I remember being a little underwhelmed the first time I visited the National Museum in Stockholm. I recall thinking at the time it wasn’t very “Swedish” at all, with lots of European art, but nothing which told me much about Sweden. I’m pleased to say things have changed significantly in the last three years, and I spent most of the day there, with three main exhibitions.
The first I looked at was a silverware exhibition, with a large decorated banquet table the main focus. I couldn’t decide if the wire cage which surrounds the table related to the value of the collection, or was perhaps making a statement about the animalistic nature of the banquet, with chairs on their side. Perhaps it had an intended purpose, but ended up with another?
The second exhibition I looked at was called “Lust och Last” and it featured a broad range of eroticism – painting, sculpture, installation, video and photography – from the collection of the gallery.
My favourite work was a sculpture of an hermaphrodite. The body is reclining with its back facing you, though you can see the outline of breasts from under the armpits. There is a mirror, however, located on the wall behind the sculpture which allows you to observe the penis, and thus realise the complexity of the work.
There’s also a terrific installation piece of a headless man surrounded by papers and books, some of which had an erotic connection, others didn’t. Located above his head is a series of female torsos made from a very flesh like material (the same kind of material as dildos, or so I’m told). The work is called, “He was an assman, I guess”.
The same artist, Lars Nilsson also has a video work which features a woman masturbating in a darkened forest. The really interesting thing about the work was the stylistic similarity to some of Bill Henson’s work from a couple of years ago.
The third exhibition I looked at is called “Four Seasons” which consists mostly of 19th and early 20th century paintings of the Swedish city and countryside. There’s a couple of wonderfully romantic paintings of central Stockholm in snow (it’s amazing how little things have changed in 100 years) which I really liked, as well as some beautiful, joyful paintings of Swedish summer. I decided, by the way, I don’t like autumn. It’s not a very happy season, is it?
The museum also has a great section on design. As you might expect there’s some wonderful Swedish design classics, including some bent wood furniture, but there are also some wonderful prototype designs for televisions and netbook computers.
After wandering around for several hours, I spent a bit of time having a coffee and a brief look in the shop. Even though I had previously decided I wasn’t going to buy stuff here and take it back with me, there’s a couple of things I quite liked in the shop, including a clock that plays bird noises. How cool!