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"Anxiety and Desire. Surrealism in Scandinavia 1930-1950"
2004-02-01 until 2004-03-21
Bergen Art Museum
Bergen, , NO Norway

"Anxiety and Desire. Surrealism in Scandinavia 1930-1950". Bergen Art Museum in Norway. From 30 January until 21 March 2004. Later exhibition will tour two other collaborating museums: Goteborg Art Museum (Sweden) and Stenersen Museum in Oslo (Norway). The presented piece of Scandinavian art history (in a form of mainly paintings, several sculptures and two short films) was controversial then and is exciting and titillating now. The display is mapped out by countries and groups, what gives a clear view of the fragmentation of the whole and uniting similarities of one given group or a region. The biggest and closest to the "textbook" Surrealism is Danish section, followed by the Swedes. Works of Norwegian artists incorporate elements of abstractionism, expressionism and other stylistic trends of the time. While their neighbours were influenced by French Surrealists, Norway found ideas of German artists, including expressionists, more acceptable.

The Scandinavian Surrealists were eccentric and individualistic, their art received criticism and alienation in their home countries. They personally knew, exhibited internationally with and were inspired by S.Dali, P.Klee, V.Kandinsky, M.Ernst as well as other French and German modern artists of the time. A.Breton wrote introduction to their exhibition’s catalogue. It took a decade for the impulses of surrealism to reach the North. Art capitalising on free flowing dreams and sub consciousness started appearing at the shows of the early 1930-ties. Scandinavian Surrealism took few stylistic directions, which are presented well in the exhibition. One can see abstract, lineal automatic painting, abstract expressive, organic forms influenced by Miro, Klee, as well as figurative, realistically detailed illustrations of the dreams – in tradition of Dali, Magritte. In addition the work was heavily tinted by melancholy.

One of the key artists of the style Dane Wilhelm Bjerke-Petersen in his time was introduced by the "Dictionnaire abrege du surrealisme" (Paris, 1938) as the promoter of the Surrealist movement in Scandinavia. Another of equal importance - Wilhelm Freddie - larger than life personality was a local answer to Dali. His paintings and two surrealist movies in the best traditions of Man Ray and Dali are at the exhibition. His images are based on expression of scary dreams, unexpected erotic juxtaposition, abstract symbols and formal signs, borrowed from de Chirico, Tanguy and Dali. Rita Kernn-Larsen, Elsa Thoresen painted lyrical and mystical photographs of dreams, Richard Mortensen - abstract organic images, Sonja Ferlov Mancoba created curvy abstract bronze sculptures.

Swedish Surrealism is largely associated with the Halmstad Group, which consisted of six painters with links to the town with the same name: Brothers Axel and Erik Olson, Stellan Morner, Waldemar Lorentzon, Esaias Thoren, Sven Jonson. They accepted illusionist style, often painted coast motives: beaches, harbours, sea with a feeling of a theatre stage. Apart form S.Dali, who was greatest influence in forming their kind of photographic surrealism they heavily borrowed form R.Magritte and Y.Tanguy.

In Norway the style was short lived and took the darkest form fused with Expressionism. It faded away quickly after a massive attack from politicians, church, critics and artists. Norwegian artists developed style that touched Surrealism and stayed within limits of a more acceptable style. Bjarne Rise, Karen Holstmark and others tried to accept physical automatism – where dreams, free game and fantasy would take place in the creative process. Also are presented paintings of artists who worked on the periphery of Surrealism, developing powerful individual style: Olav Stromme with his dark images, Arne Ekeland expressing sexuality via semi cubist ideas, Erik Harry Johannesses, who used symbolic, spontaneous, more direct surrealism based on religious and moral conflicts, Kai Fjell, who did not pick up universal Surrealist symbols but let his own anxiety, personal fears take central place in his work. Many paintings contain social tendencies. Ironically, their revolutionary perspective found little understanding in workers’ environment. One saw Surrealism as expression of bourgeois individualism, dealing exclusively with intellectual problems of overclass. It was perceived as an immoral and egoistic form of art, self-absorbed and decadent. The rejection was so strong that artists moved away from abstract surrealism towards more naturalistic figurative style, and later in interviews denied they ever were Surrealists.

Today, however, it would be contradictory to view work of the Scandinavian Surrealists in the context of the fiery debates of those years. By now few generations grew up with the knowledge and acceptance of Surrealism. The exhibition provides some clues of developments that major art styles undergo in periphery. Scandinavian Surrealism blended with Abstract art, Expressionism and other Avant-garde trends of the time, producing a condensed example of modern art, which lived and gave impulses to the later styles by touching several aesthetic programs at the same time. A well prepared catalogue accompanies the show. It includes a comparative table of the Surrealist art events in Europe, whole of Scandinavia and specifically Norway.

- Ausra Larbey, Norway 2004

Rita Kernn-Larsen
Poppy, ca. 1935

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