Devil may care, the Nordic Pavilion, Venice Biennial 2003, artists Karin Mamma Andersson (Sweden), Kristina Bræin (Norway) and Liisa Lounila (Finland)
A rumour during the opening days of the Venice Biennial had it that some forty gallerists from all over the world were lining up in the Nordic Pavilion to sign up with the artist Karin Mamma Andersson, representing Sweden. The rumour could very well be true. In fact, I found myself looking for red “sold” dots inside the pavilion. Andersson’s paintings are easy to like, I guess, and they have perfect measurements for home installment. Personally, I’m not overwhelmed by the artistic value of the paintings. I will not however highlight poor artistic performances in the exhibition here – there’s no need for that as it is actually already implied within its the very concept behind the exhibition.
The two female curators, Andrea Kroksnes and Anne Karin Jortveit, chose three female artists for this year’s Nordic exhibition. They claim that aside from the common gender, the artists share nothing except an approach of devil-may-care – hence the title. This means that the artists don’t bothered with making what is considered Grand Art but engage in an ”undomesticated practice that moves wildly around in consecrated mainstream culture”. The question naturally arises whether the artists chosen make art which in general is not considered to be good. It’s hard to understand why it would be of any interest to show/see mediocre Nordic art in the context of the Biennial. The curators wished to make a more humble exhibition than the ”Best Show Ever” kinda’ thing usually with pompous and utopian statements. Instead they’re highlighting catchwords like ”collaboration” and ”compromise”. This close-reading of Jante seems to be the problem which earlier restrained Nordic artists from ambitious or cocky projects. Hopefully this exhibition is no indication of a regression to a to lower profile ambitions.
Gender identity as a concept is as uninteresting as national identity. One can simply use a quote by Sonia Hedstrand from the catalogue which sums it up: ”When the most important selective criterion is gender, all other factors – theme, quality, topicality, or any of the many other important factors – become secondary”. Hedstrand is here, of course, referring to any male curator’s exhibition, but it is as true no matter what gender the curator/s (or artists) have.
It is hard to comprehend how showing mediocre art made by women could break up the existing (male) hierarchies, also how this would be particularly insubordinate. One had hoped for a somewhat headstrong exhibition with some balls – at least according to the title – instead the curators seem to have rolled over, submissively and in ”compromise”. The curators were ”determined to frustrate the demand to present women as marginal”, and I’m afraid that they've succeeded. Moreover, this is done, unfortunately enough, in a very politically correct manner. It is extremely hard to see how any artist could gain anything by a curatorial ambition ”not seeking to impress”. Mamma Andersson is however gaining a lot by dominating the space of the pavilion (not very humbly or ”femininely”, by the way), installed in a traditional style.
Luckily enough, it’s not far to some interesting Swedish art at the Biennial. The Delays and Revolutions section in the Italian pavilion includes the young artists Johanna Billing, Jonas Dahlberg and not the least Uruguayan-born Juan Pedro Fabra Guemberena who exhibits high-quality works, all with an edge and true ambition.