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31 March, 2016

Life itself – New exhibition at Moderna Museet

Installation view of Life Itself at Moderna museum in Stockholm, 2016. Photo: Åsa Lundén / Moderna Museet

What is life? The new current exhibition at Moderna Museet in Stockholm (Sweden’s major modern and contemporary art museum) takes on this complex question. Newbie blogger and artist Pavel Matveyev views the exhibition, which is both overwhelming and at first glance even scary but also rewarding and inspiring. His encouragement to the visitor:

“Don’t jump to conclusions. Give yourself time, look at what grabs your attention and then try to understand why.”

 The exhibition called “Livet Självt” (Life Itself) consists of works created in the last 100 years, mixing over 40 artists and different artistic expressions as photography, sculpture, graphics, video and installations.

The exhibition Livet Självt (Life Itself) is on until the 8 May.

I Am Still Alive – On Kawara

My personal favourite in this show are the works of the Japanese artist On Kawara. His contribution to the exhibition is probably the least bombastic and can be hard to notice yet is says something about life and our time.

On Kawara’s piece consists of telegrams, which he sent from New York (where he lived most of his life) to a Swedish address back in the 1970´s. Apart from technical data and information on where and when the telegram was sent from and to whom, these yellow aged pages contain only one line:

“I am still alive”

On Kawara was part of the Conceptual art generation, which had the main ambition of stripping their work of any personal emotion and giving main value to the idea. On Kawara turned his life into an art project by making date paintings that consisted entirely of the date they were made. He also sent nearly nine hundred telegrams of this type to friends and acquaintances for more than three decades.

What struck me most in front of these weathered pieces of paper is that forty years later we still do the same. Facebook, Instagram, WhatApp, iMessage – you name it – are in most cases used to deliver the same message: when we post selfies, check-in at the airports, share what we consider interesting updates, we’re actually trying to say the same: I am still alive.

Another thought came after realization that On Kawara died recently, in 2014. Even though the artist is not on the side of the living, these fragile sheets behind the framed glass state the contrary.

GreenScreenRefrigeratorAction by Mark Leckey

In the first exhibition room you find the work of Mark Leckey that is supposed to give a direction to the whole show. In this work the British artist puts a spotlight on… a fridge. The sleek Samsung device would normally be claimed by its marketers as “intelligent”, highlighting its useful features of “remembering” the food it’s storing and reminding when it’s about to get spoilt, giving us indications when the device itself needs defrosting etc. Mark Leckey humorously turns this “intelligence” into a metaphor – the black refrigerator in his installation is trying to explain itself to itself, it’s given a voice – the one that actually belongs to the artist, although distorted.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres Untitled (Go-Go Dancing Platform) by Ellen Sturtevant

A completely different take on life – in a sense of feeling alive – is presented in the main room, where you find a platform with the light bulbs (image above. Installation view of Life Itself at Moderna museum in Stockholm, 2016.Photo: Åsa Lundén / Moderna Museet). The platform was supposed to be occupied by a go-go dancer – something you would normally encounter in a club and wouldn’t expect to see in an art gallery.

The work is called Felix Gonzalez-Torres Untitled (Go-Go Dancing Platform) and it is Ellen Sturtevant’s take on the late Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s installation Untitled (Go-Go Dancing Platform). For the original piece created in 1991 the Cuban artist specified that for five minutes each day, unscheduled and unannounced, a dancer clad in silver lamé shorts would ascend the lighted platform and dance to music of his own choosing, played through earphones so only the dancer could hear. The platform with the dancer was definitely one of the most animated – and socially engaging – works at the opening. But even an empty platform with the light bulbs continuously fading in and out is a powerful celebration of life – with all the connotations of passion, seduction and sexual desire.

Why does this matter to the world at large?

The exhibition addresses questions science and philosophy are unable to answer: What is life? How do we definite it? What are life’s boundaries? The show might not give satisfactory answers, but for sure will provide you with some fresh and often surprising views on the matter. And, most importantly, it will make you think!

How to get to Moderna Museet

  • Moderna Museet
  • Exercisplan 4
  • Metro station: Kungsträdgården
  • Open Wednesday-Sunday from 10:00 to 18:00, on Tuesday from 10:00 to 20:00
  • The exhibition Livet Självt is on until the 8 of May
  • Free entrance!

Written by: Pavel Matveyev

I am originally from Russia. In this blog I will write about exhibitions and cultural events in Stockholm. These are not going to be reviews or any sorts of art critics, but mainly picks on what in my humble opinion is worth seeing. Sweden’s capital has a great variety of state-run museums and private galleries that keep up with the latest global trends. So if you’re into art and design, you’re in the right place! And, contrary to the common opinion, seeing art here is not expensive – some institutions are totally free, some offer free entrance on specific days. And if you’re a student, it also helps – the majority of museums and galleries have discounts for the visitors like you. And if you like to see the art I’m working on, you’re very welcome to check out my website.

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