Nils Dardel at Moderna Museet

Nils Dardel, Self Portrait 1935

Another great thing about Helsinki is that it is possible to walk from here to Stockholm, by simply hopping on one of the ridiculous ferries that run daily between the two cities. I went to have a look at two exhibitions at Moderna Museet. The first that caught my eye was about Surrealism and Duchamp, of the Fountain (i.e. urinal) fame, which was frankly a bit yawn, although there were some interesting pieces by a variety of artists, including one that was an umbrella composed of now decaying sea sponges.

What blew me away was the bigger exhibit,Nils Dardel and the Modern Age . Dardel’s work was vaguely familiar to me, but they did a magnificent job of showing the breadth of it, beyond his brightly colored, semi-macabre early oil paintings.

His work is confusing and striking even today. I was particularly taken with the evolution of his self portraits. His costume and stage sets evoked an almost Lord of the Rings imagery, and his combination of almost flippant scenes with bright coloring and motifs of death and decay was unsettling. As were his paintings of the exotic and primitive. Some of his most engaging, I felt that they should not be consumed with out reading something like this book , or thinking about the work of Coco Fusco in preparation.

Since the exhibit then I have been thinking about The Heart of Darkness , particularly how it begins with the memory of Romans sailing into Britain and viewing it as a savage land of primitive people. The wild savage past of Sweden is even more recent, so these images of the savage were particular ridiculous. But perhaps they were meant to be. Some of them were also incredibly beautiful. The details and colors in particular reminded me sometime Helsinki + Berlin based artist Sari Bremer , particularly her 2011 work Into the Wilderness .

Speaking of savage eaters of raw flesh, I did not do such a great job of picking a lunch destination. Despite good reviews and a super-cute website, I found Pocket (part of the Pontus Frithiof Empire
a wee bit of a disappointment. The place was adorable, and open to the street offered a charming respite from a hot sunny day. The fresh pasta and new peas slathered in butter, was, accordingly, delicious.

However, the tuna sandwich turned out to be a large raw steak of tuna in a hamburger bun. While no stranger to eating raw fish, this seemed questionable. Do Swedes really know that they are doing with raw tuna shipped from foreign (exotic and likely tropical!!!) seas? These are people who invented processes like preparing old fish by soaking it in lye. I wasn’t convinced, although I ate it anyway. It was bit hard to chew. Whatever parasites I acquired seem to be blending in fairly well, I am happy to report.

It is good to try new things, but maybe I should just submit to my obsession with this place, which has never failed me. My goal next time, however, is to visit the Saltå Kvarn store. I’m sorry, but they have the best knäckebröd. While I would never have purchased it to begin with, since the idea of fancy knäcke seems a bit cross purposes, once I tasted their rye crisp bread, which is stone ground by hand from whole rye kernels, using stones carefully chosen from pristine forests by happy, fully health-insured Tomte*. There was no going back.

Åh Sverige!

The Nils Dardel exhibit is on until 15 September 2014; definitely worth a visit.

*Or by some similar process. Certainly, organic fields seem to be involved.

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  1. Helsinki-Stockholm-Helsinki

    Great post! Dardel is amazing, indeed. Wholeheartedly recommend the exhibition.

    • Thank you! I also thought the exhibition was fantastic, and worth the trip! Seeing so much of his work together, definitely gave me a greater appreciation for it. His portraits and self-portraits in particular are sticking in my mind.

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