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National Romanticism for Our Time. Stockholm New - the Book and Exhibition 0

Elīna Čivle-Üye

In June 2013, the international, English language, multiple award-winning fashion and style magazine Stockholm New released its massive (496 pages hardcover) coffee table book with the same title Stockholm New and opened spectacular exhibition.

The book consists to slightly less than half of classic material from the first life of Stockholm New magazine (1993-2002), while slightly more than half is brand new material produced over the past decade. In all, the book, though it also contains a string of historic texts, is primarily a visual explosion of twenty years of Swedish creativity - a true and shameless orgy of contemporary national romanticism in all.

In the exhibition, Stockholm New — national romanticism from double turn of the centuries: contemporary fashion photography meets classic masterpiece painting (on view till September 1, at Thielska Galleriet), monumental prints of selected Stockholm New iconic photographic images from 1992-2013 are juxtaposed against the museums unique, world-famous collection of Nordic and international masterpieces from the previous turn of the century - Edvard Munch, Vilhelm Hammershøi, Anders Zorn, Eugène Jansson, Bruno Liljefors, Carl Larsson, August Strindberg, Carl Fredrik Hill, Ernst Josephson, Prins Eugen, Paul Gauguin, Henri de Tolouse-Lautrec, and many more.

We decided to ask a few questions about the book and the exhibition to Claes Britton, editor in chief and creative director of Stockholm New, who also is one of the curators of the exhibition.

If the book was a journey, how would you describe it?

I would describe it as an expedition that starts from contemporary downtown Stockholm and then roams freely into the fantastic wilderness of the Stockholm Archipelago, up to Lapland, and back and forth in time and through a variety of eras in Swedish and Nordic creativity.

What were the principles of selecting material from Stockholm New magazine?

We selected only images and texts that had withstood the test of time and which we believe will be equally powerful, attractive and interesting ten, twenty or fifty years from now. With the new material we added, the story is, of course, a bit different, but here, also, the combination of timeless quality and beauty has been our chief principle and guiding star.

Can you describe the original and unique code that made up the Stockholm New aesthetics?

I think it’s in precisely the mix of classic timelessness, and something of a cutting-edge contemporaneity, even futuristic at times, which some have claimed. Also, it is in mixing fashion with nature, interiors, art, cultural history and gastronomy, which we were the first to do. I think that people, worldwide, quite instantly recognized the unique, singular and very Nordic, of course, and also strictly minimalistic and clean, soul of Stockholm New – which was always the main driving force of the magazine, and of the book and exhibition now. We were never that influenced by contemporary trends, even though we were also, of course, very contemporary.

There is also a singular sense of humor that I think is essential to the spirit of Stockholm New, as well as a darker shade to the blond and the serene.

Stockholm New was published in a total of twelve issues, over the years 1993 to 2002. Can you note the main changes in the Swedish image of design throughout those nine years? And after 2002?

The main difference is that there’s a lot more of it, especially in fashion. As someone phrased it, we elaborated the budding embryo of something that is now fully evolved. I think that, in general, you may also say that Swedish design has become more international, even if the Swedish and Nordic spirits are still very palpable and, indeed, appreciated as powerful global trademarks – which they were by no means back then. I think that we have, perhaps, contributed to that.

The book was launched along with the opening of the exhibition Stockholm New — national romanticism from double turn of the centuries: contemporary fashion photography meets classic masterpiece painting. Please, tell more about how this juxtaposition of fashion photography and world renown classic painting works.

Well, I have always loved the Swedish and Nordic national romantic- and nature-lyricist-painting of the turn of the 20th century – ever since I was a boy. And I have always loved Thielska Galleriet, which has always been, and still is, my favorite art scene anywhere in the world.

I always saw our work with Stockholm New as national romanticism for our time. Thus, I always thought that we had a lot in common with the paintings from the previous turn of the century — in the motives, the moods, the colors, the spirit, and so on. Like the artists of those days, we concerned ourselves exclusively with beauty — exploring the treasures, myths and fantasies of our homeland. With contemporary art, on the other hand, we had very little in common, as this focuses on the ugly, on anxiety and complexity, and so on, at least in large part – and with beauty and romanticism almost banned.

When the opportunity arose to create this exhibition with our images, many of which were produced in monumental formats, juxtaposed with the masterpieces of our art history — Munch, Hammershøi, Zorn, Liljefors, Carl Larsson, Ernst Josephson, Eugéne Jansson, JF Willumsen, etc. — of course, I jumped on it. The prerequisites were complex, involving loads of controversy and agony. There’s no room to go into them here, but only these unique conditions could have made the exhibition possible. I, actually, still can’t phantom how we were able to pull it off, as the whole concept is, in actuality, very controversial.

When we were hanging the exhibition, we worked exclusively with aesthetic principles — letting motives, colors and moods decide the combinations. We have applied a so-called Parisian display, or hanging – hanging paintings and photographic images in double, or even triple, levels — something not seen in a contemporary exhibition in recent history, I think. The effect is an overwhelming visual impact — a quite wonderful "image storm", I think. I am extremely happy with the way the audience has intuitively understood and appreciated the exhibition, and how they have said that the painting elevates the photography — but also vice versa, and how it bridges the tastes and cultural prerequisites of various generations. It’s about seeing with the eyes, the feeling, the soul, and not so much with the intellect. To me, who is really, most of all, an author, this is what art is all about; in many ways, a contrast with literature. I like to think of the exhibition as an overdose of beauty and love of our homeland!

“Stockholm New — national romanticism from double turn of the centuries: contemporary fashion photography meets classic masterpiece painting”
Thielska Galleriet, Stockholm
5 June – 1 September, 2013