Ursula Mayer's most comprehensive film production to date, Gonda from 2012, constitutes the focal point of her exhibition. 'I long for everywhere in the world' is divided into themes describing different facets of Tora Vega Holmstrom's oeuvre and her fascinating network of artist colleagues, intellectuals and writers in Sweden and abroad. 'From Arcadian Bliss to Painted Exorcism', a summer's exhibition of work by Pablo Picasso, explores the fact that the artist sometimes talked about his pictures as 'exorcism paintings'.
To What I Might Become
Malmö - 6 June 2014 - 24 August 2014
Curated by Joa Ljungberg
To What I Might Become is the expectant title of Ursula Mayer’s exhibition at Moderna Museet Malmö this summer. Her most comprehensive film production to date, Gonda from 2012, constitutes the focal point of the exhibition. It is a mesmerizing 30-minute film that pulls the viewer into a kaleidoscopic flow of moving images, evoking stills and abstract colour fields.
The film makes reference to the rather unknown drama Ideal of 1934 (whose fictional protagonist is named Key Gonda), conceived by the Russian-American writer and philosopher Ayn Rand (1905–1982). Rand is widely known for exploring the conflict between the individual and the collective in a number of controversial novels, of which the most important are The Fountainhead from 1943 and Atlas Shrugged from 1957. As the author of Objectivism and as an important source of inspiration for leaders such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, Rand’s body of thought has been crucial in shaping today’s global capitalism. It seems quite impossible to imagine an existence outside of this system, but it is also an imploding system, marked by recurrent financial crises and catastrophic effects on our climate.
In Mayer’s Gonda, the main protagonist is played by transgender model Valentijn de Hingh. In a post-apocalyptic opening scene, we see her running through a volcanic landscape. The wind tugs her clothes and she emerges through the mist as the sole survivor of a big disaster, or as someone just arriving from the future. The manuscript is composed by the writer and art theoretician Maria Fusco and like the stream of images, it is splinted and fractured, without a linear narrative structure. Accompanied by a dooming soundtrack, we see faces emerging through viscous fluids, skin pulverizing and becoming porous stone or ash, all while the script’s commas and punctuations mysteriously fuse with rhythmic stills of uncanny objects.
Following the legacy of Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922–1975), Mayer consistently and methodically breaks with filmic norms and conventions, in order to open up new ways of seeing and thinking. In Gonda, language, as well as categories such as gender, seem to be in the process of dissolving and the film infuses us with a feeling that something fundamental to our existence is either about to obliterate ortake on a new form. In this respect Gonda can be conceived as a hymn, celebrating the potential of film as an artistic medium, while at the same time posing questions concerning our existential possibilities as humans (or post humans).
In addition, during the exhibition To What I Might Become, Moderna Museet Malmö will present Mayer’s earlier film The Lunch in Fur/Le Déjeuner en Fourrure from 2008. The film’s title alludes to Meret Oppenheim’s furry teacup (which the surrealist leader André Breton later entitled Le Déjeuner en Fourrure) and the film presents us with a fictional meeting between the artist Meret Oppenheim, singer and dancer Joséphine Baker and photographer Dora Maar. Screened within the parallel exhibition Pablo Picasso: From Arcadian Bliss to Painted Exorcism, the film will enter in direct dialogue with Picasso’s portraits of Dora Maar, and the presence of all three women – seemingly trapped in history amongst cannibalized memories and avant-garde objects – will subtly affect our perception of Picasso’s work.
Ursula Mayer (A/UK) lives and works in London. She studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna and at Goldsmiths College, London. Ursula Mayer has exhibited in major art festivals and institutions such as 21haus, Vienna; Ursula Blickle Stiftung, Kraichtal; Dairy Art Centre, London; Palais de Tokyo, Paris; SculptureCentre, New York; Tramway, Glasgow; Performa 11, New York; 11th Baltic Triennial at CAC Vilnius, Vilnius; 2nd Athens Biennale, Athens; The Banff Centre, Alberta; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Kunstverein Hamburg; Institute of Contemporary Arts, London; Whitechapel Gallery, London; Transmission Gallery, Glasgow; MoMA PS1, New York; Garage, Moscow; Swiss Institute, New York; Kunsthalle Basel.
