The Artists at the Modern Museum in Malmö

I am very happy to share a new article from our contributing author Janneke with you today.  This time Janneke visited the Moderna Museet in Malmö for us.

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‘There is no such thing as art… There are only artists…‘

Have you ever wondered what it would look like to hang up wonderful Rubens’ The Three Graces on a pop art Andy Warhol-wallpaper? I can tell you it looks stirring! If you want to see it yourself, you have to visit the Modern Museum in central Malmö. The museum currently hosts a show on ‘The Artist’. The exhibition takes a look at the changing (and recurrent) status of artists, a theme that has been fascinating me personally for a long time. Throughout time, artists have played various roles, there has been many ideals, and many, many myths.

Moderna Museet Malmö, exterior © Photo: Moderna Museet/Åsa Lundén
Moderna Museet Malmö, exterior © Photo: Moderna Museet/Åsa Lundén

In case of Rubens and Warhol, there are actually a few parallels between them, although they are centuries apart. Both can be considered as some kind of entrepreneurs. In fact, Rubens’ atelier may be compared to Warhol’s famous Factory, where his co-workers would made prints under his direction, and where his clique would hang out. But in case of Warhol – and also Jeff Koons and others – the posture of the artist seems to be at least as important as the work of art.

By bringing together Rubens and Warhol, furthermore Salvador Dalí, geniuses like Gustave Courbet and Auguste Renoir, Pablo Picasso, Cindy Sherman, Elaine Sturtevant, self-titled anti-artists like Marcel Duchamp, and many more, the museum confronts different types and figures of artists from 1500 to the present with each other. Once stylized as craftsmen, the artist became a dazzling figure, shrouded by myths. Think about Joseph Beuys, for instance, or about Picasso and his famous remark ‘When I was a child my mother said to me: ‘If you become a soldier, you’ll be a general. If you become a monk, you’ll be the pope.’ Instead I became a painter and wound up as Picasso.’ He himself is placed in the sections of ‘geniuses and avant-gardists’ in the exhibition. There are four more chapters in the exhibition: The artist as… Entrepreneur, Norm-Breaker, Visionary, and Traveller like Gaugin, who explores the exotic. In each chapter artists from different centuries are brought together, and I think it’s quite unique that you don’t have to follow a strict chronological parcours.

Ernst Gombrich’s dictum ‘There is no such thing as art… There are only artists’ (The Story of the Art) is a hint towards the shift from the work of art to the artistic concept and idea behind the art that is linked to the artist. But, of course, raising the question ‘What is an artist?’ instead of ‘What is art?’ only sets another focus, the ‘problem’ still remains, because the role of the artist is anything but uniform. This also becomes clear in the exhibition. It as well reflects the self-concept and self-image of the artists that have often depicted themselves with their equipment. So it is also about practices and techniques in art.

Not at least, you get an impression of the role and marginalization of female artists. Artworks by women are arranged through the whole exhibition, but women are especially mentioned in the normbreaker-section. They have been mostly ignored as figures in the history of art so far, and even in the 19th and 20th century it was not quite possible for women to design a life plan as an artist.

In the exhibition there is for example the great artist Marta Rosler next to Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel as an example for an artistic visionary. In Rosler’s video performance Kitchen Semiotics from 1975, she shows, names and demonstrates common cooking utensils standing in a kitchen all dressed up like a typical housewife. Her stiff performance refers to cooking demonstrations from the 60ies and parodies them, stating a frustration at the exclusion of females in so many areas. The woman in the video names her own oppression, as Rosler states. Of course, there are other forms of visionary artworks, including the depiction of saints or the depiction of some kind of inner truth that becomes significant especially in times of war and trouble, and that is also expressed in non-figurative art.

The boundaries between the assignments to the different chapters of the exhibition are fluid, of course, which makes the tour through more lively. It is also quite pleasant that the exhibition is not some kind of academic or didactic pointer, but also allows you to focus on the great pieces that the museum has gathered together in collaboration with the Royal Academy of Fine Arts and the National Museum of Fine Arts, and just enjoy them. By the way, the entrance is free, so whenever you are in Malmö don’t forget to drop by the museum.

#exhibition | The Artist

#until | February 19, 2017

#museum | Moderna Museet Malmö

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