press release

Nordic identities The Swedish national painter Anders Zorn represents tradition when this summer ARKEN Museum of Modern Art is spotlighting Nordic identity past and present.

COPENHAGEN: Light summer nights, magnificent nature, free, strong and natural people – the simple, good life! That just about sums up the quintessentially Nordic – or does it? Does a common Nordic identity even exist? And if so, where does it spring from?

This summer’s exhibition at the ARKEN Museum of Modern Art focuses on Nordic self-knowledge and self-portrayal across time and artistic expressions, illustrating how both knowledge and portrayal have developed – from national character to brand, from bathing beauties to tourist theatre, from one to several identities.

As a representative of the traditional depiction of Nordic identity in art, ARKEN has singled out the Swedish national painter Anders Zorn. In Anders Zorn AND CONTEMPORARY NORDIC ART the museum juxtaposes about 80 of his graphic works and paintings with 47 works by eleven contemporary Nordic artists, including Peter Johansson (SE), Thorbjørn Rødland (NO), Johku Lehtola (FI), Michael Kvium (DK) and Lise Harlev (DK).

Zorn the lighthouse Zorn is known and beloved for his portrayals of voluptuous and sensual Dala women and the down-to-earth villagers of his native Mora. They are the ideal popular symbol of the aboriginal Sweden; the land that, like the rest of the world in Zorn’s day, rapidly developed into an internationally orientated industrial nation. Perhaps that is why a need emerged for going back to the roots, for creating a common ground.

A substantial contributor to the traditional perception of Nordic identity, Zorn’s design – his ideal – is what people today consider quintessentially Nordic.

Zorn the eye opener Grappling with identity is one of art’s chief concerns – today as well. Because of his significant status Zorn is an eye opener both for Scandinavian self-knowledge – we see where it stems from – and for contemporary art’s exploration of the very same identity. The familiar Zorn leads the way into the new and at times inaccessible art. Conversely the contemporary artists shed new light on the romanticised understanding of the Nordic identity and nature represented by Zorn.

One of the points of ARKEN’s exhibition is to show – via the gaze of contemporary art – that the need and longing for originality and nationality exists today as well. And that, like before, an increasingly globalised world is at the root of it. However, the exhibition also shows that the very belief in the existence of the original and the national has been diluted: Peter Johansson’s folklore is commercial tourism and Torbjørn Rødland’s lovely nudist girl has kept her sneakers and shopping bag. They adopt a critical stance with regards to the identity that Zorn served in constructing. They do not offer a simple suggestion for a new identity; on the contrary their works indicate that identities are in a constant state of flux and redefinition. Pressetext

Anders Zorn and Contemporary Nordic Art