Tora Vega Holmström 1880-1967
I long for everywhere in the world
Malmö - 6 June 2014 - 31 August 2014
One hundred years ago, the Baltic Exhibition took place in Malmö. 850,000 people visited the exhibition area, which included a magnificent section for contemporary art. It featured nearly 3,500 works by artists active in Russia, Germany, Denmark, Finland and Sweden. One of the artists was Tora Vega Holmström, born in Skåne, Sweden, who had studied in Copenhagen, at the Valand Academy in Gothenburg and in Germany. Tora Vega Holmström belonged to the modern faction of the exhibition, figureheaded by Isaac Grünewald and Sigrid Hjertén, along with German and Russian expressionists, such as Alexej von Jawlensky and Wassily Kandinsky. Many of them were criticised by the press for their modern style and radical treatment of colour, not least Tora Vega Holmström, who showed her painting Strangers. Tora Vega Holmström’s international network was to reach far beyond the usual highroads of Nordic art, and covers an intriguing field of mainly women modernists.
“College is like a whirlwind – everything gets caught up in the commotion”
Tora Vega Holmström (1880-1967) grew up with five siblings at the Hvilan community college school in Åkarp. The school was run by her parents. It was the first community college in Sweden, and an intellectually dynamic environment where the major current issues were discussed. In the 1870s, Hvilan had introduced classes for women, which was unusual at the time.
Her sister had contacted the famous Swedish artist Carl Larsson, asking for advice about the young Tora Vega’s development. Larsson replied that the young artist from Åkarp had one big disadvantage, namely her gender: she was a woman! Regardless of this, Tora Vega Holmström studied at the Valand Academy in Gothenburg in 1900–1902, where she became friends with Hanna Borrie and Adelheid von Schmiterlöw and others.
The female networks came to play an important part in Tora Vega Holmström’s life. A little later, she and her friends – the three musketeers – went to Dachau near Munich to study under the artist Adolf Hölzel. Her encounter with Hölzel’s colour theory was fundamental to how she developed her painting in the years to come.
Another important person in Tora Vega Holmström’s circle was Hanna Larsdotter, who was one of the first women agricultural students to graduate from Hvilan. When she took over Borgeby Castle, she began inviting artists and writers to the fascinating environment by the Lödde river. One of them was the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke, who exchanged letters with Tora Vega Holmström for many years.
“A hole of your own to be in is essential to life for people like us”
Tora Vega Holmström realised at an early stage that a future as a family girl or a housewife would be hard to combine with the artist’s profession, so she decided to go her own way. Her first extended trip abroad was to Paris in 1907, together with her female friends. They studied Matisse’s private collection and met Rilke, who was employed as Auguste Rodin’s secretary at the time.
In 1914, Tora Vega Holmström was invited to show some ten works at the Baltic Exhibition in Malmö. But her lively style and daring colours evoked strong reactions and were considered brutal and “insufficiently feminine”. This kind of criticism would follow her through a large part of her life.
The painting Strangers includes a number of traits that came to characterise Tora Vega Holmström’s oeuvre. The topic of strangers is present, as is the mother and child, a theme she revisited in a long series of paintings later in life. You can also sense her endless interest in people and the great social and political contemporary issues.
In addition, during the 1910s, Tora Vega Holmström discovered a motif that was to fascinate her for many years – the peasant woman from Skåne. The original model was her brother’s mother-in-law, Cilia, a woman of few words. With a proud attitude and ineffable mien, she became the protagonist in a number of paintings from memory that could be described as tributes to “all the women who blossom in secret”.
“I long for everywhere in the world...”
Tora Vega Holmström was good at languages and would build a far more widespread international network than was customary for Swedish artists at the time. Over the years, artists like Ester Almqvist, Ellen Trotzig and Agda Holst would be added to her network of women friends, which also included international colleagues like María Gutiérrez Blanchard. She was to remain close to her colleagues throughout life, but resolutely maintained that she wanted to be judged as an artist, and not as a woman artist.
