Five Shows to See in Scandinavia this Autumn

As CHART art fair opens in Copenhagen, here are our picks for what to see in the city and the wider Nordic region

BY Amy Sherlock in EU Reviews , Reviews | 26 AUG 21

Suzanne Valadon, The Abandoned Doll, 1921, oil on canvas,129,5 × 81,5 cm. Courtesy: 

National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; photograph: Lee Stalsworth, Fine Art through Photography, LLC


Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen, Denmark

21 April – 29 August

As the brilliant feminist and psychoanalytic scholar Jacqueline Rose puts it in Mothers: An Essay on Love and Cruelty (2018): ‘Motherhood is, in Western discourse, the place in our culture where we lodge, or rather bury, the reality of our own conflicts, of what it means to be human.’ At Louisiana, the large-scale group exhibition ‘Mother!’, curated by Marie Laurberg, attempts to dislodge or excavate these existential themes as expressed in visual culture through the ages. (The aptly ambiguous exclamation point of the title simultaneously evokes surprise, delight and admonishment.) Bringing together more than 140 pieces, the show captures motherhood as condition, vocation, obligation and delight, in all of its powerful (and sometimes unacknowledged) contradiction. The works span a 3,000-year period: from a statue of the Egyptian goddess Isis nursing her son Horus (c.1,000 BCE), which prefigures the virgin-and-child compositions so familiar from Christian iconography, to a newly commissioned installation by Laure Prouvost (MOOTHERR, 2021). There is often something woozily amniotic about Prouvost’s immersive environments, with their babbling wordplay and nursery-rhyme suspension of disbelief. Here, glowing, many-teated octopuses tower over us, threatening to embrace or smother, like clammier versions of Louise Bourgeois’s famous spiders, capturing something about the profound alienness of the pregnant body that is the source of all human life.

Anna Bjerger, Night, 2021, 180 × 150 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Galleri Bo Bjerggaard 

Anna Bjerger

Galleri Bo Bjerggaard, Copenhagen, Denmark

24 August – 2 October

There was a rainbow over Galleri Bo Bjerggaard as I left the opening of Anna Bjerger’s exhibition. Later in the evening, the moisture in the air turned the sunset a vivid, fantastical pink – a pink, in fact, just like the sky above the darkened dormer roof in her painting Night (all works 2021), which lights up one wall in her solo show ‘Drifters’; a pink you almost can’t believe exists. Painted from photographic images taken from diverse sources (books, catalogues, old magazines), these largish canvases seem to investigate what a photograph can’t capture, or the way that reality necessarily slips away from us. Because of the generic quality of many of Bjerger’s chosen motifs – a sky formation, the trunk of a tree, an interior scene with plant pot – these paintings have a timeless quality: the skirt that kisses the top of a pointed foot in Hem could equally be the blue robe of the Madonna or that of a Disney princess. But they also have a startling intimacy: it’s hard to believe, for instance, that Bjerger doesn’t know the man whose back is turned to us in Blouse – a slippage which feels symptomatic of the way that seeing photos of a stranger on social media conjures the impression of familiarity in the age of Instagram.

Pipilotti Rist, Deine Raumkapsel (Your Space Capsule), 2006. Courtesy: Collection Magasin III, Stockholm; photograph: John Warden

‘A Quiet Spring Wanders through the Apartment’

Magasin III Museum for Contemporary Art, Stockholm, Sweden

7 May – 18 December

Borrowed from a 2015 painting by Jockum Nordström on display in one of Magasin III’s airy spaces, the title of this group show evokes the long, still months that many of us experienced earlier this year as COVID-19 lockdowns wore on and on. Nordström’s drawing-sculpture, which sets frames within frames to conjure the interior of a room or corridor, gives pause for reflection on the way the past 18 months may have limited physical horizons while expanding imaginative ones. Pipilotti Rist’s box-sized room, Your Space Capsule (2006), in which a pock-marked moon intrudes on a student-ish living space – complete with electric guitar, open pizza box and miniature posters – likewise attests to Gaston Bachelard’s assertion, in The Poetics of Space (1958), that ‘the house shelters day-dreaming’. Conversely, other works in the show (intelligently curated from the museum’s collection by director Tessa Praun and curator Olga Krzeszowiec) deal with ideas of coming together and collectivity: Bottari Zocalo (2000), Kimsooja’s video of crowds in the Plaza del Zócalo in Mexico City, feels like a relic from a past era, whilst Peter Schuyff’s Eight Small Totems (2006) stand together but slightly apart – socially distanced, almost.

