Oyvind Fahlstrom

By Birnbaum, Daniel | Artforum International, November 1995 | Go to article overview

Oyvind Fahlstrom


Birnbaum, Daniel, Artforum International


This large retrospective of Oyvind Fahlstrom's work, curated by Thomas Nordanstad and Deborah Thompson, traces the development of the idea of the artwork as a game from the early abstract canvases, to the multivalent paintings from the '60s (in which one can discern a shift from the abstract to the figurative), and finally to the Monopoly games and installations from the early '70S. In addition to the retrospective, the critic John Peter Nilsson organized an exhibition that examined the influence of Fahlstrom's on Swedish art. Works by Maya Eizin, Lars Hillersberg, Joakim Pirinen, Carsten Regild, Martin Wickstrom, and Ola Astrand demonstrate how different aspects of Fahlstrom's art have been adopted and developed since his death.

Fahlstrom's works give expression to the kind of commitment that verges on mania. His maps, Monopoly boards, and variable paintings are no irresponsible fantasy games detached from political reality; they're manifestations of an obsession. Fahlstrom dreamed of art forms that would go beyond subjective expression. In his view, what is central to an artwork is not its style or its psychological expressiveness, but something much broader "strategy, manipulation, political psychodrama." As the oft-cited essay by Walter Benjamin points out, in the era of mechanical reproduction art can no longer rely on uniqueness, but must reflect a new social reality. In the essay "Multiples," 1996, Fahlstrom declared, "It is time to incorporate advances in technology to create mass-produced works of art, obtainable by the rich

Little by little, the politics, technology, and media of the times entered Fahlstrom's work. In the '50s, evidence of the influence of popular culture on his oeuvre was already present in the form of Bill Elder's cartoons in Mad magazine, and soon American mass-culture was flooding his work. But one should not forget that when Fahlstrom left Sweden for New York in 1961, he had already produced a large body of work, and it is also quite clear that the early canvases relied on certain fundamental ideas that not even the encounter with American Pop art made him question. …

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