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Stockholm Art Week: White Days & Grey Nights

Guerrilla Girls You’re Seeing Less Than Half The Picture, 1989 Screenprint on paper 430 x 560 mm

A local and formalized iteration of international counterpart-cum-fixtures which constitute roughly one calendar week of the year and a collective sum of art exhibitions, art events and special programming scheduled around leading art fairs, Stockholm Art Week brings forth to its credit and announces a programme for the 2019 edition (Tuesday April 9- Sunday April 14). The axis around which this initiative rotates is the leading and most long-standing Nordic art fair; Market Art Fair, this year in its 14th edition. The machination of Stockholm Art Week should likely best be viewed as an open-call situation with an element of screening and selection to quality-proof the final programme. Scrutinizing its calendar and outcome is ultimately not so much a question of passing judgments about the individual choices made by its organizers and participants, as it is to raise a point about what its total composition actually might possibly say, or at least allude to, about the state of the local art scene. And this is meant in light of factors (e.g. gender inclusivity, ethnic diversity in reprsentation and art which considers the interests of marginalized groups) that from a personal point of view should increasingly be allowed as parameters to judge and critique the overall quality of large-scale art programming like these more formalized art weeks, art fairs and their likes.

Stockholm Art Week expressly establishes as a goal, to promote the visual arts to a wider audience and showcase Sweden as a global art destination. Wide, as an adjective, recurs in coverage published and offered recently in the often terrific online magazine Kunstkritikk, where a focal point already in introduction is the wide participation found in this year’s Stockholm Art Week (wide here should be understood in the sense of the great breadth of the type of exhibitors, the type of venues and the type of events). Reading it, it feels negligent in displays like this, in 2019, not to address or examine, in passing at least, how an event of this grand scale holds up in terms of ethnic and gender inclusivity, and put pen to paper in what regards it does and also doesn’t.

As per today’s date April 5, 4 days before Stockholm Art Week is due to start, Stockholm Art Week counts circa 53 unique scheduled items/listings online under its “All events” section. A number of exhibitors/participants offer multiple scheduled events (yet different in concept; e.g. guided tour of an offered exhibition and additionally a talk relating to the same). At first glance scanning the list, based on whatever tidbits of information that instantly catches the eye and prior insights about the scheduled events, Stockholm Art Week appears unsurprisingly an affair of “white” art (primarily by and with white people). However, looking much closer into details, it’s not quite as faulty as it seems, on a happier note.

The epicenter of Stockholm Art Week; Market Art Fair at Liljevalchs Konsthall counts 35 participating galleries (primarily Nordic with a handful of non-regional galleries) and 47 artists, none of which are POC (persons of colour) or NBPOC (non-black persons of colour) artists. The two terms refer here to individuals who in Western society due their ethnic background are often seen as "the other" in relation to majority groups. The fair offers from the look of its announced programme this year, no side-programming or side events which rectify the lackluster numbers with participation and representation of POC and NBPOC within the scope of the fair and its overall programme. The fair does operate on a rationale of promoting Nordic art and Nordic artists but if that amounts in the end to 47 white artists out of a total number of 47, it does beg a string of questions, the answers to which the fair may not be liable alone.

However, it does call for a moment to think if not reasonable to expect measures to be taken within a leading fair like this to modify its admission/selection guidelines and its imperatives towards the gallery scenes to promote a wider diversity and more inclusive view of the Nordic art scene. A fair will tell you its hands are tied at the behest of the participating galleries whose rosters of represented artists are the main drivers of what you come to see as a fair visitor. However, on a general note, informal and guiding dialogues can be expected to occasionally be had between fairs and certain galleries about what art is preferred for admission; dialogues that go beyond pretenses of staunchly objective and formal selecting procedures. A participating gallery will tell you in contrast that its hands are tied at the behest of restricting guidelines about solo fair presentations wanted and collectors’ interests and whatnot. A catch-22, if you will. During a recent conversation with a gallerist who participates in the fair, it was said that things will only change when the minds of collectors would begin to change and that agents of the press are forces that can help slowly prompt such change by creating increased awareness of diverse artists and bringing them to the attention of collectors. It’s safe to say everyone – all parties – could do a lot more than what is currently being done but it can be agreed that the press serves a role in addressing these defective realities and calling inaction out. The art sphere appears self-regulating and agents of the press often are intimately linked socially in the same system it is supposed to critique without bias and self-interest. It's precarious and speaking adversely within a small pool of peers comes at a personal cost.

An additional number of highlights that are uniquely brought forth in parallel timing during Stockholm Art Week, are recurring gallery-driven fairs that perhaps could also be described as curated events that join several galleries who gather forces for independent and self-produced initiatives. There is Monopol at Spritmuseum, this year expanding beyond the scope of the core group of organizing galleries, inviting in the header an impressive list of European galleries to contribute to the mix. For all the excitement tied with the event which counts the work of the late Maria Lassnig (Stockholm and Sweden appear largely absent from her career resumé, nota bene), it would have made for an even more compelling output had a more diverse representation amid exhibited artists been in tact and at hand. C/O Stockholm at the premises of interior design boutique Dusty Deco similarly joins too, short of a handful of local galleries, but together with design and antique galleries in a hybrid-event. Information about the art to be exhibited by the participating galleries is currently n/a but the three participating galleries represent between the three, one NPBOC artist. After a two years absence, Stockholm Art Book Fair returns with a new edition at Beckmans College of Design, seeing in the group of exhibitors noted artbook publishers, art institutions and as can be let on by the choice of venue; the leading art schools in Stockholm. From the outset of its published programme of talks, launches and presentations it appears as well to be a largely “white” affair.

Hybrid-gallery CF Hill, among the commercial players in the city seems really to be the only to seize the opportunity of Stockholm Art Week to present an exhibition informed by the art of POC/NBPOC artists; the group exhibition “LA DREAMS 2”, channeling painters from LA’s art scene, curated by Melanie Lum and counting Cassi Namoda and Huang Yanyan as participating artists in the midst. Non-profit artist-run exhibition platform Detroit presents Iranian-born artist Zahra Zavareh, currently based in Stockholm, with the video installation “Disjoint.”

While parts of the programming of Stockholm Art Week will categorize as more standard fare; talks and guided tours, a couple of the leading art institutions and museums in the city are stepping up to the plate with their openings for art week. Moderna Museet, after a repetitive string of retrospective exhibitions of leading figures in contemporary art, presents in an exhibition queer artist Sharon Hayes, known for activist-driven work. Tensta Konsthall’s “Let the River Flow” will already have been running for a while and is now reaching its end, but is worth noting in so far an exhibition that puts art from Sápmi and Sami artists to the forefront. Neither exhibition links to POC/NBPOC but stems from notions and interests relating to marginalized societal groups, which an event like Stockholm Art Week duly should always find in its programme. Färgfabriken delivers novel news for the art scene in Stockholm by way of the opening of “Delta and Sediment”, composed entirely of Bangladeshi contemporary artists, the sound of which have not priorly been heard here. At all. This is very pleasing and an important scheduling to coincide with Stockholm Art Week and its calendar.

Munem Wasif, Kheyal Single Channel, 23m30s, BW, Stereo, loop 2015-2018 Courtesy: The artist and Project 88, Mumbai The project is supported by Bengal Foundation

Stockholm may allegedly already be a global art destination, but how global things will grow to be from here and on, will quite frankly remain to be seen.

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