It’s late Monday night, my final night in Sweden (sadly), and I’ve just arrived home from the music, fireworks and celebrity-spotting of the official opening of the long-awaited ABBA Museum.
The idea for a permanent ABBA Museum in Stockholm has been around since the end of 2006. The original idea was for the museum to inhabit the space now occupied by the city’s Fotografiska Museet. When that didn’t prove to be economically viable, the organisers launched a number of short-term exhibition spaces in a number of countries including two quite different exhibitions in both Melbourne and Sydney.
In Melbourne the exhibition was very much about the global story of ABBA (with a lot of Swedish language material); while in Sydney it was very much about the story of ABBA in Australia. Here in Stockholm, it’s very much the global story once again, though probably not as comprehensive as it was in Melbourne. In Melbourne, for example, there was a fair bit of material covering their individual careers after ABBA.
Naturally, there’s a fair bit of Australia in the exhibition here, due to the amazing success ABBA enjoyed, and because “ABBA – The Movie” was filmed mostly in Australia. There’s quite a good quote attributed to Bjorn in the exhibition. Reflecting on the record-breaking 14-weeks “Fernando” spent at number one on the Australia charts, Bjorn is quoted as saying something along the lines of how they have been forever grateful for the Australian “kick-start” to their career at a time when there wasn’t much interest in the group outside Sweden.
Of course you see the costumes, the gold records, the photographs and so on. You also get to see some of the recreated spaces from the story of ABBA, including the offices of Polar Music and the famous island shack in the Stockholm Archipelago where Bjorn and Benny composed many of their songs. These are lovely spaces, indeed.
There’s also some lovely intimate touches in the new museum. A few weeks ago, speaking at the International ABBA Day, curator Ingmarie Halling mentioned two of them. “If you’re in the ABBA Museum and you’re standing near the Ring Ring exhibit, you should answer the phone, as it’s probably going to be Frida. And if you see the piano suddenly playing, it’s gonna be Benny doing it remotely”, she told us.
The telephone call from Frida (or indeed any member of ABBA, as “they all have the number”, we were told) was inspired by a John Lennon exhibition in New York. When Frida heard that Yoko Ono would sometimes call the telephone there and speak randomly to people visiting the exhibition, she replied instantly that she would love to do that also.
“You want to start a riot?”, I said to a friend, as we stood near the telephone during the fan club preview on Friday. “I have an old fashioned ring tone on my phone. You go over there, stand next to the phone, and when I play the ring tone you answer it”, I joked with him. Of course we didn’t do that, as that would be cruel, but it gave us quite a laugh.
Ingmarie mentioned how all four members of ABBA had been interviewed for the exhibition, and how she was constantly checking facts to make sure everything was just right. She told us, for example, the lengths she went to trying to find out the real story about the transformation of the famous white piano from its previous brown colouring which has featured in the “archipelago room” of “ABBA World”. “Oh I can’t remember. There were so many pianos”, Frida reportedly told her with a laugh. All four members of ABBA have recorded parts of the audio commentary to accompany the tour.
Much of the interactivity from the previous ABBAWorld incarnations is there also, including a sixty-second electronic ABBA Quiz (I got 12 out of 12 correct), and the ability to sing along with holographic images of ABBA, and later download a video of your performance.
When she spoke about it a few weeks ago, I wondered how Ingmarie had maintained her enthusiasm for the project. You could imagine having spent several years of your life working on this project (and before that many years working with ABBA when they were an active group), Ingmarie would be a little bored with the project. However, she spoke with such passion that it was fairly evident that wasn’t the case. She spoke, for example, about exercising her own personal creativity in the design of some couches which will feature in the exhibition, and how she approached some young designers in Sweden to further develop that idea. “When you visit the exhibition you’ll able to sit and listen to ABBA on couches which look like a stack of vinyl”, she told us. Along the way, Ingmarie also mentioned she has been writing a book that will go with the museum. “It’s the one book about ABBA I might be willing to read”, Benny reportedly said to her.
When you know so much about something before actually experiencing it, there’s always the risk you will be disappointed. I wasn’t. The museum has been clearly put together with care and an eye for detail. I liked it very much and would recommend it to anyone visiting Stockholm.
And then of course tonight, we had the big opening event. As has become the “norm” for these big ABBA events, only three out of four ABBA members attended. Agnetha was a no-show. The only time all four have been seen together in decades was for the Swedish premiere of the “Mamma Mia” movie in 2008. I actually arrived in Stockholm the day after that appearance. I was determined not to miss this one, so I booked my flights only after the date for gala opening was confirmed.
Rather than concentrate solely on ABBA, the museum will have a longer-term focus on the success of Swedish music more generally. Apparently, that’s something all members of the band were keen to see when agreeing to support (and invest money) in the initiative. As such, the musical opening tonight featured a range of musicians performing a collection of ABBA songs, but also classics from Monica Zetterlund to Swedish House Mafia. As the museum also houses a hotel, our “stage” for the night was actually the hotel rooms. Windows and curtains opened and closed, and coloured lights focussed our eyes to the performers. It was spectacular, and of course ended with fireworks and a performance of “Thank You For The Music”