Since 1921 Liljevalchs Art Museum in Stockholm hosts a spring salon where works of contemporary artists are shown and sold. Applicants submit their work anonymously and a jury chooses a selection of works to display. Application is open to everybody above the age of 18 and for works in any technique. Admitted works should be no more than three years old and preferably not been exhibited before. The jury will choose works that combine well to a “generous and exciting” exhibition. Thus, although they look for quality, the works chosen are not necessarily the “best” ones.
This year the exhibition shows 295 works from 127 artists. Of these 112 are paintings and 37 are drawings. There are a couple of sculptures, photographs and some textile works as well.
Liljevalchs’ director says this year’s works feel like a counteraction against the uneasiness in the world. Many are about interiors and houses. He would have expected some kind of punch in the gut, but there is none. Art is not taking a stand – rather it seems it looks for alternatives (Dagens Nyheter, 10th Jan. 2017)
I don’t know how representative this selection of artworks is for what goes on in contemporary art in Sweden. And yes, there was no punch. But I felt that a lot of works held a more or less subtle social critique that in some instances stood in stark contrast to the beautiful way the picture was painted. Here are some of the pictures that struck a chord with me:
Henry Svahn had four fantastic watercolours showing a barn in lush green vegetation, romantically dilapidated. He named them “Non-place”. He says that “a place” is somewhere with meaning, intention, made for people to be and often pimped up. A “non-place” would then be the opposite, which he finds more interesting. He says he sees these barns in the north of Sweden as non-places. For me, they bring to mind the state of abandonment of many houses in rural communities and all that that implies.
There was an other artist with, for me, a similar kind of message. Tobias Adamsson draws plans of old houses in a state of disrepair and adorns them with stories about the people who might have lived in them. The twist of these lies in the fact that the plan drawings show the broken beams and fallen walls rather than the house as it would have been drawn before building. He says he wants to raise awareness for the cultural heritage we lose for ever when we let houses like these – and the craftsmanship that built them – disappear. It is a critique of the replace-if-worn society we live in.
Other works were of a more fantastical nature, playful and light:
Lars Palm uses copperplate print for its visual qualities, but also, he says, in controversy to our fast lifestyles. Copperplate printing is a slow process. I like the strange reality in his pictures and the almost childlike style – a bit quirky but very sure. The fantastical animals Ida Rödén presents in the fashion of early scientific studies are based on descriptions by a Swedish early scientist – who may or may not have lived. She plays around the themes of reality and sanity, she says. I like the playfulness and I find the combination of picture and text appealing.
An other playful one is this:
I like the way the artist treats perspective and fits together views, exteriors and interiors into a surprising and interesting whole. I find it playful. Whether that is the artist’s intention I cannot say.
This one by Sten-Yngve Johansson is technically very convincing and I love the light in it:
I think he has first made an underpainting in warm rusty colours that shine through in the final painting. In the water the reflections are red, like the underpainting, rather than the white of the ship. I like the effect of that. I also like the gestural brushmarks.
The exhibition contains many very different works and if one has to set a common denominator then maybe it has to be a lack of overtly political statements. I liked that as it allows the viewer to make his/her own connection
How important is technical skill in a work of art? To me it is very important, however, I know there are many who would disagree. I have to think about this more.
Although there were a number of abstract non-representative pictures the bulk of the works of art on display was representative. Quite a number of them very realistic, moving away from the flat picture plane and gestural marks to a carefully built up three-dimensionality. This is a development I have come across in other maybe more representative contexts.
http://www.dn.se/kultur-noje/varsalongen-ar-som-en-motkraft-mot-oron/ (Dagens Nyheter – National daily newspaper)
http://www.liljevalchs.se/utstallningar/varsalongen-2017/ (Liljevalchs Art Museum’s homepage)