Stockholm Sweden has a myriad of museums. Many of Stockholm’s museums are one island: Skeppsholmen. This sparsely populated, generally wooded island has emerged as one of the city’s new cultural hub and contains some interesting museums.
Museum of Modern Art
Spanish architect Rafael Moneo designed this building, which welcomes you with a dozen outdoor sculptures by artists including Alexander Calder and Jean Tinguely. The permanent collection begins with brief descriptions and examples of work attributable to key 20th-century periods, beginning with Cubism and Fauvism. It then goes through Expressionism, Surrealism, Pop and so forth. The exhibits provides examples of work by leading artists in each of the fields (Picasso, Matisse, Dali, Warhol, etc.), interspersed with work by Nordic, and especially Swedish artists.
The collection includes some wonderful and unusual works by Picasso, Matisse, and especially Marcel Duchamp, with whom the museum had a special relationship.
Surrealism, Pop, Abstraction and Abstract Expressionism art is less comprehensive but still includes works by Man Ray, Magritte, Dali, and Rauschenberg.
More specialized galleries provide overviews of post WWI Russian Avante Garde, Swedish experimental artist Moki Cherry and more difficult to categorize contemporary art, such as that which is referred to as “Start from Scratch”, “Social Awareness” and “Idea-Based Art”.
The museum has a huge, roughly 50x10x10-foot Plexiglas box containing hundreds of geometrically-shaped objects to represent a “special archive” of Danish-Icelanding installation artist Olifer Eliasson’s entire “artistic oeuvre” to the time the exhibit was compiled.
The museum also had another exhibit by Japanese, now American experimental artist Yayoi Kusama, who has gone through a number of stages, including designing textiles and unusual multi-person dresses for performance art, creating and then selectivity obliterating portions of monochrome canvas, to a current stage where she paints dots virtually everything, but especially organic objects and shapes, such as stylized plastic pumpkins and trees (the latter of whose trunks and branches she wraps in dot-spotted wrappers). One of the many forms of contemporary art that we are still struggling to appreciate.
Although we didn’t have time to visit this museum, it examines the design principles, aesthetics and examples of Swedish and other Nordic architecture.
And if you are looking for history turned populist, check out, or into the Al Chapman, a 100-year-old schooner that has been repurposed as a youth hostel.
Skansen is the oldest open-air cultural museum in the world with more than 150 historical buildings collected from throughout Sweden to preserve a slice of the country’s heritage over a period of over 400 years, from 1500 through about 1930. It has original examples of everything from homes to factories and farms to every day shops. The vast majority of buildings are furnished with period furnishings, products and equipment and most are staffed by people who are more than happy to share the history of the building and people and the era.
The range of buildings are amazing. At one extreme is a one-room stone house, a WWI-era allotment hut (built on land given to poor farmers willing to produce fruits and vegetables) and an a small one-room Stockholm flat that was used to house not only a full family, but also boarders during the 1870s—the beginning of Sweden’s Industrial Revolution when the number of jobs far exceeded the number of available housing units.
At the other end of the spectrum is a large 19th-century manor house, multi-building farms of farmers who became quite well-to-do, such as by mining iron ore or copper on their land or by growing flax (which was woven into linen before imported cotton made its way into Sweden), and the mansion of the person who funded the creation of the museum. Many of these high-end dwellings also had wonderful—and original—examples of artistically hand-painted walls that personalized and added visual warmth to the homes.
Skansen also had outbuildings (storehouses, windmills and standalone kitchens (separated from living quarters) and public buildings including churches, temperance hills and also tall belfries whose entire surfaces were covered with an unusual type of wooden shingles.
In addition to buildings, Skansen also has a large collection of farm animals and also native Nordic wildlife (including brown bears, wolves, wild boar, reindeer and elk) large, natural surroundings.
The Nordic Museum is also on this island. It was built in 1910 and is a work of art in itself—from its grand size, its extravagant turrets and elaborate exterior details, to the incredible, three-story grand hall around which its display galleries and ringed. And as if all this weren’t sufficiently grand, visitors who walk in door are confronted with a huge, richly-painted oak carving of King Gustav Vasa.
The galleries themselves provide a survey of Swedish life and culture from the 16th through the late-20th century. Each floor is divided among roughly four to six broad themes. Although we browsed through all of them, we focused our attention on a few of the largest, most diverse. These included:
- Home and Interiors, which provided an overview of Swedish home furnishings across the ages, across the country, and to a limited extent, across social classes (the vast majority of exhibits focused on well-to-do families)–and though most of the nation’s history, the deep influence of British and French style on Swedish tastes.
- Traditions, which examined the change in religious traditions that occurred when the nation evolved from Paganism to Christianity; the practices, the dress and the feasts around major holidays (Easter, Christmas, etc.); and around family celebration (births, graduations, weddings, deaths and so forth).
- A special exhibit of large-scale, hand-painted Swedish furniture, such as that created by rural citizens in time of poor harvests who took to building and painting large cabinets, storage chests and even grandfather clocks and selling them to more well-to-do families.
- Folkhemslagenheten Apartment, a small, but comfortable 1940’s-era government-subsidized apartment into which rural folks could afford to live when they moved into cities.
These exhibits, however, just scratched the surface of the collections of this multi-faceted museum. There were also sections on jewelry, toys, doll houses, small home objects, and a section devoted specifically to August Strindberg. There was also an interesting section on fashion, showing contrasts in men’s and women’s fashions through the ages—from traditional formal clothing through punk. And an overview of the contortions women have had to go through to conform to the mores of their times—including a video of a woman’s struggle to lace up her corset.
And let’s not forgot one another impressive museum in Stockholm: the Vasa Museum. Inside the building is a huge, ornate 17th-century warship ship that is a piece of art in itself, adorned with 700 sculptures and carvings and 24,000 historical objects (from skeletons to plates, to rum and coins) that were salvaged from the vessel that proved to be so overloaded with its 24 cannons and 450 sailors and soldiers (and so underloaded with ballast) that it sunk on its maiden voyage, before even getting out of the harbor. While it took more than 350 years to salvage the vessel, it proved to be in extraordinary condition. In fact, the skeletons (not to speak of the hair and brains), clothes and shoes of some of the 30 victims were still intact and some of the sculptures even had traces of the bright red and gold paint that adorned the vessel.
The ship, its cannons and much of its cargo has been restored and some of its sculptures even repainted to their original colors. All these are displayed and fascinating information about the crew, their jobs, their food (primarily dried peas, meat and fish, bread and beer), their plates and utensils (pottery and metal knives and forks for officers and wooden bowls and spoons for the crew) and their lives are provided.
Nor can we ignore another museum in Stockholm: The ABBA Museum which is dedicated to the music of Sweden’s own Fab Four. Although we (especially Joyce) loves the music from Mama Mia, we wouldn’t have normally gone to this museum. But heck, it was one of the museums open to us for free as part of the TBEX conference we attended so we went. While we didn’t expect much from this museum, we got even less. It is filled with biographies and personal recollections of the four members, stories of how the got together, models of their recording studio and dressing rooms, outfits, a brief timeline of popular music history over the last 100 years. Attendees also had many, many opportunities to sing, lip-synch and dance to ABBA tunes.