehensive exhibition featuring Kusama’s interest in fashion and design. On view are works never shown previously, as well as a series of paintings made especially for Yayoi Kusama – In Infinity.

The exhibition In Infinity displays works by Yayoi Kusama from 1948 to the present. The artwork Suit (1962) from Moderna Museet’s collection has been conserved and has travelled on loan with the exhibition’s whole tour throughout Denmark, Norway, Sweden and will travel to Finland. Displayed together with Kusama’s private archival material are also exciting discoveries from Moderna Museet’s own archive.

Yayoi Kusama’s (born 1929) remarkable artistic practice has fascinated the public for over six decades. Like few other artists she moves resolutely between painting and sculpture, between art and design, and between East and West. Moderna Museet and ArkDes are now featuring Kusama in a retrospective exhibition covering her oeuvre from early nature studies to installations that suspend time and space.

Kusama’s unique imagery spring from the recurring hallucinations that have haunted her since childhood. In her hallucinations the world appeared as covered by dots and repetitive shapes, like an infinite starry sky. Art, for Kusama became a method of giving form to these inner landscapes. In an effort to put words to her experiences, Kusama talks about the concept of self-obliteration – the idea of becoming one with the surroundings, dissolving the boundaries of the Self, and disappearing into an all-embracing emptiness. To share her experiences, Kusama creates works of art that invite visitors to lose themselves in the infinite nets, mirror rooms and thousands of polka dots with which she covers the world.

In 1957, Yayoi Kusama left Japan for New York. Here, at the heart of the vibrant 1960s art scene, she created many of her most important works. She later staged anti-Vietnam war protests, marches surrounded by hippie followers, political performances and orgies where she painted the naked bodies of the participants with dots. As a non-Western woman in the excluding, male-dominated art world of the time, Kusama was a rare bird, but she soon gained fame and recognition. In the late 1970s, Kusama left New York. Some years later she resumed her artistic practice in Tokyo, making monumental paintings and sculptures. Yayoi Kusama still works in her studio every day and now, she is one of the world’s most beloved artists.

Life Itself – On the question of what it essentially is; its materialities, its characteristics…
The exhibition Life Itself stretches from the early 20th century, when artists in and alongside the abstract avant-garde were endeavouring to categorise existence, and up until today’s world of objects existing in a state somewhere in between what we call the living and the non-living. Among the artists featured in the exhibition are Giovanni Anselmo, Olga Balema, Hicham Berrada, Joseph Beuys, Karl Blossfeldt, Victor Brauner, Trisha Donnelly, Pierre Huyghe, Tehching Hsieh, Josh Kline, Hilma af Klint, Helen Marten, Katja Novitskova, Philippe Parreno, Rachel Rose, Paul Thek, and Rosemarie Trockel.

Life Itself, considering that the attempts to answer this question by occidental sciences and philosophies have proven unsatisfactory. Ever since the days of Aristotle, life itself has remained a mystery, in spite of countless attempts by scientists and philosophers to come up with a definition. Despite contemporary advanced theories about complex systems and the vertiginous potential of synthetic biology, we are still unable to determine what constitutes life. An attempt to address the question by means of an art exhibition therefore seems justified, if only to demonstrate ways of dealing with our incapability to find a satisfactory answer.

The works featured in this exhibition – altogether 86 paintings and drawings – could be summarised with the key words creation, form, angel, sign and garden. The astonishing phenomenon of something sprouting out of the soil fascinated both artists. So completely ordinary and mundane, and yet mystical and divine. The painters Paul Klee (1879–1940, Switzerland) and Ivan Aguéli (1869–1917, Sweden) lived and worked in a time when the Western modern society was beginning to take shape. While trains and machines of all kinds speeded up life and travel, these two artists preferred to linger with their gaze, in search of the “fourth dimension” (Aguéli), or “another possible world” (Klee), by being in touch with nature and the objects in their immediate surroundings.

In 1914, Paul Klee went to Tunisia and discovered that he was a painter. The same year, Ivan Aguéli embarked on his third sojourn in Egypt, the country that shaped his ideas about life and art. A painter, anarchist, Sufi and traveller, Aguéli’s life story is a novel in itself. Klee and Aguéli never met, but they are presented together here, in an exhibition about the two artists and their relationship to the fundaments of visual art: the choice of subject matter, the creative act, and the qualities of the image.

Klee and Aguéli could be mistaken for reactionaries, eccentrics or recluses. But this is wrong. They maintained a close dialogue with modern society: both were well-read intellectuals and critics, Aguéli published magazines and Klee taught at the Bauhaus school of architecture and arts. Their travels, their observations of nature, the intimacy of their small paintings, and their slow contrariness were not motivated by escapism or nostalgia, but by their views on how, and with what values, mankind should address the present and meet the future.

In a world that was to be marked by two world wars, Paul Klee sought to “achieve a happy association between vision of life and pure artistic craftsmanship” and to attain the greatest possible freedom through contemplation, imagination and play. Ivan Aguéli sought to merge art, religion and reality, to find an alternative to the Western “sordid age”. His early fascination for anti-totalitarian anarchism and Swedenborg’s mysticism inspired long sojourns in Cairo, his subsequent conversion to Islam in 1898, and intense studies of Sufism – the most spiritual path of Islam, which emphasises love and closeness to God.

It makes no difference if we call this spirituality, imagination or play. When the two artists make contact with reality through the rhythmic movement of the brush against the background, what takes place is not depiction but a metamorphosis from object to immateriality. The exhibition Klee/Aguéli is about how a painting of a garden or a grove of palm trees may constitute an act of resistance. In our own turbulent era, it is a reminder of the great poetic and political potential that can be embedded in a small painted picture.

Moment – Lina Selander
Lina Selander is one of Sweden’s most innovative moving image artists. Lina Selander was born in 1973 in Stockholm, where she still lives and works. Her works revolve around images as memories, imprints and representations. Her films and installations often focus on junctures in history where a system or physical place collapses and something new begins to emerge; the narrative of mechanical cinema giving way to that of digital video, or a political or economic system plummeting into a new one.

Lina Selander’s films and installations can be read as compositions or thought models,where ideas and conditions are weighed and tested. She examines the relationships between memory and perception, photography and film, language and image. The precise, rhythmic editing and use of sound create their own temporality and a strong inner pressure. Selander’s oeuvre recurrently explores a fascination for the phenomena and technologies that make images possible, thereby enabling history to be documented. Montage is used in the films to juxtapose images, while entailing a potential loss of content. Image meets text in a flow where meaning arises from the ostensibly unrelated, like echoes through and between the works.

Selander’s works constitute a dense archive of observations, occasionally in dialogue with other films, art or literature. Their subject matters often stem from historic or ideological junctions, where one system or physical place collapses and something new begins to emerge. While her exhibition at the Venice Biennale describes a movement between utopia and collapse, the presentation at Moderna Museet shows three works that further explore actual or figurative borders.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.