The Focus section at next year’s Armory Show in New York (March 8–11) is devoted to the Nordic art scene. Jacob Fabricius, director of the Malmö Konsthall, will do the selecting, after the show decided to go for a foreign curator for the first time in the three-year existence of the Focus sections. Fabricius began his career as a free-lance curator in the mid-1990s and has since curated a long series of exhibitions in the Nordic countries and abroad. In addition he has worked as a publicist and writer. He has also been occupied with the phenomenon of «Nordic art», not least as co-curator of the Momentum Biennial in 2000.
By email Fabricius tells Kunstkritikk that the Nordic art scene has changed over the previous decade.
– The scene has become much more self-confident in the past ten years. Several Nordic artists have become super-large, with international recognition and commercial success.
In the 80s and 90s there was talk of «a Nordic sensibility», «Nordic light», etc. Today no one dares to use or initiate such general characterizations. Is it possible at all to speak of a specifically Nordic signature or style when it comes to art or should the term only be used as a geographical category?
– One can find Nordic light and sensibility just as readily in a city in Russia. It is a romantic idea about Nordic artists that they work differently with light and sensibility: some do, others don’t. The Nordic countries are a geographically framed territory where we may have our cultural and social roots, but one can also move into the Nordic counties and have other roots. Many Nordic artists live in Berlin, Brussels, London, Istanbul, and works are often produced and shown far from where an artist grew up. It’s positive that a focus is set on the Nordic countries, and I hope it’s possible to give an impression of those countries and present their diversity in the Armory Focus section.
Many probably associate the name Armory Show with the exhibition that introduced modernism in the USA. The show has also made its way into modern art history thanks to Marcel Duchamp, who in 1915 tried to have a urinal accepted at what was in principle a non-juried exhibition. Not surprisingly it was rejected. The current Armory Show has no connection to the historic exhibition beyond its name. It began as a small art fair at the Gramercy Hotel in 1994. The event grew rapidly beyond the hotel rooms, and the name was changed to The Armory Show in 1999 with relocation to a site on the Hudson River. Today The Armory is New York’s largest art show and this year could preen itself with 270 participating galleries and over 60,000 visitors in the show’s four days.
In addition to a large number of galleries and art dealers The Armory offers several subdivisions. One is the Focus section, which began in 2009 in an attempt to direct the spotlight on new, dynamic art markets. Earlier the section has taken Latin America and Berlin as subjects. That it now looks toward the Nordic countries is due, according to Armory director Katelijne De Backer, to a «conviction that the vitality of the art community in the Nordic region has not yet been fully recognized». De Backer further supports the choice: «The extensive and overwhelming network of artists, curators, collectors, museums, and galleries in these countries attests to the Nordic region’s international importance».
Fabricius does not want to create a purely commercial presentation of the Nordic art scene.
– My hope is to include several new and artist-operated galleries, as well as nonprofit exhibition spaces. That is, if they want to participate in this commercial arena. Generally I hope Armory Focus becomes a mix of Nordic and non-Nordic galleries that show Nordic artists.
Private collecting has always played an important role in the canonization process, but today the power of investors seems much more comprehensive than in the past. This displacement of power makes it even more important to be represented at international art shows. What do you think of this development?
– It’s true that the art fairs have taken on much more power, and with their large side exhibitions like Basel’s Unlimited or Focus at the Armory, they’ve become important orientation points for curators, institutions, collectors, etc. Are there many shows? Yes. Are there too many? Maybe: one can’t get to all of them. But that’s also true of biennials and exhibitions. It’s correct that a displacement of power has occurred, but art also lives well outside art fairs, really well, and m far from believing that all cultural meaning is created inside the shows.
Translation from the Norwegian by Richard Simpson.