Zorn: a Swedish superstar

This is a somewhat equivocal title for this spring’s exhibition of the painter Anders Zorn (1860 – 1920), showing at our National museum in Stockholm. It’s true that he was well-known but for some, he’s outdated. I tried to find out what such a traditional painter can offer a contemporary viewer. 

Stockholm National Museum has finally opened its doors after several months of lockdown. It wasn’t long ago that the museum closed its doors for three years of restoration. The reopening finally took place a couple of years ago and then the museum had to close again due to the pandemic. The museum’s permanent collections are still closed but the museum was allowed to open this exhibition under strict Corona-restrictions.

I guess that the direction hopes to draw many visitors to view one of Sweden’s most renowned artists. Will the public follow? Well that remains to be seen. I was myself a bit reluctant to go and see yet another exhibition of this for sure  skillful artist but rather conservative in his way of painting.

The exhibition is huge and covers exhaustively his long life as an artist. He developed early on in his career exceptional techniques for his water-colors, oils, etchings and sculptures. Works are shown that are from the National museum’s own collections that I had seen before, as well as some from the Zorn museum in Dalarna but, interestingly enough, there are also paintings from private owners that have never been shown before.

The scenery is not exceptional – rather conventional – and less interesting than the one that was at Petit Palais, in Paris, a few years ago. However the sober decoration at National museum enhances the art works.

The familiarity of his paintings, permitted me to really study his precise brush strokes; lighting inspired by Rembrant; special body colorings and settings, as well as his exceptional rendering of water. Somebody asked me if it was photographs or paintings when I posted some pictures of the exhibition on Internet. No wonder that he gained such an international renommé during his lifetime! 

The exhibition is in chronological order: starting with his water-colors. It wasn’t until 1987 that he began painting in oil as well. There are works from his many trips abroad: from Constantinople, to Alhambra, St Ives, Paris, London and several portraits that he did during his no less than seven trips to the USA.

However, it was Dalarna, his home turf, that was closest to his heart. Zorn’s paintings from everyday life there, having dressed up his muses in their traditional clothes, give us a glimpse of the lives they lived. It’s as much a delight for the eye as it gives us a very vivid historical insight into a way of living that has long passed. Hard labor, no running water, women and children washing in the lakes or in basins, brewing beer or baking bread, as well as traditional dances and drunken men. I felt as if I was partaking in their daily lives.

Stories are being told through his paintings, just as one would read in a good book. It’s the entirety of his works that makes the person behind it interesting. Like a memoir in color.

The elegant portraits also tell us something about that time’s fashion, the fabrics used, the way of portraying oneself and viewing others, whether men or women.

Anders Zorn had an eye for details that indicates a man of great sensitivity. He must have been a romantic as well. His most favored muse was his wife, Emma, that he painted in intimate and delicate scenes. They had no children but his love for children can be sensed by his careful and tender depictions of them in several paintings – often together with their mother. The nudes are those of a sensual man’s.

This traditional artist, who never bent for the tendencies of the moment, but continued throughout his life to paint in his own style, is still valid in our epoch. Zorn will never become boring or out-of-date, thanks to his exceptional skills and to his sensual and deep-looking eye for details.

I came out of the exhibition elevated by the beauty that my eyes had been washed with during the two hours I spent with this world-renowned painter!

Anne Edelstam, Stockholm         

Zorn – en svensk superstjärna

Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

6 april – 29 augusti 2021

Future Nordic Fashion

The nordic fashion that’s shown at Prince Eugene, Waldemarsudde, situated in Stockholm Royal Park, doesn’t have much resemblance to anything Nordic except for its name.

What is Nordic anyways? After having been a rather homogeneous country, Sweden has become very cosmopolitan. This fashion exhibition mirrors this international development. Not only that but the concept of fashion itself has developed from superficial utter garments to becoming more and more of a social manifestation. It’s asking questions about the relationship that we have between fashion, art, identity and sustainability.

