Posts Tagged ‘Moderna Museet Stockholm

22
May
13

Exhibition: ‘Hilma af Klint – A Pioneer of Abstraction’ at Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Exhibition dates:  16 February – 26 May 2013

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I don’t often say this about an artist but OMG, I am in love!

Five years before Wassily Kandinsky (he of the book Concerning the Spiritual In Art 1910), before Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich, the images of Carl Jung (The Red Book) and Rudolf Steiner (Blackboard Drawings 1919-1924) – who dismissed her ideas as wrong – was this revolutionary artist and abstractionist, Hilma af Klint, possibly the first purely abstract painter to produced non-objective works in the early 1900’s. While her more conventional painting became the source of her financial income her ‘life’s work’ remained a quite separate practice and hidden from view. She worked in isolation with little knowledge of the Avant-garde movement in Europe and requested that her complex and articulate paintings not be shown until 20 years after her death.

“Through her work with the group “the Five” af Klint created experimental automatic drawing as early as 1896, leading her towards an inventive geometric visual language capable of conceptualising invisible forces both of the inner and outer worlds. Quite apart from their diagrammatic purpose the paintings have a freshness and a modern aesthetic of tentative line and hastily captured image: a segmented circle, a helix bisected and divided into a spectrum of lightly painted colours. She continued prolifically to add to the body of work amounting to over 1000 pieces until 1941. She requested that it should not be shown until 20 years after the end of her life. In 1970 her paintings were offered as a gift to Moderna Museet in Stockholm, which declined the donation.” (Text from Wikipedia)

Ironic then is it not, that this first major exhibition of Hilma af Klint’s life’s work is at Moderna Museet in Stockholm. How times and attitudes change. And yes, I have ordered the catalogue…

Marcus

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“Negotiating around the masculine domain of art making by working through automatism and spiritual séances, Hilma af Klint appears to allow herself more freedom and reverence by working directly through ‘High Masters’ in their masculine form; through instructed spiritualist experience. Influenced heavily by the infamous Madame Blavatsky, the co-founder of The Theosophical Society and writer of ‘The Secret Doctrine’, af Klint’s ‘High Masters’ guided her hand in an attempt to gain spiritual knowledge of the self and of the universe…

Her occult diaries containing symbols of crosses, mystical vowels, dead sea scrolls, astral and metaphysical planes, mystical initials, strange vowels cross over to the larger works, continuing to make the viewer work hard at understanding what message is being sent. It is then that you notice the rest of the space with painting after painting hung mainly in series, working their way with fluidity around the many walls contained within the exhibiting space. Cubicles of watercolours denoting The Tree of Life, Studies of world religions, paintings for the temple, they are all there. It is clear that af Klint was prolific in her secretive world but it is hard to imagine how she managed to keep all these vast works hidden from view.

It is clear that Klint has some understanding of scientific breakthroughs in her time however her occult physics, chemistry and mathematical understanding appears ahead of its time. Her provocative nature appears to ask questions of sexuality, suggests male and female equality and is probably through this enquiry, still seen as revolutionary. In light of this, af Klint experienced continuous dismissal of her working practices and ideas linked to the scientific and mathematical study of spiritual knowledge. Her friends describe her work as ‘inappropriate’ and her contemporary Rudolph Steiner, founder of The Anthroposophical Society dismissed her ideas as wrong when asked by personal invitation to view them, claiming that she couldn’t have contact with spirits in that way although he doesn’t appear to state clearly for what reason.”

Open College for the Arts tutor Hayley Lock on the We Are OCA website

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Many thankx to Moderna Museet for allowing me to publish the artwork in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Photographer unknown. 'Portrait of Hilma af Klint' Nd

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Photographer unknown
Portrait of Hilma af Klint
Nd

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Installation views of Hilma af Klint - A Pioneer of Abstraction, 2013

Installation views of Hilma af Klint - A Pioneer of Abstraction, 2013

Installation views of Hilma af Klint - A Pioneer of Abstraction, 2013

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Installation views of Hilma af Klint – A Pioneer of Abstraction, 2013
© Photo: Åsa Lundén/ Moderna Museet

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“In Spring 2013 Moderna Museet is dedicating a major exhibition to Hilma af Klint (1862-1944), featuring many works that have never before been shown in public. This retrospective exhibition of a Swedish pioneer of abstract art is Moderna Museet’s tribute to Hilma af Klint as one of the greatest Swedish artists. A woman artist whose work is still far too unknown to a wider public, Hilma af Klint eschewed representational painting as early as 1906. Between 1906 and 1915, she produced nearly 200 abstract paintings, some of which are in monumental formats.

Like Vassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich, who have previously been regarded as the main protagonists of abstract art, Hilma af Klint was influenced by contemporary spiritual movements, such as spiritism, theosophy and, later, anthroposophy. Hilma af Klint’s oeuvre builds on the awareness of a spiritual dimension of consciousness, an aspect that was being marginalised in an increasingly materialistic world. When she painted, she believed that a higher consciousness was speaking through her. In her astonishing works she combines geometric shapes and symbols with ornamentation. Her multifaceted imagery strives to give insights into the different dimensions of existence, where microcosm and macrocosm reflect one another.

