Category Archives: Art

…writing, art at home…

I am forever lost in the world of Art. In so many ways. And I love it. Just like Dante’s alter ego in The Divine Comedy’s opening lines of Purgatory, I find myself lost. He found himself lost among the tall, dark trees, lost in his middle age. I, on the other hand, find myself lost among paintings, ink sketches, water colours, reference books, auction house catalogues, antiques, artist biographies. It is a fantastic way of being lost, since the feeling makes me search and explore. I want to learn more, see more, find more. Ponder on what art and beauty gives us. On what it means. Revel in being adrift on the sea of fine arts.

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A small part of the reference library in my study. I can’t function without these books.

Having spent a fair amount of time writing a two-part article on art for a recently started magazine, I got thinking on what kind of art I surround myself with. What am I looking at when I’m at home? When walking through a corridor, walking out of the bedroom, sitting at my desk? What am I dreaming of acquiring to hang on my walls? To someone like myself even, who spends his life in the fine arts, it can easily become just a fascination. The hunt for another object or more knowledge on art becomes a way of life. It is easy to forget what’s around you.

Hard at work, but extremely rewarding as always.

Hard at work, but extremely rewarding as always.

When working, I don’t have any big paintings hanging around me. Just the books on the shelves in the study. They supply me with over 100,000 pictures if needed. Whichever period of art, whichever architectural movement, I can find something on most topics among all the books. But as a reminder of previous periods in life, I have two small postcards stuck to the window-frame. One of Paris, by van Gogh, and one of Amsterdam painted by Monet. The postcard over London, what feels like my second home town, has disappeared in a recent move.

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At times the personal has to come before professional pride. Also for an antiques dealer and art historian.

One of my favourite periods of art is Early Romanticism. It’s stretching from about 1790 until the late 1830s. It was a great period for Northern European artists travelling to the southern parts of Europe. There they learnt to handle light, shades, and got the oportunity to learn from the old masters visiting museums. The water colour became a medium for professional artists as well as for amateurs. Up until now it had not been an accepted medium for professionals. This makes the late Regency period, also called Empire and Biedermeier style in interior design and pictorial arts, very interesting. It is today possible to buy high quality water colours from the years around 1800 for almost nothing. Quite incredible really, but the style isn’t very fashionable for the moment. It was up until ten years ago. And will soon be again. For sure.

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Another favourite is this little adorable cherub by Johan Gustaf Köhler, painted in Munich in 1836. He was Carl Larsson’s teacher in sketching at the Academy.

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Water colour from 1806, painted by Sophie Tersmeden, hanging in the bedroom.

So what is someone like me dreaming of? Oh, a lot of things. But a few weeks ago I found a painting I felt I could not live without. But I forgot about the auction, and I guess that was just as well. The painting didn’t sell cheap. It was a beautiful oil painting of a passage under Colosseum in Rome, painted around 1815 by the father of the Danish “Golden Age”, C. W. Eckersberg. It sold for €24,000 which meant it almost doubled the asking-price. If I’d only had the money, and remembered the auction,  the painting would be hanging in my dining room now. I know the perfect wall! But until I have the oportunity to buy that kind of art, I will carry on leafing through my books for more knowledge and constant inspiration.

The latest in a pile of inspirational reads, "Ann Getty: Interior Style"

The latest book in the huge pile of inspirational reads, “Ann Getty: Interior Style”

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Filed under Antiques, Art, Auction Houses, Culture

“Good” Contemporary vs. Classical art and sculpture?

What qualifies as ”good art”? Some would say Rembrandt. Some would say Monet. The list can go on for ever. Long and winding with male names following one after another. Della Robbia, Da Vinci, Caravaggio, Poussin, Turner, Van Gogh, Larsson, Malevich, Rothko, Hockney, Hirst. You get the picture. Nicolas Poussin / Self Portrait, 1650 All these gentlemen are supposedly representing what the Western World would call ”good art”. Decided by a handfull of collectors, curators, auction house representatives and, not to forget, art historians.  The general public follow suit and consider the most expensive pieces of art sold at leading auction houses around the globe as ”good art”. Because if it isn’t good, why would someone pay $119.9 million for a painting? Point taken.

