7. februar - 1. juni 2014

In its current form, the Nordea Norway Art Collection (Nordea Norge Kunstsamling) has been built up over the last 14 years. The principle behind this has been to collect several works by selected individual artists, both Norwegian and foreign. Around these, single works by artists have been purchased if their idiom and medium relate to any of the artists that have been collected in a slightly larger number

Suggestions of Signs

Act Three – Selections from the Nordea Norway Art Collection

7 February – 1 June

In its current form, the Nordea Norway Art Collection (Nordea Norge Kunstsamling) has been built up over the last 14 years. The principle behind this has been to collect several works by selected individual artists, both Norwegian and foreign. Around these, single works by artists have been purchased if their idiom and medium relate to any of the artists that have been collected in a slightly larger number. This results in clusters of artworks that are reminiscent of each other, which have a kind of artistic family resemblance. This cluster formation is the reason that the first presentation of what was then the entire Nordea Norway Art Collection at the Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter in Høvikodden was called Clusters.

There are several reasons for this collecting strategy. Firstly, a private company’s collection cannot have the ambition of being a representative collection. Secondly, the collection is actively used in the bank’s properties, to decorate meeting rooms, corridors and the lobby of its headquarters in Oslo, and it is thus a good idea to have groups of three, five or seven pictures that have something in common. In addition, small exhibitions are organised in a small gallery area in the headquarters’ lobby.

The collection has been shown twice before in art museums. First, Clusters in Høvikodden in 2007, after which a large selection was exhibited under the title Clusters – Remix at the Haugar Vestfold Kunstmuseum in 2010. This exhibition at Drammen Museum is the third and its title is Act Three (Tredje Akt). This is because it is the third time the collection has been shown in a museum, and this time it is in three rooms. This makes the exhibition a third act, and also an exhibition in three acts. Choosing an expression that is used at the theatre plays on how each exhibition is a staging. There is no neutral way of displaying art to make independent of its location; your senses also respond to the space it is in and this affects your overall experience of the art. Each hanging does something with the pictures, so that the same picture is experienced a little differently every time it is placed is a new context, with other pictures and in other rooms. This is why the selection of artworks and the rooms and the context in which they are shown is a deliberate and planned action by the curator. The alternative is indifference and chance, and the results will be worthless. (Chance as an artistic strategy is something entirely different; then the curator must be very precise when working on creating the exhibition). The exhibition is built up as three very different groupings in three very different rooms. First, the public enter a small lobby, after which they can enter a large, lit room or a long and narrow side gallery with good indirect lighting from the north.

The first room could well have been called “Welcome”, because here one encounters faces that look right at the observer or at something in the room. The faces are gentle or thoughtful. There is a positive and open atmosphere in the room. One small painting cannot be seen when you enter, it hangs to the left, facing the opening into the larger room. It is only when you are inside this room and look backwards, moving in the direction of the opening, that you look directly at the figure of a man who is taking a photograph of his meeting with the person moving towards the picture. Just as surely as the observer sees and stores images, the picture sees and stores images of the observer who is “taken” by the man with the camera.

The larger room is the “black room”. It is not a black box of the type found in the theatre, but there is a melancholy gloom in much of the art. The atmosphere is heavy, dynamic, and has visual drama. In this room there is a mixture of techniques in addition to the sculptures and relief. There are paintings, photography and drawings, prints and paper collages. Each of these techniques has its own visual register of feeling that the public can sense if they take the time to look, not just at the picture’s motif but also its physical surface. This material-based sensuality is experienced as a quality in itself, some positive and tangible. But there is also a meaning to experiencing the difference between photo paper with ink, photo paper with a photographic print, coarse paper with crayons and charcoal and smoother paper with printed text. The way they are hung draws attention to the differences between the various surfaces, thus reinforcing the experience and the knowledge of each surface and each medium’s irreducible and irreplaceable quality.

The dark and weighty often appear as abstract qualities, experienced as a bass note in the room. Sometimes they are experienced through the of finger signs and the idiom of a heavy, ageing male body (John Coplans), other times as a rhythmic movement in a visual choreography of elements (Barry Le Va), and others in the form of simple written phrases (Bruce Nauman). Even if the simple word and sentence, NO and CLEAR VISION (written in reverse), are easy to read and understand, these word-images also have a clear physical presentation. They have been given physical form, which gives material its own importance in addition to the sentence’s significance. There may be somewhat of a collision of meaning, as Clear Vision could do with a clean-up to remove some of the black printing left over after the words have been printed.