Hilma af Klint’s groundbreaking images were created in the early years of the 20th century – before the dawn of abstract art in Russia and Europe. Her works are not concerned with abstraction of colour and shapes for its own sake, but are an attempt to portray that which is not visible. Kandinsky, Malevich and Mondrian also explored a spiritual dimension. Kandinsky moved away from Expressionism and gradually left visible reality behind. He had a great interest in the occult and published On the Spiritual in Art in 1911. Malevich arrived via Cubism and Futurism at his suprematist, abstract and exceedingly spiritual images. Mondrian successively turned his back on figurative portrayals of that which the eye can see, reducing his compositions to a play of vertical and horizontal lines, and to the primary colours red, yellow and blue, with white and black. As a theosophist, he was striving for a purely spiritual expression of the eternal ideas beyond the visible world. Spiritual searching was thus an essential element to many of the modernists who moved towards an abstract imagery. Unlike Hilma af Klint, Kandinsky, Malevich and Mondrian did not claim to be acting as mediums in their creative process. This was an experience, however, that she had in common with artists such as the artists František Kupka (1871-1957), Emma Kunz (1892-1963) and the writer Victor Hugo (1802-1885).

Hilma af Klint left more than 1,000 paintings, watercolours and sketches. Although she exhibited her early, representational works, she refused to show her abstract paintings during her lifetime. In her will, she stipulated that these groundbreaking works must not be shown publicly until 20 years after her death. She was convinced that only then would the world be fully and completely ready to understand their significance.

Moderna Museet’s retrospective exhibition presents Hilma af Klint’s most important abstract works, as well as paintings and works on paper that have never before been presented publicly, enhancing our understanding of her oeuvre. Her extensive diaries and notebooks have been included in the research for this exhibition, which comprises some 200 paintings and works on paper and will tour internationally in 2013-2015.

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About the artist

Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) was a pioneer of art that turned away from visible reality. By 1906, she had developed an abstract imagery. This was several years before Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) and Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935), who are still regarded as the pioneers of abstract 20th-century art. Hilma af Klint assumed that there was a spiritual dimension to life and aimed at visualizing contexts beyond what the eye can see. When painting, she believed that she was in contact with a higher consciousness that spoke and conveyed messages through her. Like many of her contemporaries, she was influenced by spiritual movements, especially spiritualism, theosophy and later anthroposophy. Through her paintings, she sought to understand and communicate the various dimensions of human existence.

In her will, Hilma af Klint wrote that her abstract works must not be made accessible to the public until at least twenty years after her death. She was convinced that their full meaning could not be understood until then. One hundred years ago, Hilma af Klint painted pictures for the future.

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A Woman Artist at the Turn of the Century 

Hilma af Klint began her art studies at Tekniska Skolan in Stockholm and also had lessons in portrait painting. Between 1882 and 1887, she was a student at the Royal Academy of the Fine Arts. After graduating and until 1908, she had a studio at Kungsträdgården in central Stockholm. She painted and exhibited portraits and landscapes in a naturalist style. In the late 1870s, Hilma af Klint attended séances, where a medium contacted the dead. There was a great fascination for invisible phenomena at the time. This can be seen in relation to scientific discoveries, such as x-rays that could reveal internal human organs, and electromagnetic waves that led to the development of radio and telephony.

In 1896, Hilma af Klint and four other women formed the group “De Fem” [The Five]. They made contact with “high masters” from another dimension, and made meticulous notes on their séances. This led to a definite change in Hilma af Klint’s art. She began practising automatic writing, which involves writing without consciously guiding the movement of the pen on the paper. She developed a form of automatic drawing, predating the surrealists by decades. Gradually, she eschewed her naturalist imagery, in an effort to free herself from her academic training. She embarked on an inward journey, into a world that is hidden from most people.

Press release from the Moderna Museet website

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Hilma-af-Klint-arbete

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Hilma af Klint
From A Work on Flowers, Mosses and Lichen, July 2 1919
1919
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk/Photo: Moderna Museet, Albin Dahlström

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Hilma af Klint. 'Evolution, No. 7, Group VI, The WUS/Seven-Pointed Star Series' 1908

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Hilma af Klint
Evolution, No. 7, Group VI, The WUS/Seven-Pointed Star Series
1908
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk, foto Albin Dahlström/Moderna Museet

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Hilma af Klint. 'Untitled' Nd

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Hilma af Klint
Untitled
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Hilma af Klint. 'The Swan, No. 17, Group IX/SUW, The SUW/UW Series' 1915

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Hilma af Klint
The Swan, No. 17, Group IX/SUW, The SUW/UW Series
1915
© Courtesy Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk. Foto: Albin Dahlström/Moderna Museet

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Hilma af Klint. 'The Swan, No. 1, Group IX/SUW, The SUW/UW Series' 1915

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Hilma af Klint
The Swan, No. 1, Group IX/SUW, The SUW/UW Series
1915
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk/Photo: Moderna Museet, Albin Dahlström

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Hilma af Klint. 'The Swan' 1914

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Hilma af Klint
The Swan
1914

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Symbols

Hilma af Klint’s imagery is full of symbols, letters and words. Symbols are like doors into another dimension. For Hilma af Klint, her entire work was about conveying the messages she received, and to shed light on the great existential issues.

