Mamma Andersson was honored with a doctorate at the university in 2010, which was the first year my husband was dean, so she was the first honorary doctor he got to crown with a hat. Even I have had the pleasure of meeting her a few times, and she really is what everyone says: the nicest, humblest, chattiest, most generous person. Not that she in the least tries to diminish her own importance. She has a sturdy confidence, or so it seems, anyway. Everyone likes her a lot, and as hard as it can be to get recognition in one´s own home town, I haven´t heard anyone say anything negative about her art, even though it´s clear that what she does is challenging.
This exhibition feature a selection of work from different shows from the last few years, borrowed from the owners. In the exhibition catalogue she calls it a kind of "mixed tape" or "best of album". In Sweden, most of her work is exhibited at Galleri Magnus Carlsson, and their website displays more of her paintings (and much better photos of it, I just snapped a few illustrations from the exhibition catalogue).
Many artcritics have commented on how many of her paintings communicate an absence. Like something has just happened, or something is about to happen. Someone has just walked out, or is about to walk in. There is some kind of tension in there. Some find it disturbing, others find in it a kind of comfort. As if Mamma Andersson is saying that this is how it is, and it´s ok. Of course, we don´t know exactly what she is saying. I suspect she is listening more than preaching.
The gallery guide told us that when she was very young, not yet in art school, she would spend a lot of time in an art shop, looking at pictures. Years later, as she was searching thorough some flea market or other for more pictures (she has an extensive archive), she found an old picture of that very art shop, bought it and turned the motif into a painting called "Samla tankarna" (collect one´s thoughts).
After the guided tour, Anneli and I remained in front of it for quite a while, and she pointed out some details in the foreground that didn´t quite make sense. You can see this in many, if not most or all of her work. She messes it up, lets a background bleed into a foreground object, or some such thing, that really can provoke the viewers sense of order, neatness, and expectance of technical skill. It´s like a poke in the side of the viewer, saying don´t look at the painting, think about the picture, will you?
I was recently introduced to William Eggleston´s photograps, and it struck me that their work has many similarities. Illustration editor Mark Holborn has said of his work:
"[Eggleston's] subjects are, on the surface, the ordinary inhabitants and environs of suburban Memphis and Mississippi--friends, family, barbecues, back yards, a tricycle and the clutter of the mundane. The normality of these subjects is deceptive, for behind the images there is a sense of lurking danger." (From Wikipedia´s article on Eggleston.)
|Not in the exhibition, alas, but in the catalogue: my favourite.|
Some critics, like Eudora Welty said of Eggleston, suggest that artists like these bring out the beauty in the "ugly". But I feel that´s not right. Why does it have to be beautiful and pleasing to be of worth, to be interesting, to be important? Why must we always like art, be it paintings, installations, performances, music, to appreciate it? Can´t we rise above our feelings, our prejudices, our likes and dislikes, and challenge our minds a bit? Thinking is more than a bit underrated these days. How many (myself included, probably) doesn´t use the word feel, when they actually mean think? I
It´s all very much about the eye of the beholder, isn´t it? I find that their art is an appeal to go with them out of our comfort zones and look at the world from another perspective. I think what we do, inside our every-day-scape, is that we identify with it, and that way, it becomes invisible to us. It´s like looking at a picture of oneself, something that makes a lot of people uncomfortable: is that what I look like? We are more comfortable with what we see in the mirror, but that is distorted, not only by the fact that the image is reversed, but the way we always meet and greet our own image when we know it´s coming. Kind of like we clean up for Mother. We are always very cordial to our own image (and protective of our ego), and catching ourselves unawares in the morning (in the laptop screen when it goes black for a second as it starts up: oh my god, I need to pull myself together) is rarely a pleasant experience. I have known people who need that first fag and cup of coffee to be able to face the bathroom, no kidding.
I have seen more than one person go quiet, and close up, in front of Mamma Andersson´s work. And I have read a few reviewers who focus more on her international successes and "apparent" genious, without really adressing her work. Like I said to begin with, she is a big fish. And I have heard that she sniggered at the praise from the representatives from the local art school during the vernissage (which I couldn´t attend). When she applied there in the 80´s, she was not accepted.
Anyway, bottom line: this is great stuff. It´s challenging, it´s work worth starting a conversation with. It can be infinitely rewarding.