This exhibition, in the upstairs’ atelier at Waldemarsudde, points in that direction. Several designers are represented in this somewhat odd show that also encompass films with cat walks and interviews. I will only concentrate on four main designers for the sake of this article. Hopefully this little taste will make you curious to go and find out about all the others as well.

Amina Saada, The Red Bride, 2020

These young designers won a prize this year for their works: Elina Äärelä, Ines Kalliala, Idaliina Friman and Kristian David. They are exhibited on a podium in the large middle room. I was immediately intrigued by their unusual, quite extravagant and interesting designs. 

Elina Äärelä grew up with a Christian background very present, as her father was a pastor. Her design is centered around the Christian message, inspired by the Church’s liturgic clothes and Christly messages. Her collection is called Silent Voice and brings the thoughts to our inner voice, to a personal communication with God. However, she has transformed the formal religious uniforms to sporty versions of the former, with hoodies, sweatpants and gym shoes. By transforming the superficial into something spiritual, she’s not only modernizing but also deepening our connection to fashion.

Kristian David is Swedish with roots from Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. To Construct a Bridge is a fitting title for such a multicultural background. His hybrid collection shows this complexity. He’s using the Palestinian shawl, keffiyeh, the long caftan with over-emphasized shoulders to mark a power relation between men and women and between the East and the West. Via this hybrid collection he provokes both worlds.

Kristian David, To construct a bridge, 2020

Idaliina Friman uses her family’s past from Northern Finland to personalize her collection called Hetta. Unusual fabrics are used such as pet bottles as padding for her almost out-of-space looking clothes. They cover the entire body and even most of the face. The design refers to the very harsh Finnish winters and gave me the shivers just to look at the clothes!

Ines Kalliala’s collection is called Personal Uniform and as the name refers to: it consists mostly of personified suits for women and men. She uses ready-mades and vintage materials. Her motto is: “to mend and repair my favorite clothes”. Sustainability is the red thread throughout her work. The fishing net used as a veil was certainly an unusual ingredient, I thought.

Elnaz Gargari, Portraits of Absence, 2017

None of the designers lack imagination that’s for sure. Even if the clothes aren’t easy to wear, they’re certainly fun to look at and pushes one’s fantasy to its limits. It’s refreshing to see fashion as a means for esthetic communication about how our lives are shaped by the social and cultural environments we’ve grown up in.           

Like any contemporary work of art, these designs make us reflect about our stereotypes and pre-conceived ideas. This trend seems to be here to stay. Sustainability, cultural variations, personal identities and new ways of re-using old materials and fabrics is the new fashion, at least if we consider these young designers.

Kristine Schested-Blad, Ode to possibilities, 2018

This Nordic fashion might not be so rooted in Scandinavian traditions, but it’s certainly stained by a new international trend, coupled with a sustainable vision for our future world. A world that is in dire need of repair, a return to nature and to God, as this exhibition has taught me.

Anne Edelstam

Future Nordic Fashion

Prins Eugene, Waldmarsudde, Stockholm.

April 24 – Octobre 3, 2021

The French intellectual elite fallen into disgrace

In France, the intellectual socialist party members are referred to as gauche caviar – meaning a privileged group of champagne socialists. However, one after another, they have, like a house of cards, started to fall from their pedestal.

What led to this more or less untouchable intellectual elite’s downfall, that’s what we’ll explore in this article.

The MeToo movement in France didn’t make much of a buzz compared to some other western countries. Famous actresses such as Catherine Deneuve even defended the right for men to ‘flirt’ with women as they wished.

Many contemporary intellectuals stem from the 1968 sexual liberation movement. It was a veritable revolution against their parents’ strict Catholic upbringing which led to the contraceptive pill, abortion rights and free sex.

It was the time of Brigitte Bardot, Serge Gainsbourg, Simone de Beauvoir among others. Sexuality, incest and provocation were on the agenda. There were no taboos and no rules for what was allowed and even encouraged within certain circles.

