Autumn Sonata – Norway 2014

The autumn season on the Norwegian art scene offers exhibitions featuring the Bauhaus teacher Josef Albers, and the work of French filmmaker Chris Marker. Rameau’s nephews also make an appearance.

Chris Marker, La Jetée, 1962.
Chris Marker, La Jetée, 1962.

The inventories taken by Kunstkritikk twice a year under the somewhat anachronistic headings “Spring Sonata” and “Autumn Sonata” are intended as kind of user’s guide to the art experiences offered by the current season. However, these presentations of what are presumed to be the most important art events in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark – before they even take place! – may also be viewed as a diagnostic tool. For one thing, they reflect the editors’ personal preferences and overview (or lack thereof) of a given field. And they also say, albeit indirectly, something about the trends, fields of interest, and values that infuse the art scenes of Scandinavia right now. Insofar as anything can be read out of this autumn’s sonatas, it may be that the cultural schism, evident in recent years, between Sweden versus Denmark and Norway, can to some extent also be discerned in this autumn’s exhibition schedules. Over the last two to three years this schism, which has mainly taken the form of a discussion about immigration and the freedom of speech, has been plastered all over the discussion pages of culture sections in a state of symbiotic interplay with social media. At its best the discussion has promoted Scandinavian self-reflection, at worst it has devolved to national name-calling.

But let us return to this year’s autumn sonatas. When used as a litmus test they indicate that the Swedish art scene is much more politicised than its Danish and Norwegian counterparts. “There is no shortage of art with a strong sense of social and contemporary urgency amongst the autumn exhibitions,” says Frans Josef Petersson in his summary of the Swedish autumn art schedule. At the same time, however, he also sees certain geographic differences. In larger cities, such as Gothenburg and Malmö, it seems as if the political issues are downplayed in favour of “a more distanced form of reflection”. If we turn our gaze towards Norway the trend is somewhat different. After a spring season with several major exhibitions of socially aware and socially engaged art, all forming part of the celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian constitution, the explicitly political offerings are fewer and farther between this autumn. When studying the autumn programmes of the various institutions it is difficult to make out any clear-cut trends or directions. Obviously, the absence of an oppressive hegemony is liberating, but at the same time there are reasons to worry about the lack of boldness amongst Norwegian curators when it comes to defining new trends.

Jitish Kallat, In Order of Recurrence, 2012-13.
Jitish Kallat, In Order of Recurrence, 2012-13.

Let us begin with the large institutions in the capital city. At the Museum of Contemporary Art the season was opened by focusing on the current status of painting in An Appetite for Painting. The widely-announced death of painting never happened in Norway, neither in the 1970s nor in the 1990s, but interest in the medium waned perceptibly after the dawn of the new millennium. One indication of how the medium was suddenly regarded as curatorially unsexy is provided by the fact that 15 years have now elapsed since the museum dedicated an entire exhibition to contemporary painting. Now, the time has come to present the “full scope” of the medium, to paraphrase the museum’s own statement, but why this is the case is as yet somewhat unclear – apart from the fact that the exhibition inscribes itself in a wider trend of international presentations of contemporary painting, such as last year’s Painting Forever! and Painting Now! in Berlin and London, respectively.

A little later in the autumn, in early November, the museum will launch its new exhibition series Rameau’s Nephews. With this move the summer exhibitions featuring young Norwegian artists are replaced by double bills in which a young Norwegian artist exhibits his/her art while entering into exchanges with a conversation partner. In this context the term “conversation partner” is very broad indeed, for according to the museum such partners can be anything from an artist to a film, a collection, or an archive. The first couple to take the floor are Sofie Berntsen (Norway) in an ongoing dialogue with Karl Holmqvist (Sweden). The two artists have never collaborated before, but according to the museum they share an interest in text that has been liberated from conventional grammar and interpretation. In an aside, the title of the exhibition series is a reference to the enlightenment philosopher and critic Denis Diderot’s Rameau’s Nephew, a satirical work about the nephew of a certain Rameau and his imaginary conversations with a narrator.

David Douard, UP BEAT UP” rendition, 2014. Foto: Astrup Fearnley Museet.
David Douard, UP BEAT UP” rendition, 2014. Photo: Astrup Fearnley Museet.

After a decade of charting the art scenes of the USA, China, India, and Brazil the Astrup Fearnley Museum now turns its attention towards the young art scene of Europe. The main theme of the exhibition Europe, Europe is the growing mobility of artists and their migration within Europe. According to the press materials, it addresses a situation where the artists are no longer closely connected “to their native lands, nor defined by the canon and the rules that have previously defined and structured the various European art nations”. Anyone with just a modicum of awareness of the history of the avant-garde knows that even in the early 20th century artists were moving en masse from the outskirts of Europe and Russia to the large continental art metropolises; a fact which makes the claim that this migratory trend is anything new rather hard to swallow.

Nevertheless, the question of how such movements and displacements affect the arts is always relevant. Featuring 30 young artists under the age of 35 from Oslo, Berlin, Brussels, Paris, London, Zürich, Prague, and Lisbon, the museum offers up a large-scale exhibition based on what it calls an “organic curatorial model” where the main curators have picked out two artists while local correspondents have not only picked out two artists, but also an alternative venue from each participating city. These alternative venues – Oslo’s is the gallery 1857 – will create their own exhibitions within the exhibition. A similar attempt at tapping into the energy and networks of the artist-run art scene could be seen back in the spring when the Stenersen Museum invited two artists to run a gallery within the museum’s premises. With Europe, Europe the artist-run scene is drawn yet another couple of notches further into the matrix of the museum world.

