Hello Dalí

Linda Yablonsky on “Dalí Dalí Featuring Francesco Vezzoli” at the Moderna Museet


Left: Artist Francesco Vezzoli. Right: Hair models. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

IT’S WEIRD HOW ARTISTS from the country that gave us Swedish massage, Volvo, IKEA, the Bergmans (Ingmar and Ingrid), and Skype have never come close to making the same impact. Enthusiasm is everywhere; ideas are harder to come by. Even in Stockholm, a city of such unruffled tranquility that excitement doesn’t stand a chance, the artists who arouse the greatest interest largely come from elsewhere. At least that’s how it seemed last week when I arrived for the opening of “Dalí Dalí Featuring Francesco Vezzoli” at the Moderna Museet and found something called “sthlm.sthlm.sthlm.” already in progress in other parts of town.

A gaggle of local art professionals had put together this seventy-two-hour introduction to the Swedish art scene for critics and curators visiting from such places as Paris, Berlin, Shanghai, Vienna, London, and Barcelona. I caught up with the group on Thursday afternoon at Bonniers Konsthall, a terrific exhibition space for emerging Swedish and international art founded by philanthropist Jeanette Bonnier with support from her cousin Pontus Bonnier, the organization’s director and CEO. (The Bonnier family controls a Swedish media empire.) I hate to say it, but “Life Forms,” the well-intentioned group show on view, was remarkable only for its insight into the unremarkable experience good intentions can supply.

Lunch, however, was superb. Over delicious pickled fish, Rome-based curator Cristiana Perrella hipped me to the Kutlug Ataman exhibition she is organizing for the Zaha Hadid–designed MAXXI museum opening in April. Between lengthy oral presentations, I dipped under the radar long enough to learn that Stockholm dealer Marina Schiptjenko moonlights with a touring Swedish pop group, Bodies Without Organs, that is a top draw with the lesbian club set. I also met David Neuman, founder and director of Magasin 3, a collecting institution and exhibition space that is the best reason to visit Stockholm after the Moderna Museet.

Left: “Dalí Dalí Featuring Francesco Vezzoli” curator John Peter Nilsson. Right: Bureau des Videos cofounder Nicolas Trembley with artist Carsten Höller.

That night, Neuman hosted a dinner for the “sthlm.” group, which included Parasol Unit director Ziba de Weck, Bureau des Videos’s Parisian cofounder Nicolas Trembley, and Shanghai Zendai MoMA director Shen Qibin, among others. The Swedish penchant for curatorial commentary also showed up here, on a guided tour through an installation of seven wall drawings by Sol LeWitt. “It has taken fourteen people working over six weeks to make this show,” chief curator Richard Julin explained, before pointing me toward an atmospheric video and sound work by London-based Israeli artist Smadar Dreyfus, who filmed it on the Israeli-Syrian ceasefire line in the Golan Heights. Very far from here.

I had to make quick work of dinner to get to the preview of the Dalí/Vezzoli show, where the festivities, such as they were, featured “hair models” hired by the show’s co-curator, John Peter Nilsson (the other is Caroline Corbetta), and styled to mirror Dalíesque forms by Nilsson’s own personal hairdresser. “The Stockholm art world is small,” he said, though he estimated the crowd around us to number more than two thousand. “They’re students, gallery personnel, friends of the museum,” he said. Not the usual crowd—at least compared with the star power that the Vezzoli brand typically attracts. “The most important people are coming tomorrow night,” the artist assured me. “Don’t worry.”

I couldn’t help wondering whether Caroline of Monaco (aka HRH—the Princess of Hanover) would be among them. The princess appears twice, in period costume, in the most recent work of Vezzoli’s retrospective-within-a-retrospective, pictured as both the seventeenth-century Swedish queen Christina and the Garbo movie version. I also wondered why I cared whether Caroline would be there or not, but such is the effect that Vezzoli’s celebrity-in-a-box exhibitions can have on people when vanity gets the better of them. Meanwhile, I had the rest of the Stockholm art world to see.

Left: Artist Joseph Kosuth. Right: Moderna Museet director Lars Nittve and Francesco Vezzoli.

Friday morning found me in a gallery showing giant black inflatables that could have come from Planet Debbie and then on a bus heading to a distant suburb, where the Swedes park their immigrant labor force. That’s also the location of the Tensta Konsthall, which offers a studio residency and exhibition programs in what used to be a slaughterhouse. Under director William Easton, an energetic Englishman, the space is dedicated equally to community outreach and art. Shows by Tracey Moffatt and Tris Vonna-Michell were still ahead; on view was another earnest group effort featuring fuzzy, softball-size “robots” that rolled around underfoot.

After stopping at IASPIS, an international studio program holding an open house for resident artists like Anri Sala and David Shrigley, we arrived back in town just in time for the “VIP” Dalí/Vezzoli opening. I found Vezzoli standing with director Lars Nittve amid just 120 guests, who included local patrons, Vezzoli’s parents, various members of his production team, and artists Joseph Kosuth, Ron Jones, and Carsten Höller, who makes his home in Stockholm. “This is a city without a cultural underground,” Höller said. “It’s so quiet I don’t know why everyone doesn’t live here.”

Caroline certainly didn’t show, nor did any of the marquee names that are Vezzoli’s métier—and that make him the natural heir to the Spanish Surrealist’s affair with celebrity and self-parody. In today’s media-saturated world, he said, artists should think of themselves as production chiefs, orchestrators of culture rather than solitary creators. Past a sober display of 1930s Dalí paintings that included The Metamorphosis of Narcissus—which Vezzoli calls “inspirational”—Dalí’s photographs, prints, objects, and videos played straight man to Vezzoli’s more operatic salon-style hang of his paintings, embroideries, and photographs, which themselves were slung across a single wall covered in deep red wallpaper picturing the interior of a Baroque theater. Videos played in a closet cut into the tableaux, and guests crowded into the doorway, either puzzled or entranced. It was hard to tell. “The people of the future will decide if I am a good artist,” Vezzoli said, looking to his studio manager, Luca Corbetta. “Maybe we should phone them,” Corbetta said.

Left: A view of Vezzoli's wall at “Dalí Dalí Featuring Francesco Vezzoli.”

Lef: A harpist in a Barbara Kruger installation. Right: Artist Christodoulos Panayiotou.

Left: Dealer Franco Noero. Right: Francesco Vezzoli studio manager Luca Corbetta with Mathilde Olof-Ors.

Left: Shanghai Zendai MoMA director Shen Qibin with curator Biljana Ciric. Right: Bonniers Konsthall founder Jeanette Bonnier.

Left: Collector Pontus Bonnier. Right: Dealers Ben Loveless, Marina Schiptjenko, and Magnus Karlsson.

Left: Magasin 3 founder David Neuman and “sthlm.sthlm.sthlm.” programmer Karen Diamond. Right: Dealer Aldy Milliken and artist Matti Kallioinen.