Konstmuseum, Gothenburg

We attended the museum at the end of a weeks holiday, it was the start of the day and we were fresh however we were perfectly prepared for an hours disengaged wander and leaving without the trip becoming too tedious and would be happy with a fleeting visit.  What we got was an unexpectedly engaged trip with where the curation for the museum immediately took us in to its narrative and bound us up in everything it wanted to show us.

From the first literature and information the Konstmuseum was very insistent (almost with the sense of desperation) that it was not just a historical receptacle but actually a contemporary collection that had been continually updated over the last 100 or so years and had become historical purely by the fact of being around so long.  This did actually make for an engaging narrative often repeated, as you moved along the prescribed route, taking lifts to the top of the building you descended through the 5 floors of gallery to finish at the contemporary and then the finally the temporary exhibitions.  

The main focus of the gallery was to contextualise the varying movements of Scandinavian art movements and its relevance to wider art and culture. On reflection this was mostly focussing on painters from the first half of the 20th century and the rebellion of Scandinavian painters against the establishment from the influence of Paris, these paintings were all beautiful and compelling and the collection did include many pieces by the usual big names in this kind of gallery such Picasso, Rodin, Degas and Matisse however these seemed to be included more to give context and weave the story Swedish and Norwegian artists.  I found it refreshing to witness alternative painters with striking art, use of colours and a distinctly Scandinavian light and feel to the pictures.  


There were sections of more historical work to give the more complete historical view which were always contextualised well with succinct and interesting information with a few truly stand out pieces including a powerful marble sculpture 'Grandfather' by Per Hasselberg of a grandfather holding a small boy.  The real star of the visit for me was "The Conspiracy of the Batavian under Claudius Civilis" by Rembrandt (1661-1662) which was luminescent, arresting and mesmerising.

Throughout the gallery were many occasions where amongst the historical pieces were newly purchased or commissioned pieces. If you were cynical you might say this was trying to push home the relevance of the gallery as a collection of contemporary art, however i felt it was successful and helped to maintain the visitors engagement by quietly making the viewer pose their own questions about context and the juxtaposition.  A good example of this was alongside a collection of Fauvist paintings was a grouping of brightly coloured fabric sculptures by Asa Millholm, which used coloured thread on a black background of shapes which the grain and layering of the thread seemed to make the colours luminescent.

The least convincing part of the gallery for me was the permanent ‘contemporary’ collection which for me felt more like a collection of pieces in a nice room and lacked any of the narrative the rest of the gallery or the temporary exhibitions had. It did have some stand out pieces that appealed to my sensibilities most notably 'Untitled' by Violet Tegberg, a composition of smaller framed coloured pieces which had a depth and otherness past that of mere paint.


The final collection was the most interesting 'Urban Landscapes' all along a theme of buildings, the built environment and arts interaction with that. These included 'Suffer the Consequences or Enjoy the Benefits' (2017) by "street artist" S Camilla E Bostrom, 'Paved Yard' (1978) by Mark Boyle and 'Robo-Rainbow' (2010) which was an "installation with a bike, a rebuilt trolley and video" where a bike fitted with a mechanical swing arm could spray paint a 6m wide rainbow in 20s and the ride away leaving happy graffiti behind. Very charming but erring close to a one liner.  These are just three pieces but the collection as a whole was in quite a small space but broad and varied enough in its scope to again pose questions about context and representation of the built environment.

As I stated at the start this was an engaging trip and really proved the power of good curation, narrative and communication with the viewer and ended in us viewing every piece of art the museum had to offer over two or three hours.  The museum undoubtably has more work to view in its archives however the selection, layout, narrative and communication shows the power of good curation.