And ceartainly, ”The Scream” by Edvard Munch is a fantastic painting. All four versions of it. But one ought to question why. What is it that turn a painting into ”good art”? Is Damien Hirst’s ”The Golden Calf”, sold for $18.6 million in 2008, six and a half times less good than Munk’s ”The Scream”? I doubt it. Regardless if one finds an artist interesting or not, the question if his or her art can be called ”good” is a different cup of tea. But, sure, that depends on what one reads in to the concept of ”good art”.

Edvard Munch / The Scream / Auction at Sotheby's 2012 / Copyright Getty Images

Damien Hirst / The Golden Calf / Copyright Damien Hirst

I find it rather stupid to call certain pieces of art ”good” since, inevitably, some other pieces must then be called ”not very good”. I would rather one talked about if a piece of art stirs something inside you, touches you, makes you question the concept of art and the world around you. I can see that this sounds rather free spirited. Still, it is important that a piece of art makes you ask questions. Be it about yourself, your immediate surroundings, your friends, the world. Earlier today I saw a wonderful example of just that. Art that makes you question what we really see.

At Göteborgs Konstmuséum one of the recipients of the Sten A. Olssons Kulturstipendium 2012  made a huge impact on me. Her statues and groups of statues perfectly represents the beautiful clash between contemporary and classical art. Since I happen to know the collections at Göteborgs Konstmuséum quite well, I immediately saw a connection between some of the statues in the permanent collection and the pieces by Cajsa von Zeipel (b. 1983). The possible connection was what made me so exhilarated and excited over her work. I have no idea if the connection is deliberate or something I just imagine, but to see her orgiastic, lesbo-erotic Bedscene (2012)

Cajsa von Zeipel / Bedscene, 2012 / Photography C-H Malmgrenwith all the sexual tension, experimental lust of adolescence and all its insecurities literally ooze from the piece, and then know that on the top floor is The Water Lilly (finished 1896) by Per Hasselberg (1850-1894), which is the equivalent of von Zeipel’s work but 116 years earlier. Both represent female beauty in the way many male visitors would envision a young, beautiful girl. The femme fatale in perfect presentation, with a natural and naturalistic twist. What we want and what we see is not always comme-il-faut, but both Hasselberg and von Zeipel present the visitors with possibilities to dream, be scared, be carried away, wonder, question what we want or not want and what we dare or dare not to say. Regardless, the contrast is very effective.

Per Hasselberg / Näckrosen, 1896 / Photography C-H Malmgren

Also a second time does von Zeipel question our identity as visitors. This time it is the male who gets the same treatment as above. On the second floor, in one of the galleries with georgian statues and busts (now covered with white fabric by the artist) is the piece Runkballe (2012). A man with his underpants halfway down, masturbating, leaning againts a wall. Cajsa von Zeipel / Runkballe, 2012 / Photography C-H MalmgrenApart from some comic contrasts (is it deliberate or did it just happen by chance? I guess we’ll never know) with some of the 18th century statues next to it, by Johan Tobias Sergel (1740-1814), is another clever clash between the young, male identity of the 21st century and the romantic ideal in the piece Kägelspelaren (1871) by John Börjesson (1836-1910) that can be found on the same floor. John Börjesson / Kägelspelaren / Photography C-H MalmgrenFrom the beautifully toned, romantic sporting ideal to todays slightly anorectic, stressed and overly sexualized male. Is that how we are seen? Is that how we look? Is that how we are? I don’t know. But what I do know is that von Zeipel manages to gracefully overbridge and connect two completely different ideals. She manages to ask vital questions via her art. Questions about cultural identity, about belonging, about what we want and what we do. She puts questions in front of us that we can’t escape. To manage that is to manage the fine balance of creating interesting, and perhaps even ”good”, art. And that’s what it’s all about.

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January 13, 2013 · 11:37

”It has to happen now, or I don’t give a f**k…”

It’s early in the morning and I’m sat on the train. Just under three hours ahead of me before I reach Göteborg. Normally it’s quite a droll, but this morning I’m eavesdropping on a few retired train drivers discussing the state of the world and the development of our society. Their rural mentality might not impress me overly, but there has been a few good points. Intrestingly enough, they’ve been similar to the ones presented in the cultural section of today’s Svenska Dagbladet. I’m not yet sure what that says about Svenska Dagbladet and their reporters. Nor what it sais about me critizising the ”rural mentality” of the ex train drivers. Maybe their hands-on way of life is actually the healtier alternative.