It would be pointless to translate the symbols and letters in Hilma af Klint’s works into definite, unambiguous terms. They must always be seen in relation to the entire context. In her notebook Symboler, Bokstäver och Ord tillhörande Hilma af Klints målningar [Notes on Letters and Words pertaining to Works by Hilma af Klint] she attempts to clarify the complex meanings of the various signs. Here are a few general explanations:

The snail or spiral represents development or evolution. The eyelet and the hook,blue and yellow, and the lily and the rose represent femininity and masculinity respectively. W stands for matter, while U stands for spirit. The almond shape arising when two circles overlap is called the vesica piscis and is an ancient symbol for the development towards unity and completion. The swan represents the ethereal in many mythologies and religions and stands for completion in the alchemical tradition. In Christianity, the dove represents the holy spirit and love.

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Terminology

Esoteric and occult denote “the science of the hidden dimensions”. Western esotericism is a mixture of Neoplatonism, Hermeticism, Jewish kabbalah and the three occult “sciences” of astrology, magic and alchemy.

Spiritualism shares the conviction that it is possible to make contact with the spirits of the deceased. Modern spiritism was spread thanks to the Fox sisters in the USA in 1848.

Theosophy is a general doctrine incorporating inspiration from various religions and spiritism. The religions are regarded as different expressions of one fundamental truth. Theosophy teaches that the origin of everything, divinity, is inherent in every being. The Theosophical Society was founded in New York in 1875 by Helena Blavatsky and others. There is also an older form of theosophy that is significantly different to the newer version.

Anthroposophy is a life philosophy that originated in theosophy. Rudolf Steiner, who was the leader of the German branch of the Theosophical Society, left theosophy in 1913 to set up the anthroposophical movement. The two philosophies have a great deal in common, but anthroposophy in general has a stronger Christian element.

According to legend, the Rosicrucians were an esoteric society in Germany who engaged in alchemy in the early 17th century. Today, there are many secret orders that claim to uphold the Rosicrucian traditions.

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Hilma af Klint. 'Tree of Knowledge' 1913

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Hilma af Klint
Tree of Knowledge
1913

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Hilma af Klint. 'Primordial Chaos, No. 16, Group I, The WU/Rose Series' 1906-1907

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Hilma af Klint
Primordial Chaos, No. 16, Group I, The WU/Rose Series
1906-1907
© Courtesy Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk. Foto: Albin Dahlström/Moderna Museet

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Hilma af klint. 'The Large Figure Paintings, No. 5, Group III, The Key to All Works to Date, The WU/Rose Series' 1907

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Hilma af klint
The Large Figure Paintings, No. 5, Group III, The Key to All Works to Date, The WU/Rose Series
1907
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk/Photo: Moderna Museet, Albin Dahlström

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Hilma af Klint. 'The Ten Largest, No. 3, Youth, Group IV' 1907

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Hilma af Klint
The Ten Largest, No. 3, Youth, Group IV
1907
© Courtesy Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk. Foto: Albin Dahlström/Moderna Museet

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Hilma af Klint. 'The Ten Largest, No. 1' 1907

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Hilma af Klint
The Ten Largest, No. 1
1907

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Hilma af Klint. 'The Dove, No. 3, Group IX/ UW, The SUW/UW Series' 1915

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Hilma af Klint
The Dove, No. 3, Group IX/ UW, The SUW/UW Series
1915
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk/Photo: Moderna Museet, Albin Dahlström

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Hilma af Klint. 'Altarpiece, No. 1, Group X, Altarpiece Series' 1915

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Hilma af Klint
Altarpiece, No. 1, Group X, Altarpiece Series
1915
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk, foto Albin Dahlström/Moderna Museet

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Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Moderna Museet is ten minutes away from Kungsträdgården, and twenty minutes from T-Centralen or Gamla Stan. Walk past Grand Hotel and Nationalmuseum on Blasieholmen, opposite the Royal Palace. After crossing the bridge to Skeppsholmen, continue up the hill. The entrance to Moderna Museet and Arkitekturmuseet is on the left-hand side.

Opening hours:
Tuesday 10-20
Wednesday-Sunday 10-18
Monday closed

Moderna Museet website

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15
Jan
13

Exhibition: ‘Wolfgang Tillmans’ at Moderna Museet Stockholm

Exhibition dates: 6th October 2012 – 20th January 2013

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In this bumper posting, a big call: in my opinion, the greatest photography based image maker in the world today.

Tillmans challenges the way we think and feel about photography. As Tom Holert in his excellent catalogue essay The Unforeseen notes, Tillmans problematises and reconfigures narration and visualisation, experimenting with a sensory experiential backdrop against and within which the photographs are produced. Modes of perception and the regimes of emotion are inducted into the aesthetics of production and meaning so that, “the pictures communicate with each other in a way that is not bound to the pattern of a closed narrative or any particular line of argument. Instead they create a form of aesthetic and thematic interaction that Tillmans sees as ‘a language of personal associations and “thought-maps.”‘ The mobilisation and reversal of value and meaning are central strategies in Tillmans’ praxis.

In this way Tillmans opens up spaces for research, “in which learning and unlearning, resonance and interference, a new affective solidarity and real experimentation might be possible before the onset of all sorts of methods, all forms of governance, all kinds of discipline and doxa [common belief or popular opinion].

