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“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