An express-interview with Matilda Olof-Ors, curator of Georges Adéagbo’s exhibition at Moderna Museet, Stockholm
Georges Adéagbo “La naissance de Stockholm..! The Birth of Stockholm..!” Moderna Museet, Stockholm June 28 – September 7, 2014
How vital is the exploration of culture and history in contemporary art? Matilda Olof-Ors, curator of Georges Adéagbo’s exhibition, “La naissance de Stockholm..! / The Birth of Stockholm..!” at the Moderna Museet, acknowledges that “many contemporary artists are interested in and work with issues related to culture and history. This is done in many different ways, from almost an anthropological approach, or, as in Georges Adéagbo's art, looking at, combining and interpreting objects, culture and history in new ways.”
Beninese artist Georges Adéagbo bases his complex installations on the historic and cultural aspects of the city or place in which he is exhibiting. In his new work for Moderna Museet, Adéagbo brings together Sweden and Benin in order to generate displacements and new narratives through the exploration of the history of Sweden and the art collection of the museum.
Georges Adéagbo (b. 1942 in Cotonou, Benin) has been shown internationally since the 1990s, and especially since his participation in the Venice Biennale in 1999. The exhibition “La naissance de Stockholm..!/ The Birth of Stockholm..!” is his first exhibition in Sweden. His site-specific installations interweave such things as newspaper clippings, posters, books, postcards, clothes and his own handwritten texts with sculptures and paintings from Benin. He bases his work on the city or place that has invited him, exploring its history, culture and other aspects that make up the identity of a place. Through chains of association, autobiographical references and cultural translation, he creates new narratives.
How much time did Georges Adéagbo devote to getting a grasp on Stockholm? What source materials did he use as a foundation?
Apart from two research trips about a year prior to the show, Mr. Adéagbo spent about a month in Stockholm working with the installation. During this period he visited flea markets and second-hand shops from which he acquired materials for the installation. Mr. Adéagbo has also been collecting objects found on the streets and other places around Stockholm. These items will be interwoven into the exhibition along with objects acquired in Cotonou, the artist's handwritten texts, and paintings he had commissioned from a Cotonou artisan according to his instructions.
What is the unified feeling that the exhibition presents?
From a personal perspective, I think that the feeling is one of new encounters, and seeing familiar things in changed contexts and new interpretations. Jesus, Queen Christina, René Descartes and Okwui Enwezor are all included in this installation. By creating new contexts and meanings, Adéagbo changes our habitual way of seeing these things.
Could you mention a few exhibition highlights? And why do you find these works special?
One of my personal favorites (in this installation that Mr Adéagbo is creating especially for the show) is how he took one of the first depictions of Stockholm, the 16th-century painting “Vädersolstavlan” (The Sun Dog painting), and had it translated to a wood relief (Mr. Adéagbo commissioned the relief from an artisan in Benin). Also, the interpretation of a 17th-century painting of David Beck's Queen Christina portrait that has been translated into a new painting. But also works related to the Moderna Museet collection. The goat from Robert Rauschenberg’s famous “Combine” series, titled “Monogram”, (1955–59) has been re-interpreted as Abraham’s biblical sacrifice when juxtaposed with text from the Old Testament in a painting in the show. In several parts of the exhibition, archive photos of pivotal moments in the museum’s history have been transformed into paintings. For example, a photo from 1967 – of former museum director Pontus Hultén and the artist Lucio Fontana – has been reproduced as a black and white painting.