This form of experimentation does not lead to benchmark research results; nothing is ever proved or illustrated, regardless of what is in the images or what they may purport to show. Ever engaging in experiment Tillmans roams through the reality of materials, forms, affects and gives us tangible access to these unportrayble, unreferential realities. Tillmans engages his emotions when he is working, also and specifically when he is photographing people, or plants, machines and cities. Individual emotions separate off from the representation of living beings and objects and form nodes of emotion in the viewer’s mind.”

Through these rhizomic tendencies (a la Delueze and Guittari A Thousand Plateaus) Tillmans images generate emotion and affect, “rhythmically resonating between pictures, from wall to wall, from room to room, from side to side,” so that in each instance, in each publication or exhibition, he can “modify and modulate anew the relations between picture and picture support, representation and presentation, motif and materiality.”

Nothing is ever fixed in linear time. The work is presented as an infinitely variable, spatial and emotional relationship – an orthogonal performativity where the ritual of production and meaning is never fully predetermined at any stage of production and reception.

Read Tom Holert’s excellent catalogue essay The Unforeseen. On the Production of the New, and Other Movements in the Work of Wolfgang Tillmans which includes information on Jacques Rancière’s concept of “‘aisthesis’ for the way in which very different things have been registered as ‘art’ for the last two hundred years or so. As he points out, “this is not about the ‘reception’ of works of art, but about the sensory experiential backdrop against and within which they come about. These are completely material conditions – places of performance or exhibition, forms of circulation and reproduction – but also modes of perception and the regimes of emotion, the categories that identify them and the patterns of thought that classify and interpret them.'” A thought provoking text (extracts below to accompany the photographs).

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Moderna Museet for allowing me to publish the photographs and the text in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Installation photographs of various rooms of the exhibition Wolfgang Tillmans at Moderna Museet Stockholm, including Venus transit (2004) and Man pissing on chair (1997). Photographs © Carmen Brunner

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Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Arkadia_I' 1996

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Wolfgang Tillmans
Arkadia_I
1996
© Wolfgang Tillmans. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin

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Wolfgang Tillmans. 'New Family' 2001

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Wolfgang Tillmans
New Family
2001
© Wolfgang Tillmans. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin

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Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Paper drop (window)' 2006

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Wolfgang Tillmans
Paper drop (window)
2006
© Wolfgang Tillmans. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin

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“Wolfgang Tillmans is one of the leading artists of his generation and is constantly in the public eye, with exhibitions all over the world. The exhibition at Moderna Museet is Tillmans’ first major show in Sweden and brings nearly twenty years of picture-making to a new audience. Moderna Museet is delighted to welcome Wolfgang Tillmans – an artist who has extended the boundaries of photography and redefined the medium of photography as an artform.

Wolfgang Tillmans (b. 1968) first attracted attention at the beginning of the 1990s, with his apparently mundane pictures of subjects taken from his own surroundings. After studying in Britain, he published photographs in prominent publications such as i-D, Spex and Interview. Today, these pictures are considered trendsetting for the young generation of the 1990s, and raise questions about subcultures and sexual identities. By turning everyday situations into almost monumental images, Tillmans very strikingly captured the spirit of the times. It soon became evident that his pictures renegotiate photographic conventions and reflect contemporary currents related to culture and identity. Since then, Tillmans has continued his in-depth investigations, expanding the the realm of photography and redefining the very medium as an artform.

“Wolfgang Tillmans moves freely between images of the club scene in Berlin, political manifestations, and skyscrapers in Hong Kong; all with the same direct tonality. At the same time, all of his pictures explore photography itself – as a medium, but also as a material, convention and process,” says Curator Jo Widoff.

Recently Tillmans’ art has taken a number of different directions, revolving around various issues, everything from still lifes and modern landscapes to his lifelong interest in astronomy and the night sky. He has also taken his in-depth exploration of abstract photography even further. Tillmans’ abstract images are more closley related to the painterly tradition and he researches photography as a self-reflexive medium. Abstract images, such as Freischwimmer and Silver, are made in the darkroom, striking a balance between the deliberate and chance. Since 1995, Tillmans has been working actively and strategically with the exhibition space, so as to reveal the possibilities and limitations of the space in interplay with the photographs. His installations display a bewildering variety of formats and sizes, ways of composing the hanging of the pictures, and contexts. The exhibition at Moderna Museet should thus be seen as a site-specific installation. In recent years, Tillmans has been travelling the world taking photographs with the general title Neue Welt. These pictures relate to the new world of markets and trade, to politics and economics, and to the hypermodern. The title also refers to the new digital camera that Wolfgang used to take these pictures, which captures and documents more detail than we can perceive with the naked eye.

“Wolfgang Tillmans is one of today’s most prominent artists. Despite its visual complexity, his pictorial language is immediately recognizable. He captures the explosive energy in social situations and crosses boundaries between different artforms. He is able to use photographic means to create a kind of abstract painting,” says Museum Director Daniel Birnbaum.”

