Nordic Impressions: A Review

The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. is currently featuring an exhibition titled Nordic Impressions on the third floor through  January 13, 2019 (that’s only three days away, gasp!).  Appropriately timed to coincide with the beginning of the winter months, as well as with Christmas (the coziest time of the year); this Scandinavian- themed five room exhibition was surprising in some ways, and did not disappoint.

The surprises: I was taken aback by the age of many of the paintings. Yes, there were modern pieces from the past ten years, but there were also quite a few that dated back to the 1800s! That, I was not expecting. I was also surprised to see that the majority of the works were portraits, as opposed to landscapes. What was not a surprise considering the Nordic nature of the exhibition, was the sheer number of female artists featured within the galleries. As any museum lover will surely notice, most walls and halls of established museums are domineered by the classic male artists of the nineteenth century; but not this one!

A new fact: I visited Olafur Eliasson’s Reality Machines solo exhibition at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden back in 2015, and had no idea that he was previously involved in photographic projects with environmental messages such as the one on display in Nordic Impressions:

The Island Series (1997)

An oldie but goodie: One of my favorite pieces from the exhibition was completed in 1887 by Oda Krohg, a Norwegian artist. Despite the fact that one would be unlikely to pinpoint the ethnicity of this little girl (although her blonde hair might be a dead giveaway), or know that this particular Evening Post was actually the conservatively-slanted Aftenposten of Norway, this painting’s social critique is still relevant in most places around the globe. In this particular case, according to the painting’s corresponding placard: the “newspaper disapproved of the the free-spirited lifestyle of the upper-class intellectuals, writers, and artists…[who] were critical of the Norwegian bourgeois society.”

In response, what does this little girl do? I imagine that after she overhears her artsy parents disapprovingly discussing the newspaper with their friends over beer in the living room, she prances into the kitchen, pulls out the largest pair of sheers she can find and proceeds to snip, snip, snip until the paper is in shreds on the floor. Enchanting, really.

Although, it begs the question: when is it appropriate to use children as political tools?

Regardless, someone please take those scissors away from her! Shes’s apt to lose a finger at the rate she’s chopping.

“A Subscriber to the Evening Post” (1887)

A warrior: Another way that Nordic Impressions defied my expectations was in the lack of Viking-themed pieces. I’m sure this was done on purpose in an attempt to show another side of Scandinavia- one that isn’t filled by men with shields and maidens with braids. But the only one that even makes a slight nod to the ancient myths or the fighting days of old, is the painting in the featured image above. This painting titled “Warrior Maiden” (1964) by Johannes S. Kjarval displays a fluid female creature clutching a sword in one hand and a shield in the other. I was struck by her watery nature and the fact that she is simultaneously resisting and being nonresistant all in one fell swoop. Fighting to protect her people, perhaps?

Not your grandmother’s wall hanging: The exhibition also featured three films and three installations, my favorite of which is pictured below. With its floor-to-ceiling drippings of thread and wooden dowels arranged in multiple levels of “Vs”, this large wall hanging easily dwarfed all of the other works in the gallery and commanded my immediate attention upon entering the room. The highlight for me though was catching glimpses of the movements of people as they crept around its perimeter, peering up and inwards trying to grasp its colorful secrets.

“Crossing Paths” (2014) Outi Pieski

Other notable pieces:

Nordic Impressions, the basics:

Time required? 30-45 minutes (depends on if you’re a “reader” or not, and will sit/stand still long enough to watch the entire length of a video)

Kid friendly? Yes. They even have a kids drawing activity! Very Scandinavian of them.

Admission? $12 for adults, $10 for students/seniors; members and youth under 18 are free.

Address? 1600 21st Street NW Washington, D.C. ( less than a five minute walk from the Dupont Circle metro station)

Stars? 3.5/5 stars. It was fairly small and didn’t blow me away. While I very much enjoyed some of the pieces, I’ve been much more impressed with some of the collections in these countries’ capitals than I was with the pieces selected to participate in this exhibition. All that is to say, I feel like the curator could have done better and it fell short of my expectations.

Note: Even if you can’t make it to the PC before the Nordic Impressions exhibition closes its doors, I still highly recommend a visit to the museum if you’re in the area. Go during the week (Tue-Fri) for free admission and catch some of the wonderful pieces on viewing from the permanent collection.