SEVEN ROOMS AND A GARDEN
RASHID JOHNSON AND THE MODERNA MUSEET COLLECTION
30.09 2023 – 08.09 2024
In “Seven Rooms and a Garden”, the work of American artist and filmmaker Rashid Johnson is in conversation, confrontation, and sometimes collusion with the collection of Moderna Museet.
Each room in the exhibition (and the garden) stages an encounter based on the personal, political, and art historical relationships that Johnson holds in his practice.
With this audio guide you can learn more about the artworks of the Moderna Museet collection featured in the exhibition.
Monogram is one of the works Robert Rauschenbergcalled “combines”, a kind of hybrid form of painting and sculpture. He found the angora goat in a store for second-hand office furniture. Rauschenberg often used stuffed animals in his combines, giving them a second life. In the collage-like painting under the goat, he has explored the relationship between the horizontal surface and the viewer’s bird’s eye perspective. An astronaut looks up at the sky, and a funambulist walks on a slack rope across an abyss. A baby’s footprint seems to signify a human being’s first painterly gesture. The work was named after the way the horned billy-goat and the car tyre intertwine, like the letters of a monogram.
Human Figure, 1931
The unconscious was central to the surrealists. Along the lines of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytical theories, they wanted to go beyond the limits of the conscious mind, unleash the uninhibited and the irrational. In pursuit of this ambition, Ernst “invented” the frottage in 1925: by rubbing a pencil on paper he could transfer different patterns from the rough surface under the paper. Chance was the artistic motor; the conscious was merely one factor among others in the creative process. Out of the rough, moss-like surface of Human Figure a hybrid of bird, insect and plant emerges, with an unmistakable sexual undertone.
Night Park, 2022
In this verdant park, the trees cast long shadows. Sheltered by the foliage, men are gathering for fleeting moments of intercourse and intimacy. The lives of fictional young, brown, queer men often play the leading roles in Salman Toor’s paintings, which are brimming with art historical references. Here, Hieronymos Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights (1490–1510), Henri Matisse’s Joy of Life (1905–1906), and Edouard Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass (1862–1863) come to mind, three paintings where man’s sensuous desires are depicted in lush gardens. However, this nightly scene is firmly rooted in our contemporary world. Cars are parked in the outskirts of the park and the figure in the foreground looks at his mobile screen, perhaps to check updates for an upcoming rendezvous.
Lee Bontecou was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in the USA. As a child, she spent her summers at the family’s house in Nova Scotia on the south-east coast of Canada. The sea and its plants and animals thus became a huge source of inspiration when she later chose to be an artist focusing on drawing and sculpting.
Copper, iron, epoxy, fossils and bones, canvas, military equipment and found objects are the main materials used in her sculptures. She quickly learned to weld in order to reuse old steel frames to create the three-dimensional canvas sculptures for which she is best known – and of which Untitled is an example. The canvas is from old mail sacks or military stock that was sold off cheaply in New York’s thrift shops after the war. Her works can be described as a mixture of natural materials and mechanics; organic yet abstract. Sometimes, they are non-figurative, at others they resemble machines, plants or aquatic creatures such as fish or barnacles. When Lee Bontecou began making wall-hung sculptures, she was challenging contemporary conventions both in her choice of materials and presentation.
Bontecou attracted huge attention early in her career, and had her first solo show at the Leo Castelly gallery in New York in 1960. She was one of the few women artists featured in both the São Paulo Biennale in 1961, and Documenta in Kassel in 1964. Lee Bontecou withdrew from the art scene in the mid-1970s, and did not show her works for many years. In the mid-1990s, she was rediscovered by a new generation of artists and again attracted attention for her personal style. In 2003 and 2004, she had major solo shows at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.
Painting Made by Dancing, 1961
Niki de Saint Phalle, Robert Rauschenberg
The painting was created on the evening of the opening party for the exhibition Movement in Art, at Moderna Museet in 1961. Niki de Saint Phalle had found an enormous, beige canvas which was spread out on the floor of the Arena Theatre in Stockholm where the opening party was held. On the reverse side of the canvas, she had attached hundreds of small plastic bags filled with paint. A plastic sheet and a carpet were spread over the canvas, so as the guests danced the paint was smeared out. The painting is akin to Niki de Saint Phalle’s shoot paintings but is also a playful commentary on the theme of the exhibition: movement in art. When the party was over, Billy Klüver and Robert Rauschenberg spread the painting across the road to Djurgården so tracks were left on it by the cars.
At an exhibition in Berlin a few years ago an agitated visitor fired several pistol shots at one of Barnett Newman’s paintings entitled “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue”. During the police interrogation he claimed that he felt pressurised, even threatened by the painting. Nothing could be more distant from the harmonious and obvious presence of the painting Tertia in the Museum of Modern Art. The two yellow bands in Newman’s painting are of different colours. The left one is a shade of lemon yellow while the right one has a darker, warmer sun-yellow hue. This balance is helped by the “open” meeting of the orange with the white. Everything builds on the weight and tone relationships between the colours.