Press release from the Moderna Museet website

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Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Lux' 2009

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Wolfgang Tillmans
Lux
2009
© Wolfgang Tillmans. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin

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Wolfgang Tillmans, 'Iguazu' 2010

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Wolfgang Tillmans
Iguazu
2010
© Wolfgang Tillmans. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin

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Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Paper drop (Roma)' 2007

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Wolfgang Tillmans
Paper drop (Roma)
2007
C-type print
30.5 x 40.6 cm
Courtesy the artist and Maureen Paley, London

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Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Freischwimmer 93' 2004

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Wolfgang Tillmans
Freischwimmer 93
2004
© Wolfgang Tillmans. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin

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“The Freischwimmer series – Free Swimmer is the most basic Lifesaving level in Germany and Switzerland – is an excellent example of Tillmans’s more experimental works. On one hand, the huge photographic papers were affixed to the wall with simple adhesive tape or paper clips; on the other, the images eluded all description and eschewed portraiture, landscape, still life or other subject matters he had centred on up to then.

The creative process of Freischwimmer, ongoing to the present, seems to speak to pure photography, divested of any form of intervention either in shooting or in enlargement, or indeed optical devices of any kind. We can almost imagine the artist in front of a large tray with reagents, performing some kind of alchemical ritual at the origin of these vaporous images, images containing a refinement that exceeds any human intention, just pure representations of themselves, of a unique and absolutely unrepeatable process. Of their reality.”

José Manuel Costa. Swimming to Freedom 38 on the The CA2M Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo website

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“The Freischwimmer, which Tillmans started to produce in the early 2000s, form a group or family of images that are not made using a camera lens. As the results of gestural and chemical operations in the dark room, these originals on medium-sized photo paper, which are subsequently scanned and enlarged both as ink-jet prints and as light-jet prints on photo paper, are unrepeatable one-offs. It has been said that these images, which include ensembles such as Peaches, Blushes and Urgency, call to mind microscopically detailed images of biolog­ical processes, hirsute epidermises, highly erogenous zones, and that their aura fills the whole space – above all when they are presented in such large formats as in Warsaw or yet larger still, as in the case of the two monumental Ostgut Freischwimmer (2004) that used to grace the walls of the Panorama Bar at Berghain in Berlin. The Freischwimmer and their kin can be read as diagrams of sexualised atmospheres in private or semi-public spaces, in boudoirs or clubs, as highly non-representational images that both suspend and supplement conventional depic­tions of sex.”

Extract from Tom Holert. The Unforeseen. On the Production of the New, and Other Movements in the Work of Wolfgang Tillmans. Online catalogue

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Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Nanbei Hu' 2009

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Wolfgang Tillmans
Nanbei Hu
2009
Inkjet print
207 x 138 cm
Courtesy the artist and Maureen Paley, London

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Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Anders pulling splinter from his foot' 2004

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Wolfgang Tillmans
Anders pulling splinter from his foot
2004
© Wolfgang Tillmans. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin

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Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Onion' 2010

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Wolfgang Tillmans
Onion
2010
© Wolfgang Tillmans. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin

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Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Venus transit' 2004

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Wolfgang Tillmans
Venus transit
2004
© Wolfgang Tillmans. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin

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Extracts from Tom Holert. The Unforeseen. On the Production of the New, and Other Movements in the Work of Wolfgang Tillmans. Online catalogue
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Parallelism – Subjectivism – Objectivism

This all means that the decorative unity of wall and image, which the hanging of the Freischwimmer initially promises, is not only thwarted by the shift in dimensions, the infringement of symmetrical order and the (supposed) discontinuity of abstraction and figuration, and by the fact that the different types of image and their configuration on this wall require the viewer to move around in the space and to continually readjust his or her gaze, bearing in mind that in the corner of one’s eye or following a slight turn of the body more pictures are constantly looming into view, mostly unframed, very small (postcard-sized), very large, hung very low down, but also very high up, portraits and still lifes, gestural abstractions, a close-up of a vagina, a picture of a modern Boy with Thorn, street scenes, an air-conditioning system. It also means that the pictures communicate with each other in a way that is not bound to the pattern of a closed narrative or any particular line of argument. Instead they create a form of aesthetic and thematic interaction that Tillmans sees as ‘a language of personal associations and “thought-maps”‘,1 as ‘. . . a pattern of parallelism as opposed to one linear stream of thought’,2 and which the critic Jan Verwoert has aptly described as a ‘performative experiment’ with the viewer.3

With all their variability and flexibility – underpinned by an invisible rectilinear grid yet fundamentally open in their interconnections – these installations serve Tillmans as reflections of his own way of perceiving the world, as externalizations of his thinking and feeling, and as a chance to fashion a utopian world according to his own ideas and fantasies.4 However, this Romantic subjectivism of self-expression or externalization has to be seen in light of a radical objectivism (Tillmans attaches great importance to this) that specifically draws attention not only to the expressive potential arising from the ageing process, from evidence of wear and other precariousnesses in the materials of photography (paper, camera techniques, chemicals, developing equipment etc.) but also to the remarkable resistance and persistence of these same materials.

Amongst the phenomena that inform this objectivism there are those instances of loss of control that can arise during the mechanical production processes of analogue photography or from coding errors, glitches, in digital images. Temporality, finity, brevity come into play here – a certain melancholy that activates rather than paralyses.

