As his farewell show, retiring museum director Hans Henrik Brummer has put together one hell of a triple feature at the Waldemarsudde art museum. He calls it "Unsafe Spaces".
The show starts off with a huge room devoted to the sixteen numbers of 18th century Italian printmaker Giovanni Battista Piranesi's Carceri d'Invenzione ("Fantasy Prisons", or why not, "Fantasy Dungeons"). I'd only seen a few of them before and never at the original large scale. Incredible stuff; kaleidoscopic subterranean vistas peopled by faceless tiny figures scaling endless stairs. Coleridge loved them. Doré copied them. Escher reimagined them as Moebius strips.
F.D. Nomé. King Asa of Judah destroying the Idols. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Not in the Stockholm exhibition.
The next room introduced me to 17th century painter François de Nomé. He too was obsessed with fantasy architecture depicted in dramatic chiaroscuro -- but he preferred to paint it at the moment when it is tumbling down. His paintings may be named "Aeneas flees the burning Troy" or "The Martyrium of St. Catherine", but such mythological matter is only afforded a little corner of each canvas. The rest is devoted to Boschian filigree towers, collapsing arches and burning cities.
In the final two rooms, contemporary painter Ulrik Samuelsson has collected a number of his own canvases together with anonymous works of 15th and 16th century church art. And Samuelsson has taste. The most striking piece is a grotesquely gory and tortured Christ, sculpted at a superhuman scale, originally part of the triumphal crucifix in Sorunda church, Södermanland. This masterful sculpture is extremely stylized and non-naturalistic, to the point where the man's twisted body looks a bit like that of an emaciated horse. Utter madness, and still tightly controlled. Christ as pagan god or tribal idol, wild stuff.
Then there's a life-sized St. Anne from Frötuna church in Uppland, her paint and gilding largely flaked away, but still smiling beatifically. The sculptures are beautifully lit and neither is behind glass: St. Anne you can actually walk around with your nose a hair's breadth from the piece, and study the hollowed back that was never intended to be seen. It's a rare treat indeed to be able to engage so intimately with Medieval wooden sculpture.
"Unsafe Spaces" will be on until 7 January 2007. Prepare to get your mind blown.
[More blog entries about art, piranesi, fantasy, horror, Sweden; konst, piranesi, fantasy, skräck.]