4 December

Which were the most memorable art experiences of 2019? Today’s answer is by Ulrika Stahre, who is a critic and arts editor of the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet.

Sun & Sea (Marina) in the Lithuanian Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale.

May You Live in Interesting Times, The 58th Venice Biennale, Venice

We certainly do live in the interesting times chosen by curator Ralph Rugoff for the title of this year’s biennial. As the biennial was set to open in May, it wasn’t yet clear just how interesting. One of the few exhibitions that wasn’t forced to close as the city flooded in November was the award-winning work Sun & Sea (Marina) in Lithuania’s pavilion; the irresistible and elegant climate discussion in the guise of an opera performance had already closed. The lucidity had left the building, but this was still one of the more successful biennials in years: low-key, almost modest, yet also magnificent.

Santiago Mostyn was one of the curator’s of Modernautställningen 2018. In the spring of 2019 he published a reply to the exhibition’s critics in Kunstkritikk.

Santiago Mostyn, The Blind Spot of Swedish Art World Exceptionalism, Kunstkritikk

Santiago Mostyn’s polemic published on Kunstkritikk was something of an upset. Putting the issue aside for a moment – is Swedish art criticism uneducated and blind when it comes to ethnic oppression? – it is quite a feat for a curator to break the unspoken rule that you can’t, ever, criticise a critic. There wasn’t much of a debate in the wake of this, but I (who mainly received angry e-mails from a few artists) would like to see critics also break free and openly discuss issues like these, instead of protecting each other like detectives in a generic tv-drama. Mostyn’s criticism was perhaps a bit harsh and polarising, but it still stands as a watershed moment of 2019.

Installation view from Pipilotti Rist’s exhibition Open My Glade at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek. Foto: Kim Hansen.

Pipilotti Rist, Open My Glade, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek

Yes, she is an established art world superstar, but Pipilotti Rist’s exhibition was still one of this year’s most pleasant surprises. Why? Nostalgia, yes. An urge to just be swept away? Again, yes. But understanding her art as amusing and feel-good with a side of insolence would be doing it a disfavour. Perhaps my inability to articulate exactly what was so good about it is a sign of humour’s low status. It’s simply fun to be in Pipilotti Rist’s company, and nothing can take away from the fact that she created a total hit at Louisiana. The exhibition was built with flair: inviting, distinct, pedagogical, and with all the promise of a royal ball.

Ulrika Stahre is a critic and arts editor of the Swedish daily Aftonbladet. She holds a Phd in art history and wrote her dissertation on the amazon in Western European visual culture 1789–1918.