Moderna Museet
Stockholm, Sweden
17 June–17 september 2017

Curator: Jo Widoff

This summer, Moderna Museet is featuring a major solo exhibition with the Swedish artist Marie-Louise Ekman. The exhibition includes nearly 350 works from the late 1960s until today, by an artist who for five decades has alternated freely between painting, sculpture, film and drama.

In Marie-Louise Ekman’s idiosyncratic oeuvre, characters are repeated in scenes where roles and relationships shift. The pictures, which are often based on personal experience, undermine social constructions and reveal our absurd everyday constructions, with the theatre as a recurring metaphor. In rooms covered with floral wallpaper, dreams, passions and disappointments are enacted in a heightened reality. Positions of strength and weakness are overturned, and Picasso’s female figures meet Daisy Duck.

“Marie-Louise Ekman has created art for over half a century, yet she feels more relevant today than ever. No other Swedish artist moves so naturally between the artistic disciplines. She is a total artist,” says Daniel Birnbaum, director of Moderna Museet.

Ekman’s works have a strong narrative focus. In her early painting, humans and anthropomorphic animals share the table, while the most ordinary encounters seem artificial, almost absurd. She was early to adopt the comic strip’s restrained aesthetics and fragmented storytelling. In the large series At Home With a Lady (1973), a lonely woman acts out her desires, captive in an interior like an animal in the zoo, reliving the same reality day after day. In Striptease (1973), this blonde female figure is transformed, step-by-step, via ape and man, into a bird that flies away. In other paintings, windows and sinkholes open up to other worlds. The women’s orifices evolve into exotic landscapes with oceans lined by palm trees, and beyond the windows are other windows, where new wondrous scenes are enacted. In the 1970s, shadows began emerging in Ekman’s works. Shadow play, memories and transforming meanings also find their way into a recent major series of paintings, which is shown for the first time in this exhibition. Just as Ekman previously entered into Piet Mondrian’s and Olle Bærtling’s images she now revisits her own paintings from the 1970s, with her grandchildren as muses.

“Marie-Louise Ekman’s oeuvre is characterised by her unromantic, subversive imagery and independent approach. In cramped pictorial spaces and warped one-point perspectives, she highlights the realities of women and children, portraying a coming to womanhood that closely resembles her own,” says the curator, Jo Widoff.

After eight feature films and many TV productions, Ekman definitely sees herself as an artist when making films, rather than a film director. As director of the Royal Dramatic Theatre, she wrote The Dramatic Asylum (2013-14), a drama series in 50 episodes, which she also filmed using her mobile. With humour and painful precision, Ekman scrutinises the theatre, its power relationships and her own role as director and colleague. The exhibition also features The Elephant Walk (1979), Ekman’s first feature movie. By contrast, The Elephant Walk is a sensational show with marches and musical numbers, where scales and meanings are displaced, while the kids stoically observe the affected manners of the grownups. In September, a number of Ekman’s films will also be screened in the Cinema on level 2.