Nevertheless, the thoughts their discussion has given rise to are on the need for instant results and immediate satisfaction in todays younger generation. A generation I’m part of, too, I might add. The generation of smart phones, Google, Facebook, Twitter and reality TV. The generation that prides itself of not having the time to read a book cover to cover, where it is cool to party ’till five in the morning and then be at the law firm or meeting a presumptive PA at six-thirty, ”tweeting” away to all ones followers  (what was once called ”friends”) in the cyber reality about how trashed and hungover one is while trying to get ones act together in a bathroom at a Starbucks. This is the generation where a long process, preparation and serious commitment is not worthwhile since it is too boring to wait for a result that might take longer than a week to get. This is a generation where platitudes like ”Oh, I’m sooo in to contemporary art and 21st century design” really means ”I looked at the picturs in the latest issue of Vanity Fair and, actually, read some of the text too!” When these are the people that will govern our countries in the future, no wonder the privatisation will continue being at the top of the agenda.

The problem is when this way of thinking amalgamates with the serious questioning of values, ideas, principles. The questioning is at the core of all serious cultural debate. Regardless if it’s seen as highbrow or not. The debate concerning the future of the Arts and humanities need a longterm analysis, a longterm plan and people comitted to being comitted. The Arts need people who are prepared to spend time reading, writing, taking in ideas new and old, cogitate, ponder, suggest. I am not as naive as suggesting the intelectual cafés’ of  1960s Paris ought to return with Sartre-like followers taking the lead, but they had a place then and something similar might have a place today. Resulting articles and papers being discussed widely ought to be part of the societies curriculum. Schools all over Europe have started giving classes in Rhetoric since it is important for the young generations to learn how to advocate a view in today’s individualistic society. That’s all good and sound. But, I wonder, how come it is important to advocate if you have no tools to analyse with and to reach a view to advocate for? Is it sound to be able to shout just for the cause of shouting? Not likely.

Since I am the one writing this, the focus is obviously the debate on the Arts. There are numerous examples I hope to be able to write about where the lack of cultural detabe have resluted in disaster for small theaters, opera companies, book publishers, buildings of importance (though not to the State) and so forth. Though for now, my question is if we are prepared to live in a ”quick fix” world where nothing, least of all the so called “intellectual” questions and thoughts, is allowed to take time and be given space. With the rife mindset of today it is as if we say; if it’s not instant success, it’s worthless. And I wonder, is that really true?

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Filed under 80-talister, Art, Contemporary Art, Culture, Instant success, Literature, Preservationist, Young generation

Antiques are “green”

In times like these, when the question about how to save our environment is fast spiraling down a big, black hole and the European economy seems to be joining the ride, I’d like to share a thought on the way we consume in our homes. I’m not talking about if we buy organic food or whether we choose to take public transport rather than the car to work. I’m talking about the furniture we buy and the so called decorative items that clutter many a home today. The useless small things we buy to decorate our homes with, all the knick-knack we buy. And then one day time we come across them stored away in a box and ask ourselves “how could I buy this?!?”  We simply throw it out after having owned it for a few years. No regret what so ever. No questions asked. All forgotten and actions justified with “it was cheap…”

My question is this: if we’d spent a little more money on each object, chosen it more carefully, stuck to what we really wanted and might need building up and decorating our home, would we consume and throw out equally as much? As opposed to buying a novelty candlestick in the shape of a beer bottle at a cheap high street shop for £2.99 that won’t be with us for long, couldn’t it have been worth spending £20 on a good quality, vintage or antique candlestick at an antiques fair or flee market? I’m not talking about the up-market auction houses or the Bond Street antiques shops where a Georgian silver candlestick easily reaches the £3000 mark. Comparing these kinds of items would be pure foolishness.

For me it is all about the mindset. In this day and age we are prepared to splash out on the most idiotic and useless items, but I want to underline that it is not the items per se I disagree with, it is the “why” and “how” we buy them. Goods from high street retailers and furniture from IKEA all have their place and deserved space in a contemporary home, rest assured, but why do we then throw so much of it away when we move or when we have a need to clean out our closets? This is where I believe we contradict ourselves.