In his text “The Ideographic Picture” he explained his own and his friends’ art on the basis of the concept of the ideograph, that is, a sign, a symbol, or a figure that conjures up an idea without naming it. This became a kind of manifesto for the New York school’s Abstract Expressionism.
At a distance “Brace” appears to be an abstract composition, where large fields of minute markings, like dots, swarm against a beige background and form a pattern. At closer range, we can see that the painted dots look like round eyes, thick-lipped mouths, and blonde-haired women’s faces in profile sticking their tongues out – racist caricatures and stereotype female images. Gallagher combines imagery from myths, science fiction and history, to highlight major social issues, often relating to ethnicity or skin colour. She employs symbols, codes and pictograms repetitively, and makes use of the materials’ inherent qualities and expression. Often, she draws and paints on paper and then glues the sheets to the canvas.
PUNCH, PEEK & FEEL, 1967–1970
Lee Lozano began her artistic career in New York in 1960. She worked on this piece, Punch, Peek, Feel, for three years. First, she did the painting in minute detail, and a year or so later, she punched holes in the canvas. One can see both the wooden clamping frame and the wall through the holes. This gesture punctuates the illusion of volume and space which she had achieved through her meticulous painting. Towards the end of the 1960s, Lozano worked on a series of paintings of waves, but around this time she decided to quit painting, as she found it forced and repetitive. The conceptual art which Lozano had been working with all along, for example in her text-based artworks, now came to the forefront. She gave herself instructions to which she had to submit. In 1972 she exited the art world with her Dropout Piece.
Blood-Red Complexion, 1950
The lumpy, ungainly figure in “Blood-Red Complexion” fills the surface level. There is no depth either behind or in front of it. The artist pays no heed to conventional perspectives or proportions. The motif is modest and unassuming, the colour daringly applied. In the wake of the Second World War, Jean Dubuffet and many others experienced that a radical regeneration was needed in art. He was attracted by graffiti, the art of the street, with its secret signs and symbols. He was also inspired by pictures made by children and the mentally ill and by so-called primitive cultures. By returning to what he felt was primordial in painting, Dubuffet distanced himself from the war-torn civilisation which appeared to him as increasingly insane.
The Wooden Horse: Number 10 A
“On the floor I am more at ease. I feel nearer, more a part of the painting…”
Jackson Pollock grew up in the mid-west but came to New York to work and moved to Long Island in 1945. He took the canvas from the easel and laid it on the floor. His movements around the canvas are recorded for posterity by the thin industrial gloss that dripped from his brushes. His technique was called drip painting – or action painting – and was a version of abstract expressionism. Wooden Horse, however, incorporates an obvious figurative element: a horse’s head made of wood, making the work unique in Pollock’s oeuvre.
Untitled (Edge Painting), 1968
Sam Francis used an unconventional compostion technique to create his ”edge”-paintings. The white paint spreads from the centre out across the canvas. At the edges are almost imperceptible patches of bright colour: blue, red, yellow. The empty white space is not, however, devoid of content but a place for us to fill in instead. Francis made use of Jungian psychology in order to be able to find deeper answers to personal and artistic questions. When people asked about the open areas in his edge-paintings, he would sometimes reply: “The space at the center of these paintings is reserved for you.”
Transparent Painting: Ultramarine Blue, 1982
In the early 1970s, Marcia Hafif bought pigments of every colour and learned how to make her own paint. She experimented to find out how each colour reacted to different treatments. In this painting, ultramarine is the main protagonist; applied with wild gestures, it alternates between transparency and opacity. Blue usually makes us think of sky and sea, but here it only seems to represent itself. Hafif helped start the Radical Painting movement in the 1980s, which sought to increase the relevance of painting and gathered artists in discussions about the monochrome. Later, she explained that she did not identify herself as a painter primarily, as her works are neither abstract nor depictions of nature.
To create this monumental work, Rashid Johnson used the so-called Van Dyke Brown printing technique, which gives the work its saturated brown tone. Johnson used various seeds to compose the image, most notably cotton seeds, and then let the print “develop” in natural sun light. The result is a photographic print that may evoke a starry sky, through which the word “negro” is spelled out. In the photographic process of reversing positive and negative space, Johnson highlights this word ─ considered offensive and derogatory or neutral and purely descriptive, depending on the historical and geographic context in which it was or is used.
The Bicycle Wheel, 1913/1960/1976
Marcel Duchamp was living in Paris in 1913. In his studio, he was working on finding and depicting the objects he planned to assemble into what would later be “The Large Glass”. Meanwhile, he also mounted a bicycle wheel on a stool. “The Bicycle Wheel” is often considered to be the artist’s first readymade – an existing object that is exalted into art. The readymades are the most acknowledged and innovative facet of Duchamp’s oeuvre. These existing, manufactured products that the artist chose to present as works of art challenged prevailing notions of art, which were based on aesthetic criteria such as skilfulness, materials and depiction. Duchamp instead introduced the question What is art?
