Critics’ Picks

Bård Breivik, Moldy Bread, 1971/1974, wooden crates, bread, 4 x 4'.

Bård Breivik, Moldy Bread, 1971/1974, wooden crates, bread, 4 x 4'.


“Silent Revolt: Norwegian Process Art and Conceptual Art in the 1970s and 80s”

Nasjonalmuseet - Museum of Contemporary Art
Bankplassen 4
March 4–September 18, 2016

It’s strange to see Conceptualism treated like the Parthenon, but here we find a fragment of that globalizing movement subject to repatriation of a kind: a survey of internationally trained mostly Norwegian artists of the 1970s and ’80s, brought home together by the state under the sign of heritage.

Aggressively curated, wall to wall, the gluttonous and satisfying show is dominated by a twelve-foot sphere of felt (Inghild Karlsen’s Pustende ballong [Breathing Balloon], 1988); the startling abjection of a shin-high case of neatly gridded decomposing loaves of bread (Bård Breivik’s Moldy Bread, 1971/1974); and Oddvar I. N. Daren and Lars Paalgaard’s Humus line, 1984, a mound row made of ash and garbage flanked by speakers and a television naming the materials—recalling, with baroque elaboration, Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs, 1965.

Sardonically distorted echoes of such orthodox-Conceptualist icons also ring in the quieter works beyond—among them, Daren’s Measuring the Depth of the Snow, 1981, which documents the artist standing in an incrementally deeper hole beside the corresponding blocks of snow he has extracted—a clear (cold-region) Mono-ha appropriation; and Carl Andre’s bricks imagined as a faulty demonstration of Pythagoras,1978, by Paul Brand, in which a triangle is negatively formed by squares (we get the concept at a glance until we realize bricks are oblong, making their numerical relationships a rabbit hole).

All the ice, wool, and revisionism here inflect the exhibition’s title, “Silent Revolt,” as against not just commoditized aesthetics (as a more familiar narrative would have it), but also perhaps as national particularities against the purportedly universal character of Conceptual art itself, a conflict Zoë Sutherland convincingly chronicles in a recent essay for the New Left Review.