Early on, she developed an appetite for travelling and spent extended periods in France and Germany, with shorter visits to Italy and North Africa. The rough seaport of Marseille, plagued with unemployment and social problems, became a second home to her. Here, she found faces full of character and new motifs that she would elaborate on for many years. One day, she saw a woman with a child on her arm, and she knew that she had to paint her. The woman’s name was Cathérine. She turned out to be an illiterate mother of seven from Algeria. She became one of Tora Vega Holmström’s favourite models.
Tora Vega Holmström visited Österlen in south-eastern Skåne for the first time as early as 1908, and was struck by the beautiful, yet dramatic landscape. Years later, she rented a simple hut that was erected in Kåseberga by the sea. The confluence of hills, sea and sky gives monumental proportions to her still-life with fruits, sea shells and jetsam seemingly motion across the surface of the earth, on its way to a hazy horizon.
In her often colourful landscapes, the nuances and atmosphere from the Algerian desert appear to fuse with the image of the sea banks at Österlen. ““The lemon yellow rapeseed beckoned from the meadows, all was beautiful,” the artist wrote in her diary.
“All of Europe is blacked out”
Tora Vega Holmström’s contacts in Munich informed her at an early stage of the camps that were being built for political dissidents, Jews and Roma in Germany, including in Dachau where she had studied in her youth. In a letter, she describes Germany as “hell on earth”. Shortly before the outbreak of war, she was in Marseille. Her journey through Europe was arduous.
During the Second World War, Tora Vega Holmström was active in a number of aid projects for refugees and took a break from painting, with the exception of the portraits of Jewish refugees that she felt compelled to do. She was especially outraged by the children who were left adrift due to the war and genocides, and the torture that was committed “in the name of science”.
Tora Vega Holmström led an itinerant life under very sparse circumstances throughout her adulthood. Lacking resources, she often borrowed lodgings and studio space from friends and family. In a letter, she writes that her most frequent dream is that she is “looking for lodgings”. She did not have a permanent address of her own until she was in her 60s. The last years of her life Tora Vega Holmström lived in Lund.
The exhibition is divided into themes describing different facets of Tora Vega Holmström’s oeuvre and her fascinating network of artist colleagues, intellectuals and writers in Sweden and abroad.
All quotes from letters and diaries are from Birgit Rausing’s book, Tora Vega Holmström, 1981.
The exhibition is a unique collaboration between Malmö Konstmuseum and Moderna Museet Malmö.
Curators: Cecilia Widenheim (Director, Malmö Konstmuseum) in association with Birgit Rausing (art historian and writer) and Greta Burman (Curator, Learning, Moderna Museet Malmö). Exhibition architect: Henrik Widenheim
From Arcadian Bliss to Painted Exorcism
Malmö - 6 June 2014 - 24 August 2014
Curated by Joa Ljungberg
For the first time in Malmö one of history’s most influential artists, Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), will be presented with a solo exhibition. A unique selection of his extensive oeuvre will be shown in the upper galleries of Moderna Museet Malmö.
This summer’s exhibition of work by Pablo Picasso, one of modernism’s brightest stars, explores the fact that the artist sometimes talked about his pictures as “exorcism paintings”.
Author André Malraux recorded a 1937 conversation with the artist in which he described being struck by a pivotal insight while viewing an exhibition of African art at the Trocadéro, Paris’s ethnographic museum, in 1907. Alone and surrounded by what were for him exotic artifacts, Picasso suddenly realized how important the African masks were as magical objects. He told Malraux how this realization fundamentally influenced his view of the role of the artist:
The [African] masks weren’t like other kinds of sculpture. Not at all. They were magical things. … They were weapons. To help people stop being dominated by spirits. … I understood why I was a painter. … ‘The Young Ladies of Avignon’ must have come to me that day, but not at all because of the forms: but because it was my first canvas of exorcism – yes, absolutely!