Over the years Tillmans has constantly found new ways to explore, to interpret and to stage this dialectic of intention and contingency. His repertoire and means of aesthetic production have multiplied. And this expansion has not been without consequences for the presentation of his work. Tillmans himself feels that the character of his installations has changed since 2006/07, in other words, when different versions of a solo exhibition of his work toured to three museums in the United States. It was during this exhibition tour that Tillmans started to see the benefit of placing greater weight on individual groups of works in the various rooms of larger exhibitions. In so doing he gave visitors the chance to engage in a different kind of concentration, without the pressure of constantly having to deal with the ‘full spectrum’ (Tillmans) of his oeuvre.5

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Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Heptathlon' 2009

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Wolfgang Tillmans
Heptathlon
2009
Inkjet print
208.5 x 138 cm
Courtesy the artist and Maureen Paley, London

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Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Headlight (a)' 2012

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Wolfgang Tillmans
Headlight (a)
2012
© Wolfgang Tillmans. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin

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Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Ushuaia Lupine (a)' 2010

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Wolfgang Tillmans
Ushuaia Lupine (a)
2010
© Wolfgang Tillmans. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin

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Value Theory, Value Praxis

… The visitor to an exhibition of the work of Wolfgang Tillmans in the year 2012, in this case the author of these lines, arrives in expectation of a particular, clearly defined type of art and image experience. A sense (however fragmentary) of the artist’s past exhibitions and publications is always present in any encounter with his work. And this includes the need to see the ‘abstract pictures’ in the context of an oeuvre where realistic and abstract elements have never intentionally been separated from each other. On the contrary, abstraction is always co-present with figurative and representational elements. There is no contradiction between forms and matter free of meaning – that is to say, visual moments that on the face of it neither represent nor illustrate anything – and Tillmans’ photographs of people, animals, objects and landscapes; in fact there is an unbroken connection, a continuum. This applies both to individual images as much as to the internal, dynamic relationalism of his oeuvre as a whole. And it also applies to each individual, concrete manifestation of multiplicity, as in the case of the installation in the first room of the exhibition in Warsaw.

Both aesthetic theory and the institution of art itself provide decisive grounds for discussing photography and visual art in such a way that images are not solely considered in terms of documentary functions or ornamental aspects nor are they reduced to the question as to whether their contents are stage-managed or authentic, but that attention is paid instead to the material nature of the pictures and objects in the space, to their sculptural qualities. Having decided early on against a career as a commercial photographer and in favour of a life in art, there was no need for Tillmans to seek to justify the interest he had already felt in his youth in a non-hierarchical, queer approach to various forms and genres in the visual arts. For the young Wolfgang Tillmans the cover artwork for a New Order LP, a portrait of Barbara Klemm (in-house photographer at the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung), or a screenprint collage of Robert Rauschenberg in Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen were all ‘equally important’ images’.7 The mobilisation and reversal of value and meaning are central strategies in his praxis. He questions the ‘language of importance’8 in photography and alters valencies of the visual by, for instance – in a ‘transformation of value’9 – producing C-prints from the supposedly impoverished or inadequate visuality of old black-and-white copies or wrongly developed images and thus raising them to the status of museum art. However much he may set store by refinement and precision, he avoids conventional forms of presentation, that is to say, ‘the signifiers that give immediate value to something, such as the picture frame’.10

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Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Tukan' 2010

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Wolfgang Tillmans
Tukan
2010
Inkjet print on paper, clips

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Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Photocopy' 1994

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Wolfgang Tillmans
Photocopy
1994
© Wolfgang Tillmans, Courtesy Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Köln

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Conditions: Subject – Work – Mediation

If we take the line proposed by the philosopher Jacques Rancière, then the ‘aesthetic regime’ of the modern era, which – following the introduction of a modern concept of art and aesthetics – abandoned the regulatory aesthetic canon of the classical age in the nineteenth century, is distinguished by the fact that under its auspices the traditional hierarchies separating the high from the popular branches of narration and visualisation were problematised and reconfigured in such a way that a new politics of aesthetics and a ‘distribution of the sensible’ in the name of art ensued. Rancière has recently proposed the term ‘aisthesis’ for the way in which very different things have been registered as ‘art’ for the last two hundred years or so. As he points out, this is not about the ‘reception’ of works of art, but about the sensory experiential backdrop against and within which they come about. ‘These are completely material conditions – places of performance or exhibition, forms of circulation and reproduction – but also modes of perception and the regimes of emotion, the categories that identify them and the patterns of thought that classify and interpret them.’12

In order to understand why the work of Wolfgang Tillmans – so seemingly casual, so heterogeneous and so wide-ranging – is not only extremely successful, but has, for over twenty years, been intelligible and influential both within and outside the field of art, with the result that by now his praxis seems like a universal, subtly normative style of perception and image-making, it is essential to consider the ‘conditions’ alluded to by Rancière. For these are fundamental to the specific visibility and speakability of this oeuvre and to its legitimacy as art…

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The Production of the New

Tillmans thus also makes his contribution to an answer to the question posed by the philosopher John Rajchman (in response to Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault and their deliberations on the production of the new and on the creative act in present-day, control-obsessed societies). Rajchman asked how, in and with the arts and their institutions, spaces for open searches and researches could be devised, in which learning and unlearning, resonance and interference, a new affective solidarity and real experimentation might be possible before the onset of all sorts of methods, all forms of governance, all kinds of discipline and doxa.18

