Today, it was announced that Norway, Sweden and Finland will pick up the thread of past collaborations: the three countries will present joint exhibitions in the Nordic Pavilion at the Venice Biennial as of 2017. The 2017 show will be the first joint Nordic exhibition since 2009, where artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset curated the exhibition The Collectors. From 2010 onwards, the pavilion designed by Sverre Fehn has hosted successive exhibitions arranged by the participating countries in turn. Shortly before Christmas, the exhibitions presented in the last six years were evaluated by Moderna Museet (Sweden), FRAME – Finnish Fund for Art Exchange, and OCA – Office for Contemporary Art Norway, and their verdict was clear: it makes sense to arrange the next three biennials jointly.
The countries will take turns assuming the overall curatorial responsibility for the joint biennial exhibitions, just as they used to do before 2010. The first round falls to Moderna Museet, which has appointed Mats Stjernstedt as curator.
– We are very pleased indeed to have secured Mats Stjernstedt as curator of the Nordic pavilion in 2017. He is known as an excellent curator with deep insight into contemporary art, particularly in the Nordic region, says Ann-Sofi Noring from Moderna Museet in a press release.
Mats Stjernstedt has been artistic director of Kunstnernes Hus in Oslo since 2011. Born in Gävle in Sweden in 1968, he holds a degree in art history from Lund University. Stjernstedt was head of Index – The Swedish Contemporary Art Foundation in Stockholm from 2001 to 2009, and has worked as an art critic for publications such as Aftonbladet and Artforum.
– Being offered this job is tremendously exciting. I have already had meetings with Moderna Museet, and I am confident that we have an excellent basis for fruitful collaboration. Everyone involved is very curious about what it means to present a Nordic pavilion today. As yet, things are very open-ended, and this is very attractive to me, says Stjernstedt to Kunstkritikk.
He will continue to hold his current position at Kunstnernes Hus, but is preparing to travel extensively in the Nordic countries and the rest of Europe in the months to come, before he is ready to present an exhibition concept to the three Nordic organisations.
– The fact that the three countries are going back to their former practice of co-operating on joint exhibitions at the Nordic Pavilion is very positive, but I am not interested in the old format of simply having three artists represent their own countries. The idea now is for me to create a different kind of exhibition.
JOINT EXHIBITION, JOINT FUNDING
Norway, Sweden and Finland first joined forces to create a Nordic pavilion as the setting for joint Venice Biennial exhibitions back in 1962. During the first decades following this decision, each of the three countries chose their own artists for the biannual shows, but from 1986 the overall curatorial responsibility was given to one country at a time, while still ensuring that artists from all three countries were featured. In 2010 this format was changed: the pavilion was dedicated exclusively to one country at a time. The reason for this decision was a desire to introduce greater freedom in the choice of artists, works and exhibition formats. However, the decision also followed in the wake of several years of conflict between the three participating countries; a tension that was most visibly expressed when Finnish artist Laura Horelli withdrew from the exhibition in 2005. Sweden was in charge of the Nordic Pavilion in 2011, presenting works by Fia Backström and Andreas Eriksson. In 2013 the scheme of having just one nation in charge at a time resulted in Finland having two pavilions in Giardini. The curators’ collective Gruppo 111 presented exhibitions by the artists Terike Haapoja at the Nordic Pavilion and Antti Laitinen in the Finnish Alvar Aalto pavilion. The final instalment of this round of national exhibitions was last year’s Rapture featuring Camille Norment, arranged by OCA.
– As far as Norway is concerned, working independently with the pavilion has been a highly positive experience. Even so, the decision to return to our previous collaborative format is based on a number of reasons, including pragmatic ones that have to do with cost management and administrative obligations. However, our shared wish to explore what working across the region means today has also been a crucial factor, says OCA director Katya García-Antón to Kunstkritikk.
When the old format was abandoned in 2010, reception was mixed. Some believed that regional collaboration had become obsolete in a global world. When asked whether she believes that the attitudes towards regional politics have changed, García-Antón replies that discussions on how and whether an artist can represent an entire society will always arise, regardless of whether the pavilion in question is regional or national.
– What has changed is that people were far more literal in their treatment of regional questions ten or fifteen years ago. Today we take a more complex and critical approach, not just to regional issues, but also to the question of nationality. Our new collaboration takes that as its starting point.
What have you agreed in terms of the curatorial work? Are the curators expected to adhere to any specific formats?
– We have tried to make the format as flexible as possible for the curators, thereby allowing them to introduce innovative elements to the process. There is one firm condition, however: the project must include artists from each of the three countries. But we haven’t settled the question of whether the curator must be native to a Nordic country. At some point it might be possible to invite a curator from a different part of the world to take a look at the Nordic region, says García-Antón.
In 2011 and 2013 the Norwegian contributions were arranged outside the Venice Biennial’s main site, Giardini. The lecture series The State of Things was held at various institutes of education in Venice in 2011. That same year Bjarne Melgaard arranged the exhibition Baton Sinister in co-operation with students from the visual arts programme at Università luav di Venezia. In 2013 the exhibition Beware of the Holy Whore, featuring Edvard Munch and Lene Berg, took place in a building near St Mark’s Square. At this point in time OCA had such difficulties finding funds for their participation that former director Marta Kuzma argued in favour of reassessing the rota scheme in 2012. Last year, Camille Norment’s biennial show was saved thanks to a donation of NOK 1.1 million from private enterprises. All this means that as far as OCA is concerned, securing a more stable and robust financial basis for taking part in the biennial is crucial.
How will the joint Nordic pavilion be funded in the years to come?
– We have entered into an agreement where each country has committed to contributing half a million kroner to a shared pool of funds each year. In 2017, when Sweden is responsible for the pavilion, Sweden will pay a minimum of one million kroner. The same will apply to Norway and Finland when they hold the curatorial responsibility, explains García-Antón.
The rota for the curatorial responsibility for the next three biennials will be as follows: Moderna Museet, Sweden, will be responsible for the 2017 exhibition. The 2019 pavilion will be arranged by Frame Visual Art Finland, followed in 2021 by the Office for Contemporary Art Norway (OCA).