Writers such as Gabriel Matzneff wrote openly about his love for minors. He was interviewed on French television in the 1980s where he talked and laughed about it. Nobody objected. Frédéric Mitterand, former Minister of Culture, wrote books about his relations with young boys in Thailand and nobody flinched. Despite being known for his sexual affairs, Dominique Strauss-Khan was hoping to become President of France when he was arrested for rape in the USA. His wife, internationally famous journalist Anne Sinclair, stood by him during his trial. Serge Gainsbourg’s song ‘lemon incest’ that he sang together with his daughter was popular despite its theme. A provocative video, with both of them laying together half naked on a mattress, spread widely. Nobody complained.

Incest hasn’t been forbidden and sex with minors was allowed as long as it was ‘consensual’. How can a minor, not yet developed sexually or otherwise be consenting? Isn’t that rather child molestation? Or is the family best preserved by hushing down such problems?  

Something has shifted thanks to the younger generation raising their voices. The bubble finally broke with Camille Kouchner’s book ‘La familia grande’ published in the beginning of this year. In the book, she denounced the sexual abuse of her twin brother during his teens by their stepfather, the political scientist, Olivier Duhamel. Her book blew the lid off an enormous social problem in France.

There was a huge reaction with many others coming forward to say that they too had been sexually abused as children. A group called Face à l’inceste – facing incest – has been formed. It affirms that at least one in ten have been abused within the family structure in France. Mostly girls and often by an uncle. The hashtag Metooinceste was coined.

At last, a new law has been voted in the French Assembly on March16, 2021, stipulating that sexual relations, between an adult and a minor under the age of 15 years old, would be punishable by law and in the case of incest it was established at the age of 18.

France has sadly been at the forefront on sexual abuses including numerous scandals among catholic priests abusing young boys and then covering up their deeds. It was then thought of as happening only within the seclusion of a Church that isn’t transparent and tend to cover up their traces. Not among prominent intellectual families who have often criticized the same Catholic Church…

It’s a paradox in a society with supposedly high values and it shows the importance of transparency and openness.  It’s time for such arrogant and abusive behaviors to stop! Women and children rights must be respected. 

For all those who have suffered, at last their voices are being heard: vive la justice! Long live justice!

Anne Edelstam

The wind’s yoik

Máret Ánne Sara Renhalsband

There’s an interesting exhibition about Sámi contemporary art in Stockholm this winter.It’s entitled Behind the corner, the wind’s yoik.We discover what that means at Sven-Harry’s art museum.

Luckily a few private museums have been kept opened for us art-loving people this otherwise mostly locked down, gloomy winter season. Sven-Harry’s, situated in a park in central Stockholm, provides us with an unusual and utterly interesting peak into Sami culture and art world.

Their geographical area is called Sápmi and includes Northern Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia. These indigenous peoples have been discredited for centuries but are finally being recognized and accepted. However it’s rare to see their contemporary art displayed like this, representing 15 artists.

The title of the exhibition, Behind the corner, a wind’s yoik, is a poem of Inghilda Tapio. It’s a fitting title, indeed it’s like a wind, a wind blowing in all directions, impossible to seize and difficult to describe. Like the wind, it has to be lived, to be felt. However, I will try to give you a few glimpses of my impression of this complex, beautiful and harsh reality, as it is exposed in these art works.

Idida Vuordi, Juovlavuotna, Waiting for the Morning, Leirpollen, Norway, 2018.

There are intimidating installations, paintings, ceramics and humoristic embroideries and photographs. It’s impossible to give them all the credit that they need. I will site a few however: such as a colourful installation, representing Sámi women standing together in their traditional robes. It is

contrasted with black fringes hung next to it, representing crows that are part of their mythology and belief in animism.

Equally stunning is the reindeer necklace or crown, fittingly called Keep hitting our jaws, hung up on a string from the ceiling. Máret Ánne Sara is both a journalist and an artist. She denounces, with this piece, the problems encountered by the reindeer keepers, such as climate change and forced slaughter of their herds. Sámi shamanism includes belief that spirits inhabit animals, plants and rocks, each one playing a certain role in society. Thus when the animals or nature is attacked, it’s also an assault on their religion.