Lap-See Lam, Phantom Banquet Ghost, 2019, installation view. Courtesy: Trondheim kunstmuseum; photograph: Susann Jamtøy

Lap-See Lam

Trondheim kunstmuseum, Norway

19 June – 26 September

Until a few years ago, Lap-See Lam’s grandmother and parents owned a Chinese restaurant in Stockholm called Bamboo Garden. After they sold it, Lam – perhaps a little nostalgic for such venues, once the most visible presence of the diaspora community, now beginning to disappear as increasingly globally fluent metropolitan palettes seek out more ‘authentic’ East Asian cuisines – 3D-scanned the interior of Bamboo Garden and a number of similar establishments. At Trondheim, warped fragments of furnishings and phantom figures re-created from the scans suggest the Chinese restaurant as a kind of glitch space in which different temporalities and locations – imperial China, 21st-century Sweden – distort and collide, becoming something singular and distinct. Like the interiors and Western-modified dishes of the restaurants themselves, Lam’s is a form of imperfect reproduction where, as with a theatre set, the details do enough to conjure a palpable sense of place. An installation of jade-coloured bottle vases seems to ask: how many ‘Eastern’-looking ceramics do you need to symbolize that a place is Chinese? How much lucky red décor? (Here, the galleries are bathed in pinkish-red light, adding to the impression of being in an interstitial or otherworldly space. Combined with a restrained, minimalist installation, the effect is striking.) Chinese restaurants, responding to an orientalizing Western gaze, have historically reduced Cantonese culture to a set of culinary and decorative tropes; that doesn’t mean that they haven’t provided economic opportunity or space for a certain kind of cultural expression. Lam tells me that she and her siblings were never intended to take over the restaurant: it would have been a failure; they were meant to go onto better things. Her work is a powerful, ambivalent evocation of spaces where success means obsolescence.

Rasmus Myrup, Folx, 2021, exhibition view. Courtesy: the artist and Galleri Nicolai Wallner; photograph: Anders Sune Berg

Kinga Bartis and Rasmus Myrup

Galleri Nicolai Wallner, Copenhagen, Denmark

20 August – 23 October 

An interest in the mutability of human form and how we interact one with one another is the common thread that runs through these separate bodies of work by two young Copenhagen-based artists at Galleri Nicolai Wallner. Rasmus Myrups’s characterful sculptures – plant–human hybrids in colourful streetwear – gather in corners and are caught mid-conversation, waving to us (or each other), like stragglers from the opening-night crowd that have overstayed their welcome. Incorporating vines, straw, sticks, seeds and mud, amongst other things, they have a neo-pagan vibe that feels very of our supernaturally interested and rational-sceptic moment. Kinga Bartis’s drawings and paintings on canvas, on the other hand, are oneirically mystical, depicting scenes dreamed, imagined or mythical, in which bodies are formed from the landscape or from one another. Evoking Astrida Neimanis’s influential theorizing of Bodies of Water (2017) – another North Star of the moment – Bartis’s slippery, soft-edged bodies are deliciously in between.

Dafna Maimon, Indigestibles, 2021. Courtesy: © Maija Toivanen and HAM Helsinki Biennial 2021

Biennials and events:

The inaugural Helsinki Biennial, curated by Pirkko Siitari and Taru Tappola and titled ‘The Same Sea’, runs until 26 September. Forty-one artists were invited to respond to the unique location: Vallisaari Island, home to a former sea fort, near the city harbour.

At dusk on the 27, 28 and 29 August, The Performance Agency, in collaboration with Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art and Husets Teater, will stage ‘Another Map to Nevada’: a boat journey through the waterways of Copenhagen passing performance pieces by artists including Juliette Blightman, Lene Adler Petersen and Adrian Piper.

Titled ‘The Ghost Ship and the Sea Change’, the 11th edition of Göteborg International Biennial is curated by Lisa Rosendahl. Responding to the 400th anniversary of the founding of the city, the exhibition explores Gothenburg’s colonial past and counter-histories. Works are installed at six venues across the city and the show runs until 21 November.

Main image: Anna Bjerger, 'Drifters', 2021, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Galleri Bo Bjerggaard 

Thumbnail: Jean-Paul Goude in cooperation with Antonio Lopez, Constructivist Maternity Dress, from 'The Grace Jones Show', 1979. Courtesy: the artist and © Jean-Paul Goude

Amy Sherlock is a writer and editor based in London, UK.