Sweden's New Museums: Modern Art and Architecture
Gyongy, Adrienne, Scandinavian Review
After ten years of planning and preparation Sweden's new Museums of Modern Art and Architecture are opening in Stockholm in February 1998. At last one of the finest collections of modern art in Europe will have enough space to do justice to its permanent collection, while also housing a rotating series of temporary exhibitions. It will also mean a great expansion both in space and capability for the neighboring new Museum of Architecture, extending both its international outreach and its public activities. With state-of-theart technology, inspired design, and all the amenities of a modern day public institution, the two museums are certain to occupy a central place in the cultural life of Sweden.
Ninety Years in the Making
The concept of a museum devoted wholly to the display of modern art dates back to 1908, when it was first proposed by the Swedish Association of Museum Curators. All that came of the idea then was a room designated for modern art at the National Art Gallery. It was not until 1958, when the Stockholm Navy Base was moved from Skeppsholmen island, that things began to happen. When the navy's former Drill Hall became available, modern art was finally housed in a facility of its own. Promises were made that a "real" museum would eventually be built. By 1980 there was still no adequate place to display the growing collection, and Swedish artist Eddie Figge decided it was high time to do something about it. By 1985 she and Olle Granath, director of Moderna Museet, had formed an alliance to realize their dream of bringing modern art to the public.
Granath raised the issue with government agencies and institutions, wrote articles, lobbied and enlisted the support of major artists, such as Chagall, Matisse and Picasso, to apply pressure where it was needed. The major exhibitions of the 1980s served a dual purpose: They proved that crowds could be drawn to modern art and that the existing space of the Drill Hall was too small to accommodate them. When Parliament finally made the decision to build a new museum at the lowest possible cost, the government agreed to it reluctantly.
Once the political decision was made, another important effort got underway: the mobilization of the artistic community under the direction of Eddie Figge. The artists decided to raise money to hold a major architectural competition for the design of the new museum by holding an auction of their creations. Sweden's artistic elite came generously to the aid of the museum and donated many fine works. Their gifts went under the hammer at Bukowski's in September of 1989 and raised one million Swedish crowns, which funded one of the largest and most important Swedish architectural competitions of the 20th century.
The competition was not confined to a new Museum of Modern Art, but included the Museum of Architecture, founded in 1962. It was housed in makeshift premises next door to Moderna Museet in the Navy's old Sea Charts Administration building. Its cramped quarters were too impractical to give the museum room to manoeuvre, so it was decided to house the two neighboring institutions in one building, so their resources could be used to benefit each other.
Detailed conditions for the competition were drawn up, and the challenge went forth. By December of 1990, 211 proposals had poured in, including five from internationally renowned architects whose invitations and sketch fees were covered by funds raised through the artists' auction and deposited in "The Eddie Figge Foundation." An exhibition at Moderna Museet enabled the general public to view the fruits of every one of these architectural labors.
The burden of decision-making, however, fell upon museum and government officials, artists and architects. The proposals were carefully considered and dismissed one by one, until only one design remained. Many Swedish architects remained in the running until the end, but it was a foreigner who won the competition. …