This form of experimentation does not lead to benchmark research results; nothing is ever proved or illustrated, regardless of what is in the images or what they may purport to show. Ever engaging in experiment Tillmans roams through the reality of materials, forms, affects and gives us tangible access to these unportrayble, unreferential realities. Tillmans engages his emotions when he is working, also and specifically when he is photographing people, or plants, machines and cities. Individual emotions separate off from the representation of living beings and objects and form nodes of emotion in the viewer’s mind. ‘Artists are presenters of affects, the inventors and creators of affects’, as Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari put it in What is Philosophy?, ‘they draw us into the compound’.19 And indeed Tillmans’ laboratories are places where emotion and affect are generated and presented, rhythmically resonating between pictures, from wall to wall, from room to room, from side to side. The dog asleep on the stones, its breathing body warmed by the sun (in the video Cuma, 2011), Susanne’s lowered gaze (in Susanne, No Bra, 2006), with the line of her hair encircling her head like an incomplete figure of eight, but also the disturbed, interrupted, lurking monochromaticism of the Lighter and Silver works – they all open up the longer you look at them, the longer you are with them, to a perceiving in terms of forces and affects. They alert us to the fact that all images are fabricated…

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Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Alex Lutz back' 1992

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Wolfgang Tillmans
Alex Lutz back
1992
© Wolfgang Tillmans. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin

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Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Smokin Jo' 1995

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Wolfgang Tillmans
Smokin Jo
1995
© Wolfgang Tillmans. Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin

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Wolfgang Tillmans. 'Lutz & Alex sitting in the trees' 1992

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Wolfgang Tillmans
Lutz & Alex sitting in the trees
1992
Inkjet print on paper, clips
208 × 138 cm

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Assimilating Photography into the Paradox

By virtue of the portability and variability of his works, with every print, with every exhibition, with every publication Tillmans can modify and modulate anew the relations between picture and picture support, representation and presentation, motif and materiality. In the two decades that have elapsed since his entry into the art business his praxis has continuously expanded. From the outset photography was his springboard for both integrative and eccentric acts. And even though this oeuvre may create the impression that the medium of photography knows no limits, photography – as discourse, as technique, as history, as convention – has remained the constant point of reference for all of Tillmans’ complex operations. It could also be said that he is immensely faithful to his chosen medium, although – or precisely because – that medium is not always recognisable as such. To quote an older essay on photography and painting by Richard Hamilton (whom Tillmans once photographed), his work is about ‘assimilating photography into the domain of paradox, incorporating it into the philosophical contradictions of art….’30 Since Tillmans’ experiments with a laser copier in the 1980s, he has produced hundreds of images that may be beholden to the etymology of photography (light drawing) but that also constantly undermine or overuse the social and epistemological functions of photography as a means to depict reality, as proof, as an aide mémoire, as documentation or as a form of aesthetic expression. The discourse on photography, with all its ‘post-photographic’ exaggerations, the debate on the status of the photographic image – none of these have been concluded; on the contrary, Tillmans is continuously advancing them on his own terms. His praxis forms the backdrop for experimentation and adventures in perception that are closely intertwined with the past and the present of photography and theories of photography; yet the specific logic of this oeuvre creates a realm of its own in which archive and presentation interlock in such a way that photography still plays an important part as historic and discursive formation, but the problems and paradoxes of fine art have now taken over the key functions.

The contagious impact of the epistemological problems of art has opened up new options for the medium of photography, new contexts of reception. And in this connection it is apparent, as Julie Ault has put it, that ‘Tillmans enacts his right to complex mediation’.31 In other words, photography provides a means for him to engage with a whole range of interactions with the viewer. In his eyes and hands photography becomes a realm of potential, where a never-ending series of constellations and juxtapositions of materialities, dimensions and motifs of the ‘unforeseen’ can come about. Photography thus regains a dimension of experimentation, an openness that is not constrained by aesthetic formats and technical formatting but that does arise from a precise knowledge and understanding of the history of the medium.”

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Extracts from Tom Holert. The Unforeseen. On the Production of the New, and Other Movements in the Work of Wolfgang Tillmans. Online catalogue

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Footnotes from extracts

  • 1. “Peter Halley in Conversation with Wolfgang Tillmans”, in Jan Verwoert, Peter Halley and Midori Matsui, Wolfgang Tillmans (London: Phaidon, 2002), 8-33 at 29
  • 2. Steve Slocombe, “Wolfgang Tillmans – The All-Seeing Eye”, in Flash Art, vol. 32, no. 209, November–Decem- ber 1999, 92-95 at 95
  • 3. Jan Verwoert, “Survey: Picture Possible Lives: The Work of Wolfgang Tillmans”, in Verwoert et. al., Wolfgang Tillmans, 36-89 at 72
  • 4. See Slocombe, “Wolfgang Tillmans – The All-Seeing Eye” (see note 2), 95
  • 5. See Julia Peyton-Jones and Hans Ulrich Obrist, “Interview with Wolfgang Tillmans”, in Wolfgang Tillmans (London: Serpentine Gallery/Koenig Books, 2010), 21-27 at 24
  • 7. Wolfgang Tillmans, email of 12 May 2012.
  • 8. Julie Ault, “Das Thema lautet Ausstellen Installations as Possibility in the Practice of Wolfgang Tillmans”, in Wolfgang Tillmans. Lighter (Stuttgart/Berlin: Hatje Cantz/SMB), Nationalgalerie Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, 2008, 27
  • 9. See Hans Ulrich Obrist, Wolfgang Tillmans (Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 2007 = The Conversation Series, 6), 41
  • 10. Gil Blank, “The Portraiture of Wolfgang Tillmans”, in Influence, 2, autumn 2004, 110-21 at 117
  • 12. Jacques Rancière, Aisthesis. Scènes du régime esthétique de l’art (Paris: Galilée, 2011), 10
  • 18. Zepke (ed.), Deleuze, Guattari and the Production of the New (London: Continuum, 2008), 80-90 at 89
  • 19. See Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 175
  • 30. Richard Hamilton, “Photography and Painting”, in Studio International, vol. 177, no. 909, March 1969, 120-25 at 125
  • 31. Julie Ault, “The Subject Is Exhibition” (see note 8), 15

