Nordic Art Hits the US Capital

1905 The Road to Borre oil on canvas 70 x 100 cm Munch Museum, Oslo

Response to Nordic Impressions, a major exhibition of Nordic art, was kind in Seattle. But, moving to Washington, D.C.,  a city with a lower population of Scandinavian immigrants, will its popularity wane?…

Xander Brett

The United States will for the next few months be blessed with one of the most comprehensive displays of Nordic art for decades. The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. will display art from Scandinavia, Iceland and Finland over the past two centuries, representing over fifty three artists, from the founding fathers – Edvard Munch, Vilhelm Hammershøi, Anders Zorn and Aklsei Gallen-Kallela – to contemporary artists Ólafur Eliasson, Ragnar Kjartansson and Katrín Sigurðardóttir. It’s the culmination of the ‘Nordic Cultural Initiative’, a scheme pioneered by the embassies of all five Nordic countries in Washington to bring recognition to Nordic artists across the USA.

The show, says Klaus Ottmann, Deputy Director for Curatorial and Academic Affairs at Phillips, is a collection of the impressions he gained travelling around the Nordic region. “My selection of works and artists is personal,” Ottmann explains, “each of them has something different to offer, but they are tied together by themes that have held Nordic art in place for centuries: juxtapositions of light and darkness, inwardness, the coalescence of nature and folklore, women’s rights and social liberalism.”

Image result for olga krog artist

“My selection of works and artists is personal,” says Klaus Ottmann of the Phillips Collection. “All of them has something different to offer, but they are tied together by themes that have held Nordic art in place for centuries.”

Though it pays homage to the foundations of Nordic art, Nordic Impressions primarily celebrates the present – and indeed future – of Nordic art. Female artists have been brought to the fore. Norwegian artists Tori Wrånes, Oda Krohg and Harriet Backer are represented, so too is Swedish painter Nathalie Djurberg, Danish painter Anna Ancher, Sámi artist Outi Pieski and the Israeli-Danish painter ‘Tal R’. But perhaps most excitingly the exhibition will feature works by Hrafnhildur Arnardόttir, set to represent Iceland at next year’s Venice Biennale.

An exhibition of the contemporary works in Nordic Impressions (which includes video installations as well as paintings), Northern Exposure: Contemporary Nordic Arts Revealed, closed at the Nordic Museum in Seattle last month. Response to that exhibition was highly positive, though Washington State is home to over 700,000 Nordic immigrants, a number surpassed only in California and Minnesota. Transferring to Washington, D.C., where Nordic immigrants make up just 1.3 per cent of the population, will, therefore, be hard, as there is little existing cultural endearment. Nevertheless, Scandinavia is often seen as ‘chic’ and ‘cool’ across the Atlantic, so organisers think both tourists and D.C.’s inhabitants alike will be interested to explore Nordic art, a slice of art given, to date, very little exposure in North America.

Nordic Impressions is on show at The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C until 13th January 2019.

This article has also been published in Nordic Style Magazine.

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