A Dozen Reasons Art Lovers Should Be in Scandinavia Right Now

Gerhard Munthe, Suitors, 1892. Collection of the National Museum, Norway. Photo: Norjan kansallismuseo, Øystein Nerdrum.

The Magic North: Summer Biennials, Festivals and Exhibitions in Scandinavia 2015

With temperatures neither blistering nor blustery, summer in Scandinavia reveals the magic of the northern landscape, from the spectacular fjords of Norway, to the forests of Finland. This year in particular, there is quite a convergence of festivals, biennials and notable exhibitions occurring in late August in Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway. From the historical to the contemporary, from city centers to the far-flung reaches of the Arctic Circle, there is an abundance of events and exhibitions drawing art lovers to the northernmost reaches of Europe.

Theodor Kittelsen, The River Sprite, illustration for Troldskab, 1887. Collection of the National Museum, Norway. Photo: The National Museum, Norway, Jacques Lathio.

A mystical atmosphere suffuses many of the paintings in "The Magic North," currently at the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki (June 18 - September 27, in cooperation with the Norwegian National Museum, where it was shown earlier this year), an exhibition of Norwegian and Finnish fin-de-siècle and early 20th century works, from artists such as Edvard Munch, Gerhard Munthe, Hugo Simberg and Theodor Kittelsen. In these works, the artists mixed the heady influence of European symbolism with the folkloric traditions of their home countries, producing such unforgettable images as Kittelsen's iconic wide-mouthed trolls and vacant eyed river sprites. In such company, even the more straightforward and naturalistic landscapes and portraits seem to evince a kind of strange, animistic energy.

Hannah Ryggen, Fear, 1936. Creative Commons License BY.

Under the influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement of the turn of the century, artists of that time revived certain folk arts and traditional crafts, in search of a national style of expression. Norway's rich history and tradition of tapestry weaving inspired artists of the period, such as Gerhard Munthe, who, to his chagrin, became quite famous for his achievements in this "minor art." Yet Scandinavia's most distinctive voice in tapestry weaving was yet to emerge: in the 1930s, Swedish-Norwegian artist Hannah Ryggen became known for her idiosyncratic, expressive and wholly modern tapestries, weaving together political and personal themes. An exceptional collection of her works spanning three decades is currently on view in the exhibition "Hannah Ryggen: Weaving the World" at the National Gallery in Oslo (June 12 - October 4).

Artists like Ryggen, however, were working against the grain of the 20th century, as modernism and formalism took hold in Western art. Denmark's Ordrupgaard Museum is taking a look at a hitherto overlooked aspect of a group of works made by one of modernism's masters, produced in his later years. "Matisse and the Eskimos" (August 21 - November 29) presents works from Matisse's paper cut outs, focusing on a group of works inspired by a collection of Inuit masks belonging to his son-in-law and the books of the Danish polar explorer Knud Rasmussen.

Maria Friberg, From the Series "Still Lives" (4), 2005. Courtesy of the Gothenburg Art Museum.

At the Göteborg Museum of Art, in Sweden, "The Romantic Postmodernism" (May 30 - September 13) explores links to the art historical past in a selection of works of Nordic art from the 1980s to the present. These contemporary works evince connections -- aesthetic or otherwise -- to the Romantic landscape, including early photographs by Olafur Eliasson, abstract paintings by Rolf Hanson and photographs by Maria Friberg.

Installation view, After Babel / Poetry will be made by all! / 89plus, Moderna Museet, 2015. Photo: Åsa Lundén, Moderna Museet.

While "The Romantic Postmodernism" looks to contemporary art made in Scandinavia, an exhibition at the Moderne Museet Stockholm takes a more international outlook, exploring the pluralism of the present in an exhibition titled "After Babel" (June 13 - August 30), curated by Daniel Birnbaum and Ann-Sofi Noring. As one would expect, language takes center stage in "After Babel," with works by Yael Bartana, Etel Adnan, Haegue Yang, Rivane Neuenschwander and others. Also occupying center stage is an actual tower -- a concept by Simon Denny in collaboration with architect Alessandro Bava -- that gradually and evocatively winds its way through the history of the intermingling of art and industry. And while at the Moderne Museet, don't miss Adrián Villar Rojas's major solo exhibition, "Fantasma," on until October 25.

Sophie Dupont, A Slow Walk, Body And Room Encountering in Mirrors, 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Copenhagen Art Week. Photo: Hans H. Bærholm.