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Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Moderna Museet is ten minutes away from Kungsträdgården, and twenty minutes from T-Centralen or Gamla Stan. Walk past Grand Hotel and Nationalmuseum on Blasieholmen, opposite the Royal Palace. After crossing the bridge to Skeppsholmen, continue up the hill. The entrance to Moderna Museet and Arkitekturmuseet is on the left-hand side.

Opening hours:
Tuesday 10-20
Wednesday-Sunday 10-18
Monday closed

Moderna Museet website

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24
Jul
11

Exhibition: ‘Another Story’ at Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Exhibition dates: February 2011 – end of the year

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A bumper posting from an exhibition highlighting a collection of over 100,000 photographs – how lucky are they! Many thankx to the Moderna Museet for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Another Story: Possessed by the Camera

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Annika von Hausswolff
‘I Am the Runway of Your Thoughts’
2008
© Annika von Hausswolff

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Andreas Gursky
‘Bibliothek’
1999
© Andreas Gursky/BUS 2011

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Candida Höfer
‘The Louvre in Paris X 2005 – the caryatid hall’
2005
© Candida Höfer/BUS 2011

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Thomas Ruff
‘Häuser Nummer 9’
1989
© Thomas Ruff/BUS 2011

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Cindy Sherman
‘Untitled’
2008
© Courtesy of the Artist and Metro Pictures

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“In 2011, Moderna Museet’s new directors, Daniel Birnbaum and Ann-Sofi Noring, will launch a new presentation of the collection. Another Story gives a fresh angle on art history, based on works from the Moderna Museet collection. We will start by focusing on photography, which will gradually be given a more prominent position, only to fill the entire exhibition of the permanent collection this autumn.

If you want an art collection to develop and stay alive, it can’t remain static. You need to present it in new ways and look at it from new angles. That may sound obvious, but it is not that common. In 2011, Moderna Museet will take a radical step, with Another Story. Photography from the Moderna Museet Collection. This is possibly the most extreme re-hanging of the collection undertaken in the history of the museum.

There is a growing interest in photography today, as proven by the panoply of exhibitions, fairs and festivals throughout the world. And this is hardly surprising. Nowadays, practically everyone is a photographer, at the very least snapping pictures with the camera built into most mobiles.

Moderna Museet’s collection of photography, ranging from 1840 to the present day, is one of the finest in Europe, featuring many of the most prominent names in photo history and comprising more than 100,000 photographs. The collection provides a historic background to the art of photography, and now we are sharing this with all our visitors. Moreover, several magnificent private donations have recently enriched the collection with works by famous artists practising in the field of photography.

Moderna Museet has one of Europe’s finest collections of photography, ranging from 1840 to the present day. Many of the most famous names in photographic history are represented, and the collection comprises more than 100,000 works. The re-hanging of the permanent collection exhibition will be done in three stages. In February, we will open the first part, Another Story: Possessed by the Camera, which presents contemporary photography-based art. Just before summer, we open Another Story: See the World!, presenting the period 1920-1980. This autumn, finally, we look at the early days of photography. Another Story: Written in Light presents the pioneers of photography from 1840 to the first three decades of the 20th century. In autumn 2011 and for the rest of the year, the entire permanent collection exhibition will consist of photography and photo-based art.”

Text from the Moderna Museet website

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Another Story: See the World!

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Aleksandr Rodtjenko
‘Sjukov-masten, radiomast i Moskva’
1929
© Aleksandr Rodtjenko

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August Sander
‘Die elegante Frau – Sekrutärin beine WDR’
1927/ca.1975
© August Sander/BUS 2011

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Christer Strömholm
‘Barcelona’
1959
© Christer Strömholm/Bildverksamheten Strömholm

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Christer Strömholm
‘Hiroshima’
1963/1981
© Christer Strömholm/Bildverksamheten Strömholm

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Irving Penn
Frozen Foods with String Beans, New York, 1977′
1977
© Irving Penn Foundation

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Irving Penn
‘Mouth (for L’Oréal), New York, 1986’
1986
© Irving Penn Foundation

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Another Story: Written in Light

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Julia Margaret Cameron
‘The Mountain Nymph, Sweet Liberty’
1866
© Julia Margaret Cameron

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Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Moderna Museet is ten minutes away from Kungsträdgården, and twenty minutes from T-Centralen or Gamla Stan. Walk past Grand Hotel and Nationalmuseum on Blasieholmen, opposite the Royal Palace. After crossing the bridge to Skeppsholmen, continue up the hill. The entrance to Moderna Museet and Arkitekturmuseet is on the left-hand side.

Opening hours:
Tuesday 10-20
Wednesday-Sunday 10-18
Monday closed

Moderna Museet website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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