Critics’ Picks

Johan Thurfjell, Bright Eyes, 2008, jesmonite, bee wax, wood, spotlight. Installation view, 2008.


Johan Thurfjell

Galerie Nordenhake
Lindenstrasse 34
October 18–November 14

Johan Thurfjell’s first solo show in Germany is titled “Dead Calm,” invoking the ominous term that sailors use for deceptively placid weather. In the same way, the sculptures and watercolors by this Stockholm-based artist superficially appear peaceful, yet they carry an undercurrent of creepiness and danger. In Goodnight Mom, Goodnight Dad, 2008, comprising four wooden models of Thurfjell’s parents’ summer house, gradual gradations from brown to black set the otherwise identical houses apart, as if the setting sun were casting the structure gradually into darkness. A sense of the uncanny also cuts through Thurfjell’s twenty-one softly hued watercolors of cargo and cruise ships from the 1940s to today. Each image has the faintly nostalgic allure of a faded picture postcard. The renderings are based on images of the ships moving through smooth waters, but on further investigation, viewers learn that each foundered in fire or storm or ran aground. Instead of horrific information setting the stage, the unsettling undertone to Thurfjell’s Bright Eyes, 2008, is comparatively overt. In this jesmonite, wax, and wood sculpture, a spotlight is raised on a tripod and shines directly into the eyes of a startled, lifelike, actual-size hare squatting and staring with uncomprehending fear. Ironically, the hare is alert but only to a harmless, false danger. In contrast, the spooky darkness descending on Thurfjell’s family home creates an aura of horrific foreshadowing for the doomed crews aboard the ships, who don’t know of the danger awaiting them or that tomorrow may not bring safety.