Swedish Surprise

TAL International Nov 05, 2010 2 Comments

As far as my general knowledge is concerned Sweden is a blank. Let’s see… There’s Ikea, the Nobel Prize and that philosopher chappie. Luckily the arrival lounge at Stockholm airport has a photo mural of notable Swedes: the king and queen, Bjorn Borg, ABBA, Stellan Skarsgard and Ingrid Bergman. It’s only on the superfast train to the city that I realize the most famous Swede of all is missing from the illustrious line up: the Swedish Chef.

In early winter the sun never gets much above the horizon giving the day the feel of perpetual sunset. Stockholm is a beautiful city that is eerily reminiscent of Hobart; a shipping town with a gorgeous harbor and a skyline that is gentle and antique. Modernity here is well designed and modest. A tower with the initials NK slowly turns in the golden light.

The day is free to help acclimatize shell shocked antipodean travelers with a body clock set 12 hours askew. After coffee a visit to the Moderna Museet, the contemporary art gallery that has as its new director Daniel Birnbaum. Entry is a mere 110K and you get a generous bound catalogue and free art work. Birnbaum has only been in the job a few days and so the current exhibition is his predecessor’s farewell, a survey show of contemporary Swedish art.

It seems in Sweden the a la mode style is hard core conceptual practice. In the entire exhibition there are only five paintings and they are part of an installation. Perhaps it was jet lag but the show was a soothing experience of tastefully framed documentation, plywood flats painted black and about half a dozen video works valorizing the “everyday”. Hooray for the everyday – where would we be without it? Pics and highlights to come.

It may be that conceptualism found rich soil in Sweden since the adjacent galleries of modern art since 1900 skews to a tough history. First up, Russian constructivism, political posters etc and then Dada and Surrealism, but we’re talking Duchamp and The Large Glass. By the time the collection hits the 1970s it’s all performance documentation and Carolee Schneemann.

This penchant for the thoughtful might explain the winner of the second Absolut Award. The winner is Rirkrit Tiravanija and the presentation is staged in the company’s “atelier”, a converted art deco office building with a nightclub ambience, and a master of ceremonies wearing a black silk smoking jacket with a series of droll one liners. Christine Marcel, chairman of the Award panel and chief curator at the Pompidou in Paris, hands Rirkrit a tastefully framed award plaque. But what is this award anyway? Cash? Prizes? No one at my table seems to know. Details to follow.

A lesson learned on this trip is that if you’re going to try to mix it up with the international art set, leave your Australian modesty at home. Art talk is about shameless self aggrandizement and make sure to slip in a few promotional blurbs into your cv, a la “I’m currently involved in some key curatorial initiatives that have been described as groundbreaking by critics in the UK.” This is not a joke, people. You’ll never make it until people you’ve just met know how important you are.

Art Life Travel Tip #1: If you’re traveling overseas always make certain that when you buy foreign currency that it’s for the country of your destination. This will avoid embarrassment and confusion when you arrive.

Andrew Frost


  1. richard

    a great piece, andrew.

  2. Sue

    This is just my observation but actually I think overall Australian art is in a much healthier state than Swedish art. Thanks for the posts. Very enjoyable.

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