09 January 2012

Scandinavian Modernism

"Girl Under the Apple Tree" Edvard Munch (1904)

A couple of months before the historic Armory Show opened in New York in February 1913 another art show, "Exhibition of Contemporary Scandinavian Art," had already shocked the crowds. Included among the artists receiving their first American showing was Edvard Munch. His work alone (take a look at that tree) was probably shocking enough for the viewers.

Now 100 years later, the Scandinavia House in New York has compiled a less radical but still impressive exhibit with many of the same artists in "Luminous Modernism: Scandinavian Art Comes to America 1912." With representation from all of the Scandinavian countries this time, the exhibit throws a light on some artists still little known outside Europe.

“Interior of Woman Placing Branches in Vase on Table” Vihelm Hammershoi (1900)

From the almost Old Masters quality of "Interior of Woman Placing Branches in Vase on Table" by the Danish Vilhelm Hammershøi to the Mattisse-like "Nude Woman" by Norwegian Jean Heiberg to the very Nordic "South Mountain" by the Swedish Karl Nordström, the exhibit illustrates the often conflicting pull these artists felt between their Nordic cultural heritage and the French influence so prevalent at the beginning of the century. 

Included in the exhibit are some very recognizable names—Anders Zorn, Carl Larsson, and of course, Evard Munch. While familiar, their work was not my favourite. I much preferred the Icelanders whose work appeared even vastly different from that of their fellow Scandinavian artists. In particular I adored "Moonlight," a small watercolour of a young woman waiting on the rocks by Ásgrímur Jónsson that was both hauntingly romantic.

At a time when the mention of Scandinavia usually brings up the names Stieg Larsson and Ikea (I'm exaggerating a bit but not really) this exhibit is particularly refreshing. So if you can, check it out and see for yourself
what other New Yorkers did so many years ago. 

"Luminous Modernism" is at the Scandinavia House through February 11, 2012. In addition to exhibits, they host movie screenings, lectures, and have a great restaurant, the Smörgås Chef @ Scandinavia House. For more information, visit their website here.

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