Critics’ Picks

View of “Karl Holmqvist,” 2013.


Karl Holmqvist

Moderna Museet | Stockholm
March 16 - September 8

“Give poetry a try” is the irresistible slogan chosen by Karl Holmqvist as the title of his exhibition at the Moderna Museet. It’s a slogan that Holmqvist has used before, and it is, as slogans should be, a straightforward, encouraging one. Holmqvist has dedicated much of his practice to both show that his slogan’s advice is possible and to suggest the extent of its possibilities. Almost everything he does, you can do yourself, in materials and techniques readily available.

The exhibition is divided into two rooms. The first contains several works, including a vitrine filled with innumerable pamphlets, leaflets, and books by Holmqvist dating back to 1991. While viewers are privy to some of the content via iPad slide shows and headphones, the encased presentation of the texts means that they’re visible but not readable. That it is all behind glass is a shame, but understandable, and now that Moderna Museet has added these pieces to its collection, it might manage to make Holmqvist’s publications more accessible in the future. Another piece, a text video titled I’m With You in Rockland, 2005, refers to Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl,” and in it there is a sentence that exemplifies Holmqvist’s frequent use of citations and allusions. Modifying Ginsberg’s famous opening sentence into “I saw the best minds, and the best bodies, of my generation wasted…” Holmqvist intriguingly evokes the original’s Vietnam War implications but also adverts to another, later crisis—the AIDS epidemic in the early 1990s.

The second room shows only the video A IS FOR A=R=A=K=A=W=A, 2012, a title which seems to refer to the artist Ei Arakawa, Holmqvist’s occasional collaborator. In it, following a brief sequence of images, the screen turns black except for lines of text that appear like subtitles, synchronized to Holmqvist’s reading voice. It’s hypnotic—and again, several parts are recognizable as text from various song lyrics, poetry, and films, as well as the writings of artists and philosophers, conjuring memories and ideas of other objects, places, and histories. In many ways the piece is a senseless yet meaningful collage of quotes and Holmqvist’s own writing. And the most successful moments of Holmqvist’s work evoke the words of critic and fellow pamphleteer Viktor Shklovsky: “A revolutionary poet is one that makes the stone a little bit more stony.”