From Arcadian Bliss to Painted Exorcism revisits this decisive encounter with African sculpture, and at the same time examines how the artist’s practice moved back and forth between a mythological reality and the often-destructive intimacy of his own relationships. As a possible point of departure, the exhibition brings to the fore two paintings from the Moderna Museet’s collection, The Source (La source, 1921) and The Head (La demoiselle, 1929). Both works are familiar to the museum’s regular visitors, but few probably realize that – despite profound differences in form and style – these paintings are likely depictions of the same woman: Picasso’s first wife, Olga Khokhlova.
In The Source, Khokhlova reclines in an Arcadian landscape. Her body is draped with a white tunic in a way that recalls ancient Greece. So does the urn that rests under her arm, pouring forth its life-giving water into the timeless landscape that surrounds her. The painting is suffused with a mythological mysteriousness, and Khokhlova appears to be more goddess than mortal woman. In the The Head, painted eight years later, the open landscape has been replaced by a collection of fragmented details from an interior, and the model has been reduced to a two-dimensional and almost entirely abstract, jagged shape. Against the flesh-toned surface, which may well represent the skin of her face, two eyes emerge, stacked one atop the other. Dominating the picture however, is a long, vertical vagina dentata (toothed vagina), now constituting the subject’s most prominent feature.
How are we to understand this dramatic shift in language, and what does it say about Picasso as an artist? What does the Arcadian landscape represent in a painting like The Source, and what did Picasso mean when he compared the act of painting to exorcism?
These questions demand a more comprehensive discussion of the significance of Picasso’s many different methods and styles, and the exhibition is large enough to offer a relatively broad picture of his work. In addition to works from the Moderna Museet's own collection, loans from Picasso's family and private collectors will be shown. We are also very happy to present the works Baigneuses au ballon (1928) and Deux personnages (1939), that were recently donated to the museum in accordance with Elisabeth "Peggy" Bonnier's will.
Ursula Mayer: The Lunch in Fur/Le Déjeuner en Fourrure
Guest starring in this summer’s Picasso exhibition are two contemporary artists, Lene Berg and Ursula Mayer. Mayer is currently being featured in an exhibition of her own, To What I Might Become, and contributes here with the film The Lunch in Fur/Le Déjeuner en Fourrure from 2008. The film presents a fictitious meeting between the artist Meret Oppenheim, the singer and dancer Joséphine Baker, and the photographer Dora Maar.
Screened within Pablo Picasso: From Arcadian Bliss to Painted Exorcism, the film will enter in direct dialogue with Picasso’s portraits of Dora Maar, and the presence of all three women – seemingly trapped in history amongst cannibalized memories and avant-garde objects – might subtly affect our perception of Picasso’s work.
Lene Berg: Stalin by Picasso or Portrait of Woman with Moustache
It has often been said that it was Dora Maar who got Picasso involved in politics. When they met she was a member of a group of left-wing activists called Contra-Attack, and she helped convince Picasso to join the French Communist Party in 1944. As a world famous artist and member of the party, he was asked to do a portrait of Stalin at the time of his death in 1953. The portrait was to be published on the front page of the communist newspaper Les Lettres françaises, and flanked by articles that praised the Soviet dictator in the most grandiose terms.
Lene Berg’s film Stalin by Picasso or Portrait of Woman with Moustache (2008) tells the story of this portrait, whose publication caused an unprecedented scandal. The film uses a kind of scrapbook aesthetic to convey how the highly politicized tactics of the cold war suddenly came to include unhinged discussions about what was art and what wasn’t, what kind of picture making was to be labeled as immoral, and what really qualified as realism. The film also develops into a tale of two of the many “great men” of history, how their paths crossed, and how the mass-media images of them continue to evolve with time and with shifting political ideologies.
Image: Ursula Mayer, The Lunch in Fur/Le Déjeuner en Fourrure, 2008 © Ursula Mayer, Courtesy Monitor Galerie, Rom; Juliètte Jongma, Amsterdam
For more information on the exhibitions at Moderna Museet Malmö, please contact:
Madelene Holm, marketing and PR, firstname.lastname@example.org, +4673-422 87 39
Press preview on Wednesday, June 4 at 9 am–1 pm
Gasverksgatan 22, Malmö
Hours: Tue-Sun 11-18
Admission: 70/50 SEK