When a newly purchased urinal signed “R. Mutt” was submitted anonymously to the Independent Artists’ exhibition in New York in 1917, it was thrown out. It didn’t look like art, so it wasn’t, they said. Moreover, it was obscene, or possibly a joke. Marcel Duchamp claimed that this was obviously a work of art, since the intention was to display “Fountain” in an exhibition space. This statement launched an entirely new art concept.That there were ideas behind art was nothing new, but the thought that the idea alone could transform something into art was revolutionary. By removing a mass-produced object from its useful purpose, it could be given a new meaning. Readymade was the term Duchamp began using in the early 1900s. Original and copy are ambiguous concepts in relation to Duchamp: most works are replicas and reconstructions made according to his consultation and signed by him. This particular one was bought from a restaurant in Stockholm.
The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even [The Large Glass], 1915–1923/1961
A mechanical bride, nine bachelors and a chocolate grinder are a few of the components in Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass. In his rejection of art as merely eye candy, Duchamp gave up painting and began creating art that engaged the viewer’s mind in different ways. In The Large Glass, Duchamp combined an array of earlier pictures and ideas into a new totality. Although he worked on it from 1915 to 1923, it was never finished because he got bored with the laborious manual task. He preferred employing his brain rather than his hands. The Large Glass is accompanied by a Green Box containing notes in facsimile that give some clues to the puzzling piece. So, what is this work about? Duchamp leaves that for you to decide.
Fresh Widow, 1920/1960
This copy was signed by Duchamp when he visited The Museum of Modern Art in 1961. It is a model of a “french window” – so the title is a straight pun: take away the `n´ as if you had a cold and you get Fresh Widow. The opaque window is made of leather and appears as a contrast to the big glass, which is transparent.
African Stand, 1991
David Hammons has placed masks that are recognisably “African” in a plastic can with black paint smears. The masks prop up a stand from which a pan holding further masks is hung. The title could refer to “taking a stand”. But stand also means a market stall or an exhibition cabinet. The allusion to the colonial past, when Africans were enslaved and sold as commodities is obvious. Hammons began working with art and social criticism in the late 1960s, after studying art in Los Angeles. Throughout his career, he has explored themes such as “blackness”. In early conceptual works, he expressed his aversion to the commerce of the art scene, but since the market expanded in the 2000s, Hammons sees manipulations of pricing as part of his process.
Black and Blue
May 30, 1973. From the series Daily Self-Portraits
Melissa Shook was twelve when she lost her mother. As a result, she could scarcely remember anything from her childhood as an adult. She decided to explore themes of identity and oblivion by taking pictures of herself every day for one year. Each month she shifted focus, which explains the constant movement between close-ups and full body format. The photographs are titled after the day when they were shot, emphasizing the passage of time. The earnest, diaristic photographs in this series are situated in Shook’s own home, at times including her own daughter, thus suggesting the domestic space as a realm of artistic production.
Locked Up, 1971
In a claustrophobic room, a woman stares blankly in front of her. The sink and the door with a window for inspection and surveillance reveal that she is institutionalised. Locked up. The meatballs on the plate are placed like numbers on a clock, the cutlery laid out like hands. Time seems to stand still. In the early 1970s, Lena Cronqvist made several paintings from hospital environments. For a period she had herself been treated for a postpartum psychosis. Throughout her artistic career, her themes have been both personal and universal: motherhood, childhood, loneliness, death and love.
Self-portrait. From the series 70’s, 1970–1980
To save him from starvation and war, Samuel Fosso’s family sent him from Biafra to Bangui in the Central African Republic when he was still a small boy. There he became an assistant to a portrait photographer as a teenager. After a couple of years he opened his own studio. The customers wanted their photographs the next day, so he started taking pictures of himself to use up spare film and to send to his mother. In the early self-portraits we find a teenager exploring himself and his own identity through the lens of the camera. But these pictures evolve, and as an artist Fosso turned to a deeper exploration of people’s roles, gender, ethnicity, authority, celebrity, and wealth.
From the series: Bed work, 2017–2018
The Bedworks series consists, as the title implies, of pictures drawn in bed. The drawings are made quickly, using colour pencils, and, in their diaristic nature, convey a sense of intimacy. Bedworks depict everyday scenes, in which Soufiane Ababri highlights his experience as a queer Arab man living in French society. The artist has noted that in art history the bed has been the place of women, slaves, and Arabs. Historically, to depict someone as passive, controlled, and submissive has been used as a strategy to gain the upper hand by white male artists. By placing himself in that position, Ababri takes control of his own story.
No title. From the Series Self-Portraits 1991–1994, 1991
Snežana Vučetić Bohm
In 1991, when Snežana Vučetić Bohm was studying at Nordens Fotoskola, she was asked to make a documentary photo reportage. Equipped with a stand, a self timer and a Rolleiflex camera – a classic model for photo journalists – she travelled to Yugoslavia, which was on the brink of civil war. Her choice to work in black and white is also in keeping with a long tradition of photo journalism. But in the midst of the political conflict around her, she turned the camera on herself. Both the tank on the bookshelf in her cousins’ home and the barbed-wire fence in the landscape near her grandmother’s house seem to prophesy the looming war. Vučetić Bohm meets our gaze as both observer and observed, as the human being she is, in a terrifying and incomprehensible situation.