Oslo Peace

Left: Mary Grace Wright, dealer Eivind Furnesvik, and Girko. Right: OSL Contemporary manager Magnus Jorde with OSL Contemporary directors Emilie Magnus and Aurora Aspen and Sonja. (All photos: Cat Kron)

THERE’S NEVER A GOOD TIME to travel under the auspices of cultural representation on behalf of a country with demonstrated fascist and xenophobic leanings. Three days before I embarked for Oslo, our president enacted the so-called travel ban; two nights prior to my departure, a Brooklyn federal judge issued an emergency block temporarily barring deportations as protesters demonstrated worldwide. But even now, with 45 promising a new executive order, the ordinance’s fate remains uncertain.

Norway, nevertheless, was as reservedly gracious in its reception as its reputation would suggest. On the morning I arrived, my concierge kindly showed me how to insert my room keycard to turn on my electricity. No doubt American tourists wastefully leave their hotel-room lights blazing the way Australian tourists leave 3 percent tips. That evening I trundled up into the hills in a jet-lag-induced haze, complemented by the outside fog, to Lysebu, a hotel outside the city’s center. A traditional Norwegian-inspired house designed by Magnus Poulsson, the architect behind Oslo’s city hall (whose interiors, incidentally, flaunt some of the world’s most elegantly schizophrenic fresco pattern play), Lysebu was dedicated to the Danish in 1945 as a gesture of friendship between Norway and its neighbor to the south, which had come to its aid during the war. Here, we shared dinner with the artists and curatorial team behind “Myths of the Marble,” a joint venture by Henie Onstad Kunstsenter and Philadelphia’s Institute of Contemporary Art. The significance of the venue was not lost on any among the international group that had gathered. Perhaps good fences don’t make good neighbors after all.

Left: Artists Ragna Bley and Ignas Krunglevičius. Right: Critic Maria Horvei, ICA Philadelphia curator Alex Klein, and artist Florian Meisenberg.

“Myths” takes its inspiration from The Blue Marble, the now-ubiquitous image of earth as seen from Apollo 17 on December 7, 1972, shortly after the spacecraft exited its orbit around the planet. Exactly thirty-one years prior, on December 7, 1941, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor catalyzed the entry of American forces into World War II. The two events are unrelated except as indices of lasting epistemic shifts and of the dissolutions of barriers—the first historic event marking the end of the United States’ isolationism, the latter representing its then-seemingly unlimited territorial ambitions. But if the photograph is riddled with conflicting connotations coincidental and otherwise, it nevertheless depicts a holistic planet (or at least one side of it). It was this rendering—a representation of the world as critical to the formation of the worldview of its subjects, and, conversely, the avatar in the service of its material counterpart—that the show’s curators, Milena Høgsberg for HOK and Alex Klein for the ICA, sought to foreground in taking “virtuality,” a notion that could not be further from partisan land-grabbing, as their unifying theme.

Of course, the physical world has a way of making its presence felt. On our drive home from dinner, Tone Hansen, HOK’s director, remarked that this season’s lack of snow had pushed Osloans farther afield in their pursuit of skiable surface. And the air did seem worryingly warmer than one would expect. Finally wide-awake, I made it through all of Argo and half of Syriana in my hotel room, surrounded by multiple lit bedside lamps.

Left: VI, VII's Marius Presterud and Esperanza Rosales. Right: Henie Onstad Kunstsenter curator Milena Høgsberg and Alex Klein.

Oslo’s community of artists, dealers, and writers is remarkably interconnected. A quick jaunt from my hotel is OSL Contemporary, where the next day I was introduced to the work of the Norwegian sculptor Jone Kvie, as well as to a sassy shorthair dachshund named Sonja, and where the staff gamely let me take their pictures. Near the waterfront (and aforementioned city hall—also the Nobel is awarded here!!!) is VI, VII, where dealer Esperanza Rosales led me through a suite of Jochen Schmith’s shredded-banknote wall tapestries. Later I met up with writer Maria Horvei, who was joined for the evening by VI, VII gallery artist (and fellow Norwegian) Mikael Brkic. We rode out to HOK on a city bus jammed with art people, reminding me of the school buses that were chartered to ferry people from weddings to after-parties—except soberer. The opening would fix that. The Lithuanian-born artist Ignas Krunglevičius showed me his immersive aural installation; Berlin-based Susanne M. Winterling showed me her ring finger tattoo; Klein had been bruised in a sledding accident the night prior but soldiered through. Sled on, brah!

Standard is perhaps Oslo’s best-known gallery in the States, and it was there, in a window-wrapped gallery looking out onto the dark city, that I met dachshund #2, Gilko, the wirehaired young squire of Eivind Furnesvik, the gallery’s cofounder and longtime director. Installation had yet to begin on “May the Bridges I Burn Light the Way,” but Furnesvik gave a spirited tour of the sleek space, despite the fact that he and his fiancée, Gracie, of New York’s Bureau Gallery, had flown in from LA that morning, thus besting my jet-lag by three time zones. In this moment of nationalism and division, night still falls everywhere.