In a more humoristic tone are Britta Marakatt-Labba’s embroidered pieces. They resemble funny drawings or comic strips. She’s one of the better-known artists and I’ve seen her works in other museums. There are also sculptures, representing fishing, woodcutting and enormous empty landscapes. On the darker side, are for example the ceramics on the upper floor, representing the times when sculls were measured to assess the “intelligence” or rather lack thereof of the indigenous peoples in Scandinavia. Finally there is a film in the basement worth viewing and a flag-sculpture on the rooftop that won’t let you indifferent.

Erika Stöckel, Sápmi/Sweden. Input/Hidden/Outpu, 2020.

The exhibition is certainly interesting and unusual. However as often is the case with contemporary art, it’s definitely worth to view it with a guided tour and possibly to read a bit beforehand of Sápmi and Sami culture in general, to fully grasp the works.

I did miss some yoik though. It would have been nice to hear it in the background at least. There are several very good contemporary Sámi musicians that could have added a musical touch to the exhibition that is sometimes quite destabilising, as it rightly should be.

Truth is seldom like a fairy-tale and the truth of how we have treated the indigenous peoples of the North is definitely not a rosy one! It needs to be exposed and rectified. It’s only then that justice and righteousness can be attained. This is a steppingstone in the right direction. I’m looking forward to more of its kind in the future.

Anne Edelstam,Stockholm

Sven-Harrys museum, Behind the corner, the wind’s yoik, 9 October 2020 – 4 April 2021

When traveling was considered a luxury

Mirror, Greece, 460 B.C.

Luxes , this winter’s exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, in Paris, isn’t only about travels though. It explores perceptions of luxury throughout the ages and from all corners of the world.

During this pandemic, it felt like a great luxury just to be able to visit such a fabulous exhibition. For a short while, I dreamed of far away ages and places, of palaces and festivities, of dazzling dresses and Louis Vuitton cases. I forgot all about facemasks, restrictions and diseases.  

Louis Vuitton, Travel Case, 1930

The exhibition is organised in chronological order, showing some 100 objects. It starts with ancient objects from Egypt, Iran and Greece; the oldest piece being a zoomorphic hedgehog vase from approximately 3500 – 3100 BC. These artefacts illustrate the archaeological perspective of luxury and show that man has always been more than a mere “assembly of atoms”.

The Romans inserted the concept of otium, leisure, in the form of articles, such as a beautiful deck of cards, a backgammon board and decorated manuscripts that are displayed. The 16th and 17th centuries are represented with mainly French court objects in silver and gold. However, from the same era, I preferred the Japanese art of kintsugi, broken ceramics repaired with gold leaf, and the Chinese pagoda barometer-thermometer.

Cartier Clock, 1927

A great novelty in this magnificent museum is the opening up of a room that’s been closed to the visitors: the Art Nouveau wooden-panelled Salon 1900, designed for the 1900 Universal Exhibition. In its footsteps followed fashion houses, with dresses and jewellery from Dior, Chanel, Hermès and Louis Vuitton just to mention a few.     

Chinese modern design, gold thread, 2020

The exhibition finishes with contemporary luxury items, clothes and designed furniture. That luxury is seemingly determined by a logo or a brand name in our modern world is obvious when one remembers the queues of tourists outside some of Paris most fashionable houses.

Luxes offers an ancient as well as contemporary context to understand what makes luxury one of the most singular and symbolic features of civilizations. Paradoxically it also fits these strange times we live in now when mass-tourism is but a memory and travel has once again become a luxury only the very few can afford.

Time will tell if there will be a permanent shift of perspective that some long for or if this period will come and go and things will return to what they were before Corona. However, the human taste for beauty and luxury will surely prevail throughout the ages. It seems to have been engraved in our genes, as is pointed out in this fabulous exhibition.

Anne Edelstam, Paris

Luxes

15 October 2020 – 2 May 2021

MAD, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris