Critic's Guide: Oslo

A round-up of the best current shows in the city

BY Harry Thorne in Critic's Guides | 20 JUN 16

Espen Gleditsch, A Place by the Sea #1 (E-1027), 2016. Courtesy: the artist and NoPlace, Oslo

Espen Gleditsch, ‘A Place by the Sea’
10 June – 20 June

In the village of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin on the French Riviera is E.1027, a serene modernist villa that was designed by furniture designer Eileen Gray and completed in 1929. The building was intended as a summerhouse for Gray and her lover, Jean Badovici, but when their relationship broke down five years after the villa’s completion, she left Roquebrune-Cap-Martin for good. Badovici stayed put, later inviting Le Corbusier to spend time at the house and paint curling murals on the interior walls – murals that clash painfully with Gray’s original designs. E.1027 has recently been redeveloped, its legacy somewhat preserved, but the memory of Gray has faded, replaced, in part, by Corbusier’s own reputation. (The path that leads to the premises is called Promenade Le Corbusier, the area: Site Le Corbusier.)

At the artist-run space NoPlace is a series of monochrome photographs by Espen Gleditsch that capture the villa from Gray’s eyes. They attend less to the actual building and more to the encroaching environment: waxed leaves clutter pathways, cracks spread across already cracking walls and the jagged teeth of rocks are gradually eased back by the sea. Everything about these composed, calmly handled photographs is as lonely as it is powerless. A testament to Gray’s failed relationship, maybe? A testament to the changing identity of the villa? Or an ode to another significant female creative falling by the wayside, her influence, like the pathways, obscured more and more every day.

'How to cut your throat and smile', 2016, exhibition view. Courtesy: SCHLOSS, Oslo

‘How to cut your throat and smile’
4 June – 20 June

Founded earlier this year by artist Ida Ekblad and journalist Marie-Alix Isdahl Voisin, the second show at the project space SCHLOSS is a joyously dismal affair. Located in the shell of a former Porsche garage the scene was grim already: exposed strip lights shining garish light onto adhesive-marked cement and cracking brickwork. Add to that the work of Liz Craft, Andreas Dobler, Chloé Elizabeth, Maratta Flavio Merlo, Theodor Kittelsen, Maggie Lee, Miriam Leonardi, Urd Pedersen, Ben Rosenthal, Linda Semadeni and Urban Zellweger and it gets a whole lot worse.

A thin black cobweb dissects a gallery that is inhabited by mini-horrors: Pension (2016), Zellweger’s painted dystopia, complete with the front of a Vespa, a medieval town and a block of flats; Kittelsen’s Den bekjente slette norske tid (The Acquaintances Delete Norwegian Time), which sees a skeletal grim reaper wandering slowly towards the grave; Pedersen’s Hverdagens fiasko / Hverdagens triumf (Everyday failure / everyday triumph, 2013), a duo of Miss Havisham meets The Woman in Black portraits absentmindedly waving out of their frames. It’s all dark, all twisted and all cynically entertaining. Misery loves company, after all.

Markus von Platen Tittel, Dual aspect, 2016. Courtesy: the artist and Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo

‘Dislocating Surfaces: New Scandinavian Photography’
Kunstnernes Hus
18 May – 26 June

Organized in collaboration with local artist-run initiative MELK, ‘Dislocating Surfaces’ brings together 10 young photographers to think around the qualities of surface and depth. What that brief lacks in originality, the exhibition makes up for with sheer diversity. Conceptually, visually and in terms of process, it is a presentation that goes a long way to once again muffle that now-hackneyed declaration: ‘Photography is dead.’

In the first two rooms, for example, Markus von Platen digitally combines vacant suburban scenes to create rich boards of dense foliage; Kristina Bengttson uses overlaid paper and cardboard viewfinders to accentuate the finer details of her wonderfully peaceful shots of smooth coloured fruits set lovingly against the coarse flesh of rocky steps; and Sveinn Fannar Jóhannsson, whose latest series of photographs is reproduced in newspaper format, simply dumps his work in a pile in the corner.

 A handful of the artists opt to look back rather than forward. In a room flanked by Espen Gleditsch’s Becher-esque taxonomies and Flemming Ove Bech’s Anna Atkins-style cyanotypes, Kamilla Langeland updates that old stalwart, the photogram, with garish pink Mickey Mouse figurines, gaudy ‘Love’ pendants and curling handwriting: ‘Hey Mickey you’re so fine…’

Aase Texmon Rygh, ‘Female Forms’, 2016, exhibition view. Courtesy: the artist and OSL Contemporary, Oslo

Aase Texmon Rygh, ‘Female Forms’
OSL Contemporary
27 May – 2 July

‘Female Forms’ is a comprehensive survey of work by Aase Texmon Rygh, a 91-year-old Norwegian sculptor whose practice largely focuses on the female form and the act of expression through raw material. As with much modernist sculpture made in the mid 20th century, the opportunities for reference here are rife and often justified. In one lap of the space you can locate a long-lost relative of Constantin Brâncuși’s Bird in Space (1923), three-dimensional Mobius strips that resemble Barbara Hepworth’s heavy twists of wood, and mid-sized bronze figures reclining á la Henry Moore’s bronze women.

This is not to detract from Texmon Rygh as a sculptor, nor the charming idiosyncrasies of her works, for there is a joyous side to these forms that the likes of Moore opt not to recognize. Picture his Draped Seated Woman (1957–58), for example. There she is, balanced on that step: poised, alert, taking herself seriously to the point of pomposity. Now look at Texmon Rygh’s Rampejente (note that this was made in 1951, before Moore’s woman had taken her seat). She’s bombastic, cartoon-like, holding an exhibitionistic pose that even now undercuts the authority of the gallery space. This is female form seen from female eyes.

Alex Israel, Self-Portrait (Wetsuit) (2016), installation view. Image courtesy: the artist and Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo; photograph: Christian Øen

Alex Israel, ‘#AlexIsrael’
Astrup Fearnley Museet
10 June – 11 September

A long, rickety pier occupies the majority of Astrup Fearnley’s main space. At the end of the platform stands LA-based artist Alex Israel’s Self-Portrait (Wetsuit) (2016), a vibrant orange wetsuit that is missing its body. A comment on the superficiality of Hollywood culture, perhaps, a 21st century phenomenon that the artist has long taken to task, or an ode to those street performers who seem to hover amidst hordes of gawking tourists. Probably not, but Israel undeniably sees himself as an attraction as well as an artist. Note his own brand of sunglasses that he is never seen without, see the title of the show, ‘#AlexIsrael’, gaze down from the pier to the set of As it Lays, a tongue-in-cheek talk show that Israel appointed himself host of in 2012, his targets, forgotten Hollywood B-listers.

From start to finish, ‘#AlexIsrael’ is a wind up. There is an oversized yellow lens cast from Israel’s own sunglasses, an immaculately finished sculpture of a cupcake, and the repeating outline of the artist’s own face, reproduced on everything from walls to tote bags. But whenever you move to criticize Israel for this aesthetic (and I did, on more occasions than I can recall) you realize that this glitzy, airbushed absurdity is almost the perfect reflection of the very Hollywood that he’s attempting to lampoon.

Upstairs is a room containing props for SPF18, Israel’s forthcoming feature film that will star Pamela Anderson and is written in collaboration with Michael Berk, the co-creator of Baywatch. It looks terrible, but that’s pretty much the point.

Nikolai Astrup, St. Hansbål, c.1917, oil on canvas. Courtesy: Dag Fosse / KODE

Nikolai Astrup, ‘Painting Norway’
Henie Onstad Kunstsenter
10 June – 11 September

‘Painting Norway’ brings together more than 100 oil paintings and prints by Nikolai Astrup (1880–1928), one of Norway’s most renowned artists. With an unerring focus on his local surroundings – the mountain ranges of his home district of Jølster – Astrup imbues the natural with a sometimes comforting, sometimes daunting power, drawing out its sovereignty through heavy applications of colour while relegating his figures to muddy blurs in the foreground. It is the stuff of the sublime, of the uncanny, of the Romantic, and as you wander the peripheries of the Henie Onstad Kunstsenter (HOK) and take in the seemingly boundless fjord, you realize why it continues to feel so familiar.

In order to underscore this continued relevance, HOK has invited contemporary artists Book & Hedén, B. A. Huseby, Åsa Sonjasdotter and Futurefarmers with Martin Lundberg to create works that enter into a dialogue with both Astrup’s works and the wider themes that they draw forward. Split between the gallery space and the picturesque grounds, the projects include a bumblebee path, a serene 7-channel video installation shot in Jølster, and a newly planted crop of a rare variety of Norwegian potato, the kjøtt (translation: meat).

Inghild Karlsen, Breathable Balloon, 1988-89, archival photograph. Courtesy: the artist 

‘Silent Revolt: Norwegian Process Art and Conceptual Art in the 1970s- and 80s’
The Museum of Contemporary Art
4 March – 18 September

The particular strain of conceptual art on show at ‘Silent Revolt’, one which until now has lain fairly dormant, places a stronger emphasis on the physical body than the kind of conceptualism which emerged from West Coast USA in the 1970s. Maybe expectedly, considering the local landscape, it’s also one that returns to the neo-Romantic opposition of man and nature. The eight monochrome photographs that make up Måling av snødybde (Measurement of snow depth, 1981), for example, show Oddvar I.N. Daren slowly lowering himself into the ground as the displaced blocks of snow rise alongside him to eventually assume his original position. Or in Prosjekt Gjerdeløa (1980–81), again documented in a series of archival photographs, Marianne Heske transports a 400-year-old log cabin from the Tafjord Mountains to the Centre Pompidou, where it was reconstructed in full for the 1980 Paris Biennial.

The notion of man’s proximity to and subsequent influence on the Norwegian landscape is repeated with almost comic frequency in ‘Silent Revolt’, but thanks to the aesthetic experimentation of artists such as Ingrid Book, Paul Brand and Gerd Tinglum, the exhibition holds attention throughout. 

Harry Thorne is a writer and editor based in London, UK.