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Pre-takeoff and inside Vårsalongen

Nota bene: no real spoilers ahead!

Sophie Westerlind, Non spegnere la mia musica, oil on linen, 2022, 50 x 40 cm. Photo: Enrico Fiorese

Vårsalongen at Liljevalchs konsthall is a historical tradition in Stockholm and Sweden; a public affair and spectacle that must likely count as the biggest annual exhibition around our shores, gathering a visitor turnout and a setlist of participating artists from all across the country. The per open call exhibition, this year amassed a staggering record number of 4974 applying artists; marking a 25 % increase from last year alone (that number was 2423 back in 2017, so evidently a growing situation). Having served as curator of contemporary art at Konstnärshuset in Stockholm in what in 2024 now is a fourth year, and having curated a couple of institution/musuem exhibitions, I'm hardly a stranger to productions of greater proportions, involving more than just a handful of artists. Vårsalongen, however, is a beast in terms of the underlying machinations. There was a moment yesterday before Joanna Sandell and me began installing as co-curators of the exhibition with the technical team on site, and all the artworks had found their preliminary rooms according to a plan, where I was struck by the logistics of it all, given that many of the artists swing by in person with their works during what is a brief window in time.

But to rewind the roadmap a bit; Joanna Sandell as the new konsthall director, following years of Mårten Castenfors at the helm, composed her jury to lead, with my fellow curator; Malmö-based Tawanda Appiah, myself and Olympic jockey Peder Fredricson in it. I was particularly honored to join the jury and was excited also because the reception of Vårsalongen stretches far beyond the usual art audiences and speaks to people who do not even relate to being interested in contemporary art, or in art at all. I had a very good feeling, from the get-go, about our composition and what our group dynamics might be. Tawanda Appiah is a sublime curator who was just the receipient of Nöjesguiden's art award in Malmö and not long ago curated the major exhibition FLIGHT at Malmö Konsthall. Joanna Sandell herself too is a curator and konsthall director with such ear to the ground and who's often been ahead of the times and has manifested an international perspective that goes far beyond just the provincial. Peder Fredricson as an athelete has such an impressive trajectory in the realm of horse sport and I find it sympathetic between three seasoned curators to have included a jury member who could also represent a broader voice or "the eyes of the public". And while I've been asked on occasion about his artistic eye due to his coming from "the outside"; there's no objections from my end. We all aligned very well in the decision-making.

Liljevalchs Konsthall, January 2024. Below: Curators of Vårsalongen 2024: Joanna Sandell & Ashik Zaman. Photo: C-print

The result of having three curators involved in the jury is that we were always thinking two steps ahead, both of the art, and the exhibition process to come, and I'm going to say that deliberate curatorial choices have been made in the exhibition production that will be felt by visitors. I don't want to give much away already or spoil anything beforehand and imagine it'll be fun to survey what make this Vårsalongen distinct during "a cold reading" and first and subsequent glance, in due time. As I have alluded to already; it takes a village to do an exhibition like Vårsalongen; it would be impossible without skilled producers and a tech team; so should take a moment to acknowledge the dedicated work this far of Klara Nilsen, Ulrika Hägglund, Mårten Åhsberg, Joshua Webber, Samuel Ramnek Petri and P.O.

Technician and installation team extraordinaire, Liljevalchs Konsthall, 2024. Photo: C-print

Here's five of the many artists from the upcoming exhibition just to give at least some minor teasers, but not presented below with the actual artworks that you will see in February. That's for you to discover then. There's so many wonderful artists this year. Stay tuned for further presentations of all of them online per Liljevalchs!

Sophie Westerlind, installation view She Affects us, indeed, Swedish Institute in Rome, 2023. Photo: Roberto Apa

Sophie Westerlind is a Swedish painter and MA grad of the Royal College of Art in London, based in Venice. Her softly and tenderly calibrated work sparks off thought to Alice Neel, Sylvia Sleigh and intimate impresionist portraiture. Timeless in a sense that her work resonates both back in time but alignging well also with where the zeitgeist of contemporary painting stands in the present.

Alqumit Alhamad is a Jordan-born and Cyprus and Syria-raised artist and MFA'24 graduate of Academy Valand, who left Syria due to the war and is based today in Gothenburg. He recently presented work in the group exhibition Unknown Forces at Detriti Gallery, in the context of GIBCA Exended (Gothenburg International Biennial of Art). His interdisciplinary practice informs first-hand experiences of war and displacement, and recently in collective fashion with two fellow artists, he sought in a project to reimagine his Syrian home post-devestation of war.

Manifestation of a nightmare no. 3, 2023, watercolors on paper

Liu Chien-Kuang photgraphed by Jean-Baptiste Béranger for SAK Magazine (Sveriges Allmänna Konstförening), in interview with Sara Walker, 2021.

Liu Chien-Kuang

Taiwanese Liu Chien-Kuang is based in the old epicenter of Swedish crafts-making that is Gustavsberg, and is such a sublime glass sculptor, intersecting and combining old techniques with novel expressions of glass. He is an MA graduate of Konstfack, and has taken an interest in how glass can mimic and mirror the visual qualities of stone, notably to reproduce "the rarest jade stone", while focusing on green glass.

Anabelí D Gonzalez in connection her to her sculptural series I Call Venus

Anabelí D Gonzalez's artistic backgroud involves studies in ceramic art at HDK-Valand in Gothenburg and has in recent years candidly delved into the importance of paternal and maternal figures in her life. About a series of Venus sculptures; I Call Venus, that has been presented at Kalmar Museum, she has said:

"I believe that inside every woman there is a big woman with a great composture and that fat woman is always latent, patiently waiting for the opportunity to come out into the open, gather forces and take a stand. The great majority of women, either consciously or unconsciously, play a survival role in our everyday life. We need to conceal our strength, our wrath, and our desire. Only in some subcultures and closed circles of female communities, we have been able to embrace our courage."

Leyun Wang, En droppe vatten, installation view, Strängnäs domkyrka, 2023

Chinese-born (Hangzhou) Leyun Wang has been based in Stockholm since the early 1990's. Her artistic practice seated in sculpture and installation notably concerns an interest in tradtional Japanese Shibori craft, with paper, textiles and thread as staples in what are often very intricate orchestrations of arresting beauty. Here's to hoping that her work, like many of the other artists in Vårsalongen, will reach the greater audiences it deserves.

Ashik Zaman

Vårsalongen 2024 opens February 9 at Liljevalchs Konsthall, Stockholm


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