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28 August 2021 – 2 January 2022
This is the Night Mail is the first line of W.H. Auden’s 1936 poem describing a train journey across a sleeping Britain as it carries the nation’s mail. It accompanied a film commissioned by the Post Office with a soundtrack by composer Benjamin Britten. The poem has inspired Norwegian artist Ida Ekblad in her selection of works from the collection of Christen Sveaas.
Ekblad is renowned for her polychromatic paintings that can expand into environments. Coming from the land of the longest and the shortest nights, she shares with artists featured here a fascination with the nocturne.
Ekblad explores how moonlit interiors and landscapes frame dreams, dramas and transgressions. She includes 19th and 20th century masterpieces by Norwegian artists, such as the planetary compositions of Anna-Eva Bergman, disturbing fables by Theodor Kittelsen, psychologically-charged nightscapes by Edvard Munch and dreamy nocturnes by Harald Sohlberg. Imagining the display as three train compartments, Ekblad also shows contemporary night scenes by artists such as Sophie Calle, Martin Kippenberger, Ed Ruscha and Rosemarie Trockel.
The Oslo-based collection has been built up over forty years with a focus on painting by Norwegian and international artists alongside antique silver and glass objects. Also included in the display: Nikolai Astrup, Lynda Benglis, Andreas Bloch, Louise Bourgeois, Giorgio de Chirico, Johan Christian Dahl, Garde Eide Einarsson, Arne Ekeland, Theaster Gates, Isa Genzken, Vilhelm Hammershøi, Thorvald Hellesen, Howard Hodgkin, Rebecca Horn, Ludvig Karsten, Edvarda Klaudine Lie, Christian Krohg, Per Krohg, IIya Kabakov, Albert Oehlen, Paulina Olowska, Steven Parrino, Sigmar Polke, Christian Schad, Adolph Tidemand, Francesca Woodman.
Christen Sveaas is a Norwegian businessman, collector and philanthropist who has collected art and antique silver for more than 40 years. He began his art collection with late 19th century and early 20th century Norwegian artists including Johan Christian Dahl, Edvard Munch and Harald Sohlberg. In the early 1990s he was introduced to the work of Howard Hodgkin which inspired him to start collecting international contemporary artists. The collection’s focus is primarily painting with some sculpture and photography and is made up of more than 2000 works of art by over 300 artists. In 1996 Christen Sveaas founded the Kistefos Museum on the grounds of his grandfather Anders Sveaas’ old wood pulp mill at Jevnaker, north of Oslo. The wood pulp mill was active from 1889 until 1955 but is still intact. The museum has one of the most important sculpture parks in Europe, an industrial museum and two exhibition spaces for contemporary art. The museum building, The Twist, which straddles the river that divides the park was designed by BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group architects, opened in 2019. The same year, Christen Sveaas established the Christen Sveaas Art Foundation which the following year received some 800 works of art from his personal collection to be made available to Kistefos as well as other Norwegian and international museums.
Ida Ekblad (b. 1980, Norway) lives and works in Oslo, Norway. Her artistic practice incorporates painting, sculpture, performance, filmmaking and poetry and transmits a distinct vibrancy and spontaneity, created through the energetic movement of her compositions, the bold application of colour and the attentive use of found materials. The forms and gestures found in her work derive from a wide variety of inspirations and art historical references such as CoBrA, Situationism and Abstract Expressionism, as well as pop cultural aesthetics like graffiti or cartoons, indicating Ekblad’s genre-crossing approach. Ekblad participated in the Venice Biennale (2011, 2017) alongside numerous solo and group exhibitions, including a recent exhibition at Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo, Norway (2021). Further solo presentations have been held at Kunsthalle Zürich, Zurich, Switzerland (2019); Museo Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City, Mexico (2019); Kunstverein Braunschweig, Braunschweig, Germany (2018); Kunsthaus Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany (2017); National Museum of Art, Design and Architecture, Oslo, Norway (2013); Bergen Kunsthall, Bergen, Norway (2010); Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm, Sweden (2010). In August her most important sculpture to date will be unveiled as part of the expanding sculpture park at the Kistefos Museum, Norway.
This exhibition has been made possible as a result of the Government Indemnity Scheme. The Whitechapel Gallery would like to thank HM Government for providing Government Indemnity and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Arts Council England for arranging the indemnity.