Introduction to the Swedish Art Scene at Centre Culturel Suédois in Paris

A personal view by Sophie Allgårdh on the Swedish contemporary art scene, as an introduction to the show ”Malmö-Marais – art contemporain suédois du Malmö Konstmuseum” (du 3 mars au 28 mai 2006). The speech to the AICA-delegates was given at a reception hosted by the director of Centre culturel suédois, Annika Levin, on the 4th of March 2006, after the Administrative Council meeting of AICA in Paris.

Sophie Allgårdh:

I am delighted to see so many of you here after a heavy administrative day. The exhibition of contemporary Swedish art from Malmö Konstmuseum has just opened, and before Göran Christenson takes you around on a short guided tour I would like to give you my personal view of the Swedish contemporary art scene.

One might wonder why we should focus on Swedish art. Doesn´t it look just the same as contemporary art from any other country? I think we should reflect that, for some time already, the art scene is more dispersed than ever. Art on the periphery contributes to the global art world in a more energetic way than ever before. Quite fresh in my mind is the strong contribution of the countries from Central Asia at the last Venice biennale, for example: Kazachstan, Uzbekistan, Kirgizistan. Countries that used to belong to the blind spot of the map.

This past week the newspapers in Sweden have been filled with articles about the brutal and still unsolved murder of the Swedish prime minister Olof Palme in the open street 20 years ago. This murder created a wound in the Swedish democratic society, which still hasn´t healed.

Olof Palme reigned in an era when the leading and dominant Swedish contemporary art scene was very political, critizising the Swedish welfare system as well as the US interference in Latin America, Israel and Vietnam. The art consisted mostly of highly skilled drawings and black and white graphic work with straight forward messages which many people found shocking and at the limit of what was possible to express in public. Of course this was a time when political art dominated the agenda in many countries. The unusual thing for Sweden was that this political art in many cases became the official kind backed by the Swedish cultural institutions.

The Swedish Institute supported this kind of strong political art in the Paris biennial in 1968, for example. I have myself read reviews in Le Monde where the writer was appalled at this. There are plenty of documents telling of how Swedish art was censured and not accepted in countries such as Brazil and Japan. Swedish art politics abroad didn´t as a whole differ from that of Olof Palme and the social democrats. There was plenty of collaboration on the art scene with Cuba for example, but Swedish art at the time of Olof Palme was never exhibited in fascist Spain.

At the beginning of the 80s the influence of the Italian transavantgarde and Die Neue Wilde had an important impact on Swedish painting. Many young Swedish artists made clear references to the Nordic landscape with its special nordic light. There was also a romantic touch often influenced by painters of genius like August Strindberg and by borderline artists such as Carl Fredrik Hill and Ernst Josephson. Looking back at it now, it strikes me how strong the collaboration between the Nordic countries was in the exhibitions that were hosted abroad. I think in particular of the now famous exhibition in the United States about Nordic Light at the turn of the 20th century.

In the 90s, when it was time to deconstruct the global art village, spotlight fell on the Northern art scene. The Swiss curator Hans Ulrich Obrist initiated the exhibition Nuit Blanche at Musée National d´Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and at the same time also launched the term “The Nordic Miracle” expressing his enthusiasm for the Nordic explosion of creativity and new technology. This was a total change from the more nostalgic art of the 80s.

I mentionined the strong political atmosphere among artists in the late 60s and early 70s. For the younger generation of artists, politics is back in business, but now in a much more subtle, poetic, multilayered and meandering way than it was 30 years ago. If the artist in the 70s was naive when he or she proclaimed the revolution, the young artist of today is more aware of the complexity and fragility of life. I am thinking about Johanna Billing’s remake of Antonioni’s film Zabriskie Point, but without the ideology.

The situation today is more flexible and open than ever before. People say painting is back, but it was actually never dead. When I look at the art scene I see an urge to tell unheard stories. Many artists see similarities and differences between various systems and try to link them together, or more correctly let the systems transform and leak into each other. Sirous Namazi, Iranian-born artist from Malmö, is an example of an artist who enters the public sphere in a sort of a Trojan horse testing new paradigms and values. By linking the minimalist tradition to typical symbols of the immigrant everyday reality, he creates confusion and strong tension. His work is emblematic, effecting painful ruptures in utopian facades.

Let me also mention the enigmatic painter Karin Mamma Andersson. She is one of the most successful of contemporary Swedish artists, as is her husband Jockum Nordström. Nordström was the cover boy for the catalogue of last year’s Armoury Show in New York – one of his paintings was chosen. Karin Mamma Andersson will have a solo show in May at David Zwirner Gallery in New York. She represented Sweden in the Nordic Pavilion in 2003. She represents this new many-layered path, but still with a certain ironic touch. Without being illustrative, Karin Mamma Andersson tells weird and somewhat vague stories with roots in the ground of the great Nordic painting tradition. Both Karin Mamma Andersson and Sirous Namazi are represented in this show.

For the rest, you can have a look at the pictures in my book. I would be delighted if you could come up with ideas for funding an English translation.

After this short introduction, let us welcome Göran Christenson, the chief curator of Malmö Konstmuseum in southern Sweden. Malmö Konstmuseum has the largest collection of contemporary Nordic Art in Sweden. It is Göran Christensen who has made the selection of the works you will soon see inside. Please welcome Göran Christenson.