Josef Albers, Study to Homage to the Square: Gay, 1956. Foto: Øystein Thorvaldsen/HOK.
Josef Albers, Study to Homage to the Square: Gay, 1956. Photo: Øystein Thorvaldsen/HOK.

The Henie Onstad Kunstsenter continues to weave the threads spun by the two Bauhaus shows of the spring, presenting an exhibition featuring the person who may have been the school’s most popular teacher, Josef Albers. Entitled Josef Albers: Minimal Means, Maximum Effect, the exhibition offers a wide-ranging presentation of Albers’ art and claims to take its point of departure in the artist’s own theories from the Bauhaus period to the Black Mountain College and Yale. A surprising approach, given the fact that Albers has hitherto been better known as an educator than as a theorist. Albers, who taught artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly, came to have a major impact on the evolution of American abstraction after the war, from hard edge artists who were interested in his use of pattern to Op-art artists who immersed themselves in his theories of perception. According to the press materials the event will also focus on the artist’s less well-known work as a designer, photographer, typographer, graphic designer, and poet.

Kunstnernes Hus opened its season with quite a bang when an all-female brass band, which looked as if it had stepped out of a painting by Ilja Repin, entered the Høstutstillingen/Autumn Exhibition’s infamous opening party in mid-September. However, the institution’s own programme will not be on display until 31 October. Then we will see the opening of A Grin Without a Cat – a retrospective chronicling the work of French filmmaker Chris Marker. With his hybrids of documentary and personal reflections, Marker, who died in 2012, has remained one of the best-known exponents of the cinematic essay. The exhibition at the Kunstnernes Hus is a condensed version of the large-scale Marker show presented at Whitechapel in London this spring, and will primarily focus on Marker as filmmaker. In addition to four permanent film installations the exhibition also includes two multimedia installations as well as books, photographs, and journals that provide a fuller picture of Marker. A comprehensive screening programme is also offered.

Two weeks later we will see the opening of TELLUS TELL US, an exhibition featuring Jon Gundersen and Elise Storsveen (who are father and daughter), which prompts certain expectations of a flamboyant family reunion. The duo’s artistic kinship is, among other things, based on a keen interest in cultural leftovers; an interest that the artists have nourished through intensive collecting over a period of decades. The collected objects are adapted and combined in installations, collages, and assemblages which should, according to the two artists, be regarded as attempts at answering “questions that have not been asked”.

This autumn the Oslo Kunstforening presents the Danish artists’ group A Kassen’s remake of last year’s Carnegie show, which was presented at Den Frie Udstillingsbygning in Copenhagen last winter. Carnegie was actually supposed to present its touring award show at Den Frie, but had to cancel at the last moment due to financial troubles. A Kassen was given access to the empty rooms and immediately embarked on creating a full and faithful copy of the planned exhibition by ordering replicas of the 150 artworks in China, using them to fill the rooms. Now that the exhibition is shown in Oslo one might say that the Carnegie exhibition has completed the Nordic tour it was originally intended to make, albeit only as a copy. The exhibition forms part of the Tegnebiennalen (The Drawing Biennial), which will manifest itself at Kunsthall Oslo, Tegnerforbundet, Galleri QB, Nasjonalgalleriet, and Anatomibygget from mid-October onwards.

Ann Cathrin November Høibo, Untitled [ABMB Shoes], 201.
Ann Cathrin November Høibo,
Untitled [ABMB Shoes],

If we turn our attention to the commercial gallery scene of Oslo, Standard opened the autumn season with Matias Faldbakken; in mid-October he will give way to Ann Cathrin November Høibo. OSL Contemporary launched its autumn programme with Vanessa Baird and will go on to present Ane Mette Hol and, later, Leonard Rickhard. Peder Lund presents a number of late paintings by Philip Guston (1913-1980) – the man who contributed to the rehabilitation of figurative painting in the USA in the wake of abstract expressionism. In November Roni Horn is coming up. Much has been said about the function of artist-run galleries in the gentrification processes of cities, but at times commercial galleries, too, become embroiled in and displaced by the maelstrom of urban development. Galleri Riis cannot stay at Moengården in Philipstadkaia, and will be homeless for much of the autumn. Meanwhile, VI, VII has ventured west and recently set up shop in a hyper-modernist room with turquoise-green marble walls in Tordenskioldsgate. The opening exhibition The Tenant quite naturally, if indirectly, concerns the challenges of being a renter.

The artist-run scene in Oslo remains vibrant. One of the older artist-run galleries in the city, Noplace, continues unabashed in Gamlebyen. Last weekend they opened an exhibition featuring the works of Kristoffer Busch. At the Stenersen Museum, Diorama continues its discreet gallery activities accompanied by excellent home-brewed beer. The venue recently opened the exhibition Unshelling and Shelling Again – an eclectic affair featuring artists such as Tatjana Gulbrandsen, Rita Westvik, Kjartan Slettemark, and Roland Penrose. 1857 is having something of a hiatus this season, but in November it will present an exhibition featuring the Danish artist and Toves gallery owner Janus Høm. The two newcomers on the scene, Kazachenko’s Apartment and Demon’s Mouth, currently offer exhibitions by Nicolas Riis and Jack Heard, respectively.

Elise Storsveen, Viewing the Past as It Happens (detalj), 2010.
Elise Storsveen, Viewing the Past as It Happens (detail), 2010.