Using art as a tool for socio-economic change in the modern era is nothing new. Throughout Europe, a successful model has been developed across the decades in the 20th and 21st centuries which has helped what once were desolate industry towns, thwarted by the stagnation of economies, become reborn cultural capitals. In the UK, Tate Liverpool transformed the city’s all but departed dockside, while the Hepworth Wakefield, which recently won the Art Fund’s coveted “Museum of the Year Award’ has made an otherwise lacklustre town a new-hip-destination. This year even saw Hull named the UK’s ‘City of Culture 2017’. Further afield the same method has transformed once no-go places such as Bilbao in Spain with its Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Museum.
But this model is not as new as it might seem. The sleepy town of Trondheim in Norway, with a population of under 200,000 people, houses an art museum called the Trondheim Kunstmuseum that was established with a similar mission many decades prior. A local businessman turned philanthropist, named Lorck Schive, set up a trust in 1878 that decreed a percentage of all the rental income from his local properties (he was said to own around 30% of the town) must be used to fund projects for the arts, centred around the local museum.
The museum today houses a national collection of both modern and contemporary art that is almost 150 years old and provides great insight in to the history of the country’s cultural legacy. As one might expect from a collection of 19th and 20th century Scandinavian paintings, scenes are full of gloomy weather, domestic interiors and often that signature anxious isolation that permeates work created in these environments. It houses works by names from the great and good of Norwegian modern art, albeit names little known past the country's borders. The collection really comes in to its own however, with its contemporary offerings.
Since 2013 the museum has sponsored an annual art prize in conjunction with the local eponymous sponsor's trust that enables Norwegian artists to further their practice and gain the recognition which so often evades them, in contrast to their peers from southern Europe. Prized every two years, the winner of Norway’s national, largest and most coveted art award, the Lorck Scihve Prize, collects 500,000 NOK (roughly £50,000), handed down by a three-person jury.
This year’s committee consists of Heidi Ballet, an independent curator based in Berlin and Brussels; Per Formo, an artist who studied in Trondheim; and Maria Lind, a curator, writer and educator from Stockholm. Together they have the arduous task of whittling down the four to one winner.
This year’s shortlist consists of Knut Henriksen, whose dominating sculptures reference modernist architecture, utopian ideals and pragmatic solutions with dazzling visceral results; Vibeke Tandberg who has filled a room with among other things, 119 plaster casts of freezer doors as a comment on recycling; Lars Lauman who has crammed a room with ephemera from an era that seemed chemically obsessed, including E.T dolls and archival science material on acid attacks; while Mattias Härenstam has set up a pulley that drags a birch tree branch around the exterior of a room, blocking people from entering or exiting the doorway.
However, just as important as the show's contents, is what it represents. The prize is Norway’s equivalent of the UK’s Turner Prize. It pushes the boundaries in terms of process, intellect, and performance and incites encouraging discourse. The work of each of the four artists, in their own, unique way, proves that Scandinavian art, while still full of the same angst and worry characterised by the region’s most famous work, Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream', has amalgamated itself with that effortless Scandi-chic that the country is now also so famous for.
The results are that each of these four artists addresses a deep intellect, internal reflection, global ideals and problems through work that arrests in both positive and negative ways. Something that seems to come naturally to Scandinavians. The exhibition also represents a proud belief and determination by everyone involved that Norwegian art is both fantastic and has a deep, often overlooked power. And they're right.
The Lorck Schive Prize at the Trondheim Kunstmuseum does so well what it has taken the Turner Prize so long to be able to do, which is see past gimmick and gag through establishing debate between artist and participant. Clever work, with clever curation makes for a banger of a small show. Furthermore, it also proves the importance of disrupting the capital-city-centric model of national art prizes, that causes too often a break down in how art reacts with smaller communities. Both the art, and its location in this northern city (which was once the medieval capital of Norway) make a strong impact through working in harmony. Trondheim has cemented its place as Norway's second city of art.
The Lock Schive Prize at Trondheim Kunstmuseum, Norway, on show until 28 January 2018