The center of the 19th century universe was undoubtedly Paris – the city of lights, the pioneer of couture, and the historical cradle of what we today know as art. From the founding of the public museum Louvre in the wake of the French Revolution, to the rise of the art salons and annual exhibitions that promoted the newest avant-garde frontier, it’s in Paris that art finds its modern rendition. Since, the city’s art world has taken a few tumbles, overwhelmed by a dominating fashion industry, expensive real estate, and a cultural localism due to language barriers. However, in recent years a momentum has been building once more for the city’s cultural frontier, aided by the success of art fair FIAC (opening 18th of October) and a recent expansion beyond the notorious highway periphery by several galleries and artists. One of the strongest voices in this new generation of art intermediaries is Nordic Contemporary, devoted to showcasing the best of Scandinavian art in the French capital. Co-founded by fellow Scandis Jacob Valdemar and Andreas Emenius in 2014, Nordic Contemporary has moved across the city in nomadic fashion until they in 2018 finally moved into their permanent gallery space near Republique. The aim of the space is to create long-term visibility for Nordic art and showcase internationally the Nordic region’s increasing importance on the global art scene. Opening the group show DARKEST BEFORE DAWN next week – responding to dystopian and dualist modes of critical thinking, and featuring Norwegian, Finnish and Danish artists –we sat down with Emanius to learn more about the project.
What was the conceptual starting point of this exhibition?
The idea that in a bleak situation there’s always that sensation of hope. Which creates meaning. Perhaps even more so in Scandinavian with its Bergmanesque culture.
How do you think these notions of hope, renewal, and progress are specific to a Nordic context, which is sometimes stereotyped as dark, sinister, melancholic?
I think the Nordic culture somewhat romanticize the idea of pain, perhaps it’s our Lutheran roots, perhaps it’s Bergman, Munch and Ibsen’s fault. As soon as something is bright there seems always to be something lurking in the shadows. But the opposite is also true, when the melancholic spell hits the idea of the light coming after makes a case for continue working.
Do you find particular recurring themes or issues that the featured artists in the exhibition return to?
Not really, I mean this is what we’re examining; any potential overlaps between the artists. The exhibition has a point of departure, so I guess we choose works we feel connect to this somehow, but the show is mean to clash and pull in different directions.
You founded NORDIC CONTEMPORARY together with Jacob Valdemar in 2014. How have you seen the project develop in the past 4 years?
The first exhibition felt almost as a one-off, the show was amazing and I guess it created a bit of a buzz – the Scandinavians are here, but it was also confusing to know exactly what would follow. The next few shows were ambitious and received good reviews, but it felt like we were still trying to find our position. Now we have a clearer vision of what we want to do. We will start representing artists and hope to present more show per year that way. This direction is symbolized with us getting this new venue. Darkest before Dawn is the first show here!
What does the Parisian context offer – and how is Nordic culture generally received there?
Growing up in Sweden, you looked towards Paris with a sort of longing for the cliché French values, gold, wine and the art saloon of the past. This heavy French art history which is both amazing in the way it has shaped western culture, at the same time a weight that you kind of want to threw off a cliff. A bit like the Danish Arne Jacobsen chairs – it’s a love-hate thing.
Today I guess Nordic culture is in the vogue. About time!
What does your move to a permanent physical space mean to you?
It gives a sense of solid, a step forward. The space is located on street level so there’s a different vibe, people who pass will see the shows and we become part of the local scene in a more direct way. Really looking forward to that.
What is the goal for NORDIC CONTEMPORARY – and how does the next year look like for you?
The goal is plainly to become an established platform for Nordic artists that we think Paris needs to see. Both upcoming and established ones. Carving out a small space on the Paris art map. We will begin to represent artists which you will see in upcoming solo shows. Apart from that drink some, eat some and enjoy the ride.
Darkest Before Dawn will open 16th October
For more information, see NORDIC Contemporary