Spending a fortune, however small, on something with no second hand value and that doesn’t last for longer than a few years is a mystery to me. Sitting on a Swedish Gustavian chair from the 1780s writing this, drinking tea from a favourite queensware English regency tea cup from 1810 might sound incredibly puerile and bourgeois, and if so I do apologize, but my point is that the furniture, decorative items, porcelain and what-have-you in a home filled with antiques and vintage doesn’t cost the environment remotely as much as the form-pressed plywood hidden in flat packs that are so popular these days. And it doesn’t have to be particularly expensive either. When we disregard the knowledge and the quality of hand made furniture, antique or from a contemporary designer, we choose to go with the ones who don’t care about in which direction our environment goes. I’m not saying that we all ought to be self-sufficient and never ever consume, that would be foolish. But maybe give that plastic candlestick or that novelty mug a second thought when you grab it in a shop later this week. Do you really need it? Does it really fill a purpose in your life? We all survive loosing £2.99, but as you might remember that’s not the point. The question is why ought I to buy something I will throw away soon and replace as quickly with another worthless item. So go green by buying something you want and will keep. Antiques and vintage is a good start on the right path. Or at least I think it is.

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Filed under Antiques, Art, Auction Houses, Vintage

What links two paintings together

Two paintings hanging in different museums on different continents. Two paintings in different medium, one watercolour and one oil, painted by two different artists. It is almost thirty years between them. One painter was Austrian. The other French. What links them? And why? And why does it matter?

This is not a particularly hard question if you’re an art historian. I’m not even sure anyone but me will find it fascinating. Still, I find it interesting that a fairly unknown, at least outside expert circles, watercolour painting I came across researching a thesis earlier today had me thinking “…what? Is that really the same person as in the famous Manet painting?” I am talking about Peter Fendi’s Evening Prayer from 1839.

Peter Fendi was born in Vienna in 1796. In the 1820s and 1830s he rose to fame, partly due to him being an early defender of the lithography technique where his erotic motifs could flourish and be easily spread among the faux prude semi-bourgeois in Vienna, but also thanks to his stunningly beautiful watercolour interiors. The interior above is simply called Evening Prayer, but it is not any old bourgeois family that is depicted. It is the Habsburg Archduchess Sophie and her four children. Sophie was married to the emperor’s youngest son, but because of various deaths in the family the oldest boy in the picture, the blond one kneeling by the crucifix, would later become the Emperor Franz Joseph. But it is not him I am interested in. The least important one, the youngest to the far left, was called Maximilian, and he would for purely political reasons be installed as Emperor of Mexico for a short time.
Why I reacted as strongly as I did is probably because this seemingly innocent and naive, trusting little blond fellow would become famous to us mostly thanks to the incredibly cruel and Naturalistic painting Édouard Manet would paint in 1869 (he made the first one in 1867, but the big and famous one was finished in 1869), Execution of Emperor Maximilian. A death is never easy, and in pictorial art it can sometimes be more touching than in any other art form. The death of an innocent child is even harder to accept. Though, the man being executed was not an innocent child, was he? He was a grown-up, an Emperor, a military man.

Regardless what one thinks of the political situation in Mexico in the 1860s, I find it touching to think about these two paintings in connection to each other. Though thirty years apart. The young boy kneeling a little apart from his other siblings, a little further back from the kneeler than the other three, sends out an energy of a child wanting to be part of something. But being the youngest son of the three, the likelihood of him ending up as a prince in a castle somewhere, forgotten, is very high. Though he might not know it, he can probably sense it, like all children can. That he would be installed as Emperor of Mexico by Napoleon III 25 years later, in 1864, he could probably not even dream of. When I look at these two pictures there is still a touching similarity, something to do with the loneliness in Maximilian’s energy depicted by both Fendi and Manet. In Manet’s painting he hold hands with two friends and fellow officers, Mejía and Miramón, guiding him into the eternal Light. That it is the same boy as in Fendi’s painting fascinates me. That two painting on their own are just depictions of a moment, a snap-shot of someone’s life, is nothing strange per se. But seen next to each other, as pendants, they create a whole new way of looking at art. They create their own, or rather Emperor Maximilian’s, closed universe. The beginning and the end. Maximilian’s Alpha and Omega. Isn’t that incredible?

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Filed under Art, Edouard Manet, Peter Fendi

A year in Amsterdam

I have now been living in Amsterdam for almost a year. Time flies, and I would like to share some of my pictures from the last year with you. Amsterdam is a beautiful city, full of life, versatility, different cultures. Great buildings, beautiful parks, nice beer. If you are looking for a few days away: go! You’ll love it. I won’t write too much about my experience of the country as a whole, that’s for another post. But here we go, enjoy the photos and I hope you will buy a ticket to go to Amsterdam soon.