Mari Slaattelid’s five silhouettes of a landscape taken from a Renaissance painting and the nocturnal atmosphere in Dirk Stewen’s sewn-on confetti-star heaven provide a late-Romantic twilight mood. The sculptures in this room either give a kneaded, compact and heavy impression, or of something stiff and rigid, and somewhat twisted. The idioms in the room are all more or less abstract; even the photographs show such separated and fragmented parts of the visual world that they are read more as signs than as depictions of entire situations. They add to each other, together becoming the actors in a tight, shadowy drama that each person must interpret for themselves. The public can think about how these artworks, in this context, affect their experience of the room and the pictures in it.

The third room is in a major key; it is long, narrow, and colourful and is also the most dynamic room. The atmosphere is refreshing and uplifting. It is lush here. The two sculptures (by Sverre Wyller and Ida Ekblad) are extremely powerful. They have been put together using deformed parts of monumental industrial buildings. H-beams of enormous dimensions and rebar have been bolted and welded together. The sculptures feature remains of bright colours, as well as rust and jagged edges left by the cutting torch that dismembered the parts during demolition. The twisted elements are the result of machines that used formidable forces when pulling down the buildings, pushing down and tearing apart what was once an entire construction. The practical and functional have been recycled as aesthetic objects, as non-useful art objects.

Some of the works are in the borderland between relief and painting (Tilman Hornig), while others are monumental paintings in an abstract-expressionistic style. The sculptures, reliefs and paintings are similar in style, typical examples of the post-war expressionist idiom. Some of the paintings are extremely big (Per Kirkeby, Troels Wörsel, Christian Blandhoel, Bjarne Melgaard and Kira Wager). The two woodcuts signed Mattias Mansen are also huge for being prints. Usually, we see paintings and prints of this size in large rooms with a good distance to the works. Here, you have to observe them from close up. Not only because the rooms is small, but also because in some places the sculptures shadow the picture, preventing it being seen from a distance. You are forced to get close to the pictures, to get right up to them, and then something new happens to the art experience.

Looking at large works close up increases the intensity of how you experience the colour. The experience of pictorial art seen like this, close up on large surfaces, results in a physical, corporeal experience, not just an optical one. Walking up to a painting, print, photograph or sculpture allows the work’s physical expression to become almost intrusively strong, as does our knowledge of standing in front of a work created by a person to be seen and felt by another person. The painting and sculpture is not just an image, a projection on a screen, but a part of a place, where the entire situation between the work and observer is charged with energy. It is this feature of the post-war era’s large, abstract painting that made it possible to look at the painting of a picture and experience a painting as something performative, an event that unfolds in full, human size and in real time. The large painting and the act of painting by Christian Blandhoel, which can be seen on the television screen beside the brush guitar, is a result of just this recognition. This was called action painting in the US in the early 1950s. The painter’s movements and the observer’s movements in front of the large painting were seen as a type of choreography, that the picture choreographed the observer’s experience as a repetition of the painter’s actions. We can also see action art in the two mirrors on the floor, leaning against the wall. These are the result of artist Tilman Horning conducting the action of smashing the mirrors with strong hammer blows. This event was immediately followed by writing, where he commented on the work using lipstick; it was either “Awesome”,[1] or “Sold”. The works were conducted as a performance during the art fair in Basel in 2012. Nordea’s arts committee was in the audience and had talked to artist just beforehand – he is represented by seven works in the collection – they bought one mirror and ordered another. He responded to this and accepted the purchase by writing “Sold” on it as soon as it was smashed, as the artwork had been sold immediately. He shows how important the transaction is in the modern art world, where buying and selling and critical artistic values (“it’s awesome!”), are part of providing motivation for artistic production.

At this exhibition, all this takes place in the third and final act of the exhibition with the same name.

It has long been known that the experience of art and architecture is dependent on the observer’s position in relation to that being viewed. A changed position gives a changed experience. For example, if something is hung high up, people walk backwards to see it better. At this exhibition, the works’ place and position engage observers, so they actively reflect on their own experience; the observer is engaged by the works. In this way it is not only the pictures that are staged, each person’s experience is also staged in dialogue with and in an encounter with just these works in just this constellation at just this exhibition. This only lasts as long as the exhibition lasts. Next time an exhibition is put on by the Nordea Norway Art Collection, something else will happen.

The book Clusters, which describes many of the works in greater detail, is available for purchase at the exhibition.

The exhibition’s curator is Åsmund Thorkidlsen, who has selected and hung the works. It should be noted that he has been part of building up the Nordea Norway Art Collection over the last 14 years, participated in the hanging of Clusters in Høvikodden and curated the Clusters Remix exhibition at Haugar Vestfold Kunstmuseum.

Åsmund Thorkildsen, Museum Director


[1] “Awesome” actually something means something that induces awe, but its current usage among young people is far looser, used as a positive expression about something you really like there and then. It is somewhat more respectful than Facebook’s flat “likes”. “Awesome” as it used by Tilman Hornig is the more modern, youthful variant and is not used without a touch of self-irony.

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