Art in a Dark Age. The artists featured use installation, sculpture, performance, video projection and painting as their media to explore and formulate subjects that are dark or irrational. Many of them have a special sense of the absurdity of life, resulting in a refreshing sense of humour. Existential issues concerning the condition of mankind is the starting point. The exhibition pursues two main tracks: one sombre, mystical and terse, the other more anarchic and burlesque.
Lucas Ajemian, Michaël Borremans, Nathalie Djurberg, Ellen Gallagher, Tom McCarthy/INS – International Necronautical Society, Paul McCarthy, Mike Nelson, Anri Sala and Dana Schutz.
Curator: Magnus af Petersens
Assistant Curator: Fredrik Liew
Eclipse, a darkening of the sun, describes both a situation in society where many of the ideals of the Enlightenment appear to be abandoned – and an artistic approach. The artists in this exhibition of international contemporary art share a lack of faith in a didactically enlightening culture; hence the metaphor in the title.
The artists in Eclipse work with installation, sculpture, performance, video projection and painting, exploring and portraying fields that are irrational, dark or politically incorrect. Several of them have a fascination for the absurd sides of life, resulting in refreshingly humorous works. Existential issues concerning the conditions of mankind are the starting-point.
Magnus af Petersens, curator, Moderna Museet:
“Eclipse is both a statement and a question about art today. If artists in the 90s were preoccupied with reality, a stance that could be expressed, for instance, in documentary strategies and relational aesthetics, many artists today are more interested in speculation, in reflecting the incomprehensible. It may sound drastic to say that we are living in a dark age. But after 11 September, in an era of political upheaval, we are seeing a rise in intolerance. The exhibition highlights art that is not political in a simplistic way, but asserts its right to say the wrong thing, art that uses the license of fiction to experiment.”
In conjunction with the exhibition, a catalogue will be published, with essays by Magnus af Petersens, INS – International Necronautical Society, and others. The INS essay, written by the group’s General Secretary Tom McCarthy, will also form part of their work shown in Eclipse.
The Belgian artist Michaël Borremans (b. 1963, living in Ghent), who is best known for his paintings and drawings, is featured with a number of works in his characteristic neo-surrealist style. The subjects are people who appear to belong in a sepia-toned past, bent in concentration over some enigmatic task. The titles of the works add to the mood of uncertainty about what sort of scenes we are looking at, such as The Advantage, showing a young man in a straitjacket.
The enigmatic quality in Borremans’ paintings has a correspondence in Anri Sala’s (b. 1974, living in Berlin) video works, often shot in semi-darkness. In one of his works, Ghostgames, two people are involved in a game on what could be a beach in the dark, where they use flashlight beams to entice, or pressure, crabs to crawl between the legs of the opponent – thereby scoring a goal. The lack of information in the images suggests questions and sharpens the senses.
Nathalie Djurberg (b. 1978, living in Berlin) creates video works set in a grotesque universe of figures made out of modelling clay. The format of the films is like kids’ TV, but the characters – often distressingly obese women – are involved in brutal assaults. Djurberg is currently featured in a solo exhibition at Fondazione Prada in Milan.
Dana Schutz’ (b. 1976, living in New York) paintings also conjure up a strange, possibly post-apocalyptic, world inhabited by grotesque survivors, such as the ‘auto-canibals’ who perform surgery on each other, the ‘gravity fanatics’ or those who are simply ‘into Jesus’. Formally, she navigates lithely between the various styles in art history. Her paintings are often based on ideas that serve as challenges, apparently impossible subjects for painting.
Ellen Gallagher’s (b. 1965, living in Rotterdam and New York) works De Luxe mix historic and mythological characters made of old advertising pictures aimed at African-American readers. A few of her watercolours from the series Water Ecstatic are also featured. The series is based on a myth about submarine humans – a special species that developed from pregnant slaves who drowned on the Atlantic passage of the slave trade.
Tom McCarthy (b. 1969, living in London) is the secretary general of the INS – International Necronautical Society, a pastiche on early 20th century avant-garde artist groups. The INS is featured with a report – Calling All Agents – from one of the group’s meetings in Austria, perpetrating the idea that art contains subversive messages that are political dyamite. A new, site-specific audio work by McCarthy will be presented in Swedish in the audioguides that are normally used to guide visitors through the collection.
Lucas Ajemian’s (b. 1975, living in New York) works allude to art as a bearer of coded messages. With his brother, the jazz musician Jason Ajemian, he creates a performance in the church on Skeppsholmen which will be video filmed and shown in the exhibition; they play the Black Sabbath classic Into the Void from 1971, backwards, together with a ten-man orchestra, with reference to the myths claiming that this would reveal hidden, satanic messages.
Mike Nelson (b. 1967, living in London) also collaborates with a group – in his case, the fictive biker gang The Amnesiacs, which consists of Gulf War veterans with amnesia. The members “help” Nelson create works that reconstruct their memories, as in Amnesiac Shrine – a large spatial installation that was acquired for the Moderna Museet collection with funding from the Friends of Moderna Museet, as a 50th anniversary gift.
In his performance-based video works, Paul McCarthy (b. 1945, living in Los Angeles) portrays father figures that are both menacing and pathetic; a doll’s head resembling Alfred E. Neuman or a bloody, sneering pirate, in a sort of Disney World that has run amok. Magnus af Petersens’ collaboration with Paul McCarthy in connection with his retrospective at Moderna Museet in 2006 was one event that inspired the concept for Eclipse.
Lucas Ajemian and his brother, the jazz musician Jason Ajemian, with their project called Out of Nowhere/From Beyond. Saturday 31 May at 4 pm
Opening 31 May
Island of Skeppsholmen - Stockholm