In Copenhagen, five contemporary art centers are joining together to present an exhibition entitled "TRUST" (August 29 - October 25), curated by Sonia Dermience, featuring more than forty artists, with parties, performances, films, an online radio station and more. This is just one of many eruptions of art going on in Copenhagen, timed to coincide with Copenhagen Art Week (August 21 - August 30), which kicked off with the international art fair CHART at Kunsthal Charlottenborg last weekend. Sixty galleries, museums, project spaces, fairs and art centers across the city are participating in this weeklong art bacchanal, and the art continues to spread throughout the city, beyond institutional walls and into the subways and the streets.

Martin Whatson, mural on the Scandic Stavanger City, 2014. Photo: Ian Cox, Nuart.

For fans of street art, next week the Nuart Festival (September 3 - October 11) will open for its 9th edition in Stavanger, Norway. Year by year, this picturesque Norwegian port town is adding to its collection of public murals painted by renowned international street artists. This year's invited artists include Iranian duo Icy & Sot, Italian artist Pixelpancho and New York legend Futura, among others. Nuart Festival also features a discursive component in Nuart Plus, a symposium program exploring issues relevant to street art and its development. 

Erkka Nissinen, Video for the Turku Biennial, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and 7th Turku Biennial, 2015.

Lastly, the biennials: there are four biennial art exhibitions occurring right now in Scandinavia, each with its own distinct character and setting. And a fifth is set to open in the next week: the Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art (September 12 - November 22), curated by Elvira Dyangani Ose, which features an exciting roster of artists, such as Kader Attia, Kerry James Marshall and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, under the theme "A Story Within A Story."

The 7th Turku Biennial (June 10 - August 30) takes place at Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova in Turku, Finland, with this year's theme, "The Unexpected Guest," driving the curatorial process. Half of the artists were chosen by the curators of the Turku Biennial, while the other half were invited by those artists. There are many surprising moments in the Turku Biennial, but highlights include the absurdist videos of Erkka Nissinen, the unsettling sculptures of the Finnish art collective Anna Breu and photographs by Aino Kannisto and Satu Haavisto.

Ai Weiwei, Think Different (How to Hang Workers' Uniforms), 2015. Courtesy OpenART 2015. Photo: Sandra Subraian Ekholm.

The city of Örebro in Sweden is host to the largest public art biennial in Scandinavia, now in its fifth year. OpenART 2015 (June 14 - September 6) showcases 130 artworks by 72 artists from 19 countries within Örebro's city center. This year features a special initiative, curated by Feng Boyi, to bring 13 contemporary Chinese artists to the Swedish biennial including artists Ai Weiwei, Xu Bing and Cheng Dapeng, and raising the biennial's international profile. Works range from playful sculptures situated in the river Svartån, an oversized park bench and a model of the city entirely made of sweets and pastries.

Daniel Steegmann Mangranè, Phantom (kingdom of all the animals and all the beasts is my name), 2013-2015. Courtesy of the artist.

Momentum 8 (June 13 - September 27), in Moss, Norway, inundates the viewer with various levels of sensory deprivation and sensorial enhancement, from a virtual reality environment enabled by an oculus rift device by Daniel Steegmann Mangranè, a participatory work involving both multi-sensory illusions and sensory deprivation by artist duo Lundahl & Seitl, to the colorful, immersive fur-filled installation by Hrafnhildur Arnardottir a.k.a Shoplifter. The theme here is "Tunnel Vision," accompanied by a thought-provoking reader addressing the shifting social priorities between the Internet and the public sphere, as well as the concept of "Nordic seclusion." It's a fascinating show with far-reaching intellectual, theoretical, and curatorial ideas.

Landscape image from Lofoten. Courtesy of Lofoten International Art Festival (LIAF). Photo: Kyell Ove Storvik.

For the ultimate experience of the remote northern lands, however, one should travel up to Norway's Lofoten Islands -- where the Lofoten International Art Festival (LIAF, August 28 - September 27) takes place. Located on the northwest coast, just above the Arctic Circle, the landscape is dramatic, rugged, and staggeringly beautiful. Lest the landscape upstage the art on display, LIAF 2015, entitled "Disappearing Acts," relents to its environmental context by gathering a collection of ephemeral, performance-based works, sculptures submerged into the sea, and an exhibition of works staged in a soon-to-be-demolished building. It begs the question -- would Scandinavia still be such an extraordinary and beautiful place, if we weren't around to appreciate it?

Steinar Haga Kristensen, The Loneliness of the Index Finger (Part II): The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Conceptual State into Stabilized Theatrical Sensibility (Consensus Image), 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Lofoten International Art Festival (LIAF).

--Natalie Hegert