Stockholm’s National Gallery re-opened in October after a huge renovation supervised by Swedish architects, Gert Wingard and Erik Wikerstal; the gallery had been closed to the public since 2013 and the cost of the refurb was 1.2 billion Swedish crowns around £100 million sterling. I was fond of the old gallery but it was definitely starting to look a little dated and tired around the edges and I was curious to see what had been done. I was in Stockholm last month for a weekend visit and popped in.
Wow, what a breath of fresh air! The sweeping staircase, with the Carl Larsson memorials, leading to the entrance hall, looks much the same but fresher but otherwise what a change. The ground floor has evolved with the introduction of a new lecture hall and a sculpture garden reminiscent of that at the Louvre (albeit a little smaller); light pours in through the new ceiling comprised of small glass pyramids.
Upstairs, the walls in many of the exhibition rooms are brightly painted with vibrant blues, yellows and reds but this works well set against the elegant whitish greys of the marble columns and the vaulted ceilings. The hanging is chronological but also thematic- so you have Swedish National Romantic painters in area and Napoleonic art in another. Furniture and objets d’art art effectively mixed with paintings.
After or before your museum visit you can relax an exceptionally beautifully designed restaurant with sleek wooden dining tables, exquisite parquet floors and fabulous lighting (10 designers designed glass globes for a splendid chandelier)- a great place to have an open sandwich and a coffee in the morning or a glass of wine in the evening.
The museum can now exhibit 5,200 objects around three times as many as they could before the renovation. It is lighter, more spacious and airy, beautifully designed and is a museum of the twenty first century to compete on a world scale. I will be back and soon.
‘Wow did there used to be a public swimming pool here?’ my friend asked. A whiff of chlorine hit us as we entered the spacious white room with stained walls and tiled floors- an abandoned swimming pool stood before us, empty aside from bits of dust and debris. On the wall is a sign relating the history of the pool, beginning with its founding in 1901 thanks to generous funding from a Victorian philanthropist, through to its closing during Thatcher’s time and ultimately its sale for ‘luxury redevelopment.’ The pool was apparently where David Hockney got the inspiration for his first drawings of swimming pools and it had even featured in a novel. It all sounded fascinating (perhaps a little too fascinating). Indeed it was all fiction. The pool is the creation of Danish/Norwegian art duo, Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, most well known in the UK for their sculpture of the Boy on the Rocking Horse for the forth plinth in Trafalgar Square.
The Whitechapel Pool
Their swimming pool, in common with many exhibits in the exhibition is a social commentary. This is not the glamorous, inviting pool of Hockney’s work but a pool that used to be for the people but has been closed down and privatised. Rising gentrification has led to a loss of public places of enjoyment and indeed general welfare. Lying by the side of the pool is the abandoned carseat of a luxury car (the work is beautifully cast in bronze- it is very tactile and hard to believe that it is not covered in soft leather).
Pregnant White Maid, Aluminium, stainless steel, clothes.
Other works in the exhibition include a sculpture of a young boy staring at a gun and even more eerily one of a boy in school uniform sitting crouched by the fireplace; nearby stands a maid hands behind her back and heavily pregnant. The viewer can weave a whole story here. Not all is misery and sadness though-there are touches of humour throughout, notably in the double pair of Levi jeans and Calvin Klein underpants left hurriedly on the floor. There is plenty to explore and think about here and the craftsmanship is highly skilled and beautiful.
This is How we Bite Our Tongue is at Whitechapel Art Gallery until 13th January 2019.