2017 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.

Moderna Museet is a stimulating platform for people and art, 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.

Thomas Schütte – United Enemies
The exhibition Thomas Schütte: United Enemies takes the artist’s sculptural works from the past two decades as a starting point. Installations, architectural models, drawings, prints and gigantic sculptures are waiting for you at this autumn’s major exhibition. Thomas Schütte is one of the most seminal artists of his generation, and is known mainly for his sculptures. Schütte explores shifts of scale – juxtaposing the intimate and personal with the monumental. A colossal steel figure outside the museum entrance, Vater Staat (2010), observes visitors as they arrive. The key work in the exhibition, the monumental bronze sculptures United Enemies (2011), originate in his small, sketchy figures with heads of modelling clay made nearly twenty years earlier.

Thomas Schütte was born in 1954 in Oldenburg, north-west Germany. He was enrolled at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in 1973. Among his fellow students were many of today’s internationally acclaimed artists, including Thomas Ruff (b. 1958) and Katarina Fritsch (b. 1956). The works from his student years are distinctly influenced by 1970s minimalism and conceptualism. Thomas Schütte’s artistic practice is characterised by a rare combination of gloom and humour. His works may appear unnerving and playful at the same time. Existence seems to be off balance, the familiar becomes absurd and alien. Action figures can take centre stage, and puppet-like dolls be blown up into monumental giants. Thomas Schütte addresses life’s eternal questions, without offering any unequivocal answers.

Schütte often works serially. Over the years, he has built a repertoire of motifs, shapes and themes that he revisits, develops and adapts to different dimensions or unexpected materials. The large sculptures United Enemies (2011) are based on a series of eponymous works on a considerably smaller scale that he began making in 1992. These small three-legged figures were dressed in fabric and tied together two and two before being placed under bell jars on plinths. The figures are each other’s prisoners, united enemies. In 2011, nearly twenty years later, when Thomas Schütte returned to this motif, he enlarged the “enemies” to larger than life size. The figures in the new series have got down from their pedestals and turned into grotesque giants cast in one of the most tradition-laden materials in art history – bronze.

Various kinds of architectural models have a key role in Thomas Schütte’s artistic practice. He refers to these explorations as a way of opening up works to the viewer: “I use models because they are something anyone can understand. You can see them as a prototype for something bigger, something seen from a child’s perspective; you could see them as a public stage.” In his series One Man Houses (2003-2005), Schütte has combined units from an industrial ventilation system into shiny, minimalist sculptures.

Later, Schütte made the houses in wood, slightly larger than life, and fitted them with carefully-made furniture. In 2007-2009, one of the houses was built in a life-size version in the Roanne region in France, and more recently, several of his architectural models have also been produced in the same dimensions. The most recent example is his own foundation and sculpture hall Skulpturenhalle, outside Düsseldorf, which opened in spring 2016. The architectural model Pringles (2011) is an early version of the building, where the curved roof is modelled on a potato crisp placed on a matchbox.

Marie-Louise Ekman
Marie-Louise Ekman has alternated effortlessly between painting, sculpture, film and drama since the late 1960s. In her works, Ekman exposes the absurdity of everyday life and undermine social constructions, and in rooms decorated with floral wallpaper, people, animals and farting geezers sit at the same table. Featuring nearly 350 works, this exhibition is the largest presentation so far of her renowned oeuvre.

Marie-Louise Ekman belongs to a generation of Swedish artists who emerged in the politically turbulent 1960s. Many young artists in the 1960s were deeply influenced by popular culture, and comic books in particular. Ekman made series of silkscreen prints, stitched fishcakes out of shiny, pink silk, built enclosed worlds out of miniature objects, and borrowed the format of comic strips for her own serialised paintings. In her early works, she also appropriated images from The Phantom, Donald Duck and Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy. Ekman’s protagonists, however, are Minnie and Daisy, together with April, May and June, rather than their male friends.

Ekman’s works have a strong narrative focus. In cramped pictorial spaces with warped one-point perspectives, dreams, passions and disappointments run amok in a heightened reality. In the series At Home With a Lady from 1973, a lonely woman acts out her desires, captive in an interior, like an animal in the zoo, reliving the same reality day after day. In Striptease (1973), this blonde female figure is transformed step-by-step, via ape and man, into a bird that flies away. This is not a sexually charged act of undressing, but a way of stripping off roles and entering and exiting states of mind. In other paintings, windows and sinkholes open up to other worlds. The women’s orifices evolve into exotic landscapes with oceans lined by palm trees, and beyond the windows are other windows, where new wondrous scenes are enacted.

During the early 1980s, Ekman appropriated the styles of other artists, creating works where Picasso’s women and Daisy Duck vie for space. In these paintings, Olle Baertling’s terse compositions provide the landscape for swaddled infants, wounded fledglings and dissected crocodiles on pedestals. In a large series of recent works, shown for the first time in this exhibition, Ekman instead revisits her own works from the 1970s. With her grandchildren as muses, she moves in and out of the familiar pictorial scenes. The children are here given free rein to paint over and add their own images. In other pictures, the rooms are bare, and where there used to be tables and chairs, all that remains is a play of shadows.

Written in Light – The First Photographers
The exhibition Written in Light – The First Photographers explores Moderna Museet’s collection of photography from the second half of the 19th century. It includes the Museum’s unique collection of daguerreotypes and works by a few of the world’s most famous photographers: Julia Margaret Cameron, Oscar Gustave Rejlander, and Carleton E. Watkins. Photography means “written in light”. The eponymous exhibition is an adaptation of a chapter in the project Another Story, which filled the entire collection exhibition with photography and photo-based art at Moderna Museet in 2011.

Since its invention, photography has developed, changed, and been used for many different aims and purposes. With the breakthrough of digital images, and their omnipresence in social media, photography is once again in a period of change. This gives all the more reason to look back and consider the impact of its legacy on contemporary photography. This exhibition highlights the Museum’s collection of daguerreotypes, but also gives examples of other early photographic techniques. Thanks to two significant acquisitions in the mid-1960s, the Helmut Gernsheim Duplicate Collection, and the Helmer Bäckström Photographic Collection, some of the most internationally famous photographers in history are represented at Moderna Museet, including Julia Margaret Cameron, Oscar Gustave Rejlander, and Carleton E. Watkins.

Gerard Byrne – Jielemeguvvie guvvie sjisjnjeli – film inside an image
A new and twisted vision of Nordic nature is presented in the Irish artist Gerard Byrne’s new film, shot at the Biological Museum in Stockholm. Byrne’s work is based on the museum’s setting, with stuffed Nordic animals against a backdrop painted by Bruno Liljefors. Byrne’s earlier video installations recycle images and conversations from various media and epochs. Byrne explores our perception of the contemporary world by revisiting history.

The Biological Museum was built in 1893. It was the world’s first natural history museum using a large-scale diorama, a format using genuine, three-dimensional objects against a painted backdrop that give the illusion of animals or people in their natural habitat. The only source of light in the museum is from the windows in the ceiling. Byrne thus compares the museum to a camera, which creates its frozen images through light. When photography and film were still in their infancy, visitors had this opportunity to experience the Nordic wilderness in the middle of the city. Byrne films this setting in one unbroken tracking of the camera. The stuffed animals look as if they have paused in mid-movement.

Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm
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.

The museum 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.

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. 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.

It includes key works by Pablo Picasso, Ljubov Popova, Salvador Dalí, Meret Oppenheim, Robert Rauschenberg, Donald Judd and Irving Penn, along with works by contemporary practising artists. Here you can read about the various parts of the collection and its history.

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.