Almost by Nieuwmarkt

One of my favourite spots is Het Spui, a small square with loads of bookshops selling books in all languages imaginable.

ABC, Het Spui



Athenaeum, Het Spui


Church Towers


Pretty corner house on the Amstel



Similar, but different, corner house



There’s a lot of small, private boats in Amsterdam



The Amstel at dawn


Bikes, the first love of the citizens of Amsterdam

Small man-made canal in Buitenveldert, Amsterdam Zuid

Bridge between Blauwbrug and Eremitage

Cyclist

Bike theft is common…

XXX is the city crest of Amsterdam

Nice private house on Prinzengracht

If in Amsterdam a canal tour is a must!

Traditional gas lamp outside private house on Herengracht

Telecom Tower, Amsterdam Zuid

Dawn by Sotheby’s Auctioners, Amsterdam Zuid

Autumn morning in Amstel Park

New York and London are miles better at Christmas lights. Dissapointment…

Snow storm in December by Station RAI

They love their tulips over here

More Tulips

From the roof terrace of the Public Library in July and December respectively

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Filed under Amsterdam, Architecture, Art, The Netherlands

I could have done that myself!

When earlier this morning I read an article by Michel Houellebecq in The Paris Magazine (a brilliant little publication from Shakespeare & Company in Paris) I started thinking about the concept of contemporary art and its availability to the general public. The article “Approaches to Distress” was on contemporary architecture and not on pictorial art per se, but the first few lines touched on a topic I often think about and that makes me frustrated out of my wits: people walking around exhibitions of contemporary art saying smugly to their company “Oh, look at that! I could have done that myself. Why do these so called artists get to call themselves artists when my four-year-old could have done it better? I just don’t get it!” No. Clearly you don’t. Houellebecq puts it like this

It’s well known that the general public don’t like contemporary art. This trivial statement in fact contains two opposing attitudes. The average member of the public, coming across a display of contemporary paintings or sculpture, will stop in front of it, even if only to laugh. His attitude will fluctuate between ironic amusement and outright sniggering. Either way, he will be aware of a certain element of derision. The insignificance of what is on display will be a reassuring guarantee that it is harmless. It’s true that he will have wasted his time, but not in the end in a particularly unpleasant way.

So what is it then that makes these selected few worthy of their place in the artistic top layer? Why are Jackson Pollock and Marc Rothko such stars, together with Malevich, Mondrian and a not insignificant number of others? Not to mention Picasso. Women with three eyes and five breasts?, you may say. How can that be any great? In my view it comes down to just one thing: they were there first. They came up with the idea.

There is no question about the truth in the statement that a four-year-old can paint like Jackson Pollock. Of course they can. But they don’t paint like him when they grow up, they consider it childish when they become teenagers. And with that attitude they don’t change the map when questions arise in which direction the art movement will go. But Picasso did. So did Malevich with his squares and white backgrounds. So did Jackson Pollock with his streaks of paint. They questioned and wanted to go beyond what was common and ordinary.

For me this is what it all comes down to. When we grow up we conform to society and keep to the same track our teachers, friends and family tell us to. We might not be content and we might be unhappy, but we still stick to the Big Plan that is shaped like it has been for hundreds of years. We are taught to “think outside the box” but as soon as we do no one dares to hire us and our neighbors start talking about us behind our backs. Why? Is that what we want? No, certainly not. But still, we allow ourselves to laugh at the artists that dared to change the art world and brake out of the conformity of the Academies and the monetary power of the patrons. So come on and celebrate them, think about what they did. Imagine yourself in 1918, having only seen traditional painting and then all of a sudden you’re confronted with an early Cubist Picasso. You might not have liked it, you might still snigger, but admit that it was pretty brave and amazingly stubborn of him to carry on with this idea of his. Well aware of what the critics and patrons were saying, there where master painters who had gone the traditional way through the Art Academy just like Pablo Picasso and still wanted to break out of the conformity.

I am the first to agree that Flemish renaissance painting is amazing and beautiful, but it can’t just go on like that. Next time you visit an art exhibition of contemporary art, look at it with new eyes. Think about what it takes to create what these artists created and still create. Laugh when it’s too weird, sure, but don’t forget what’s behind it. Remember the courage sometimes mustered to do what they did. To do what they do today. For us.

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Filed under Art, Contemporary Art, Michel Houellebecq, Pablo Picasso, Shakespeare & Company, The Paris Magazine