Södertälje konsthall was founded in 1968 and is one of the country’s oldest municipal art galleries. More than half a century has passed, over the years the art collection has expanded and today includes approx. 6000 works. It consists of both local, national, Nordic, and international art. A treasure that belongs to the municipality’s residents and deserves to be shown to the public as much as possible.
The purchases have been made from some of the exhibitions, but also through current world coverage. The spirit of the times has left its mark on the collection through the various decades. Of the early purchases for Södertälje municipality’s collection, we find works by, among others, Olof Arborelius, Carl Larsson, Teodor Lidner, Arvid Ahlroth, Torgny Dufwa and Albin Amelin.
Since its inception, the kunsthalle has had a recurring collaboration with the Södertälje artists’ association ”Kretsen”, which was formed in 1956. Above all, from the first decades of the kunsthalle generous purchases have been made from the members. Some early members, some of those who were already in the collection when the association was formed, are well represented in the collection. Not infrequently with at least 20 works. Among them can be mentioned Stig Thidermann, Thorsten Thunberg, Sven H Johansson, Martin Lidström and Hans Polmar. From the artists Gunnar and Teresa Seger, the kunsthalle received a large donation in 2008, which means that in total, with the previous purchases, today there are 76 works by the couple. The Assyrian artist Hanna Al-Haek was born in Syria and educated at the University of Damascus. He came to Södertälje in 1978 and became a member of the Södertälje artists’ association. The collection contains 26 of his works. A span of the early realistic sharp self-portraits where we are met by a penetrating gaze, to the later characteristic abstract acrylic painting that came to characterize Hanna’s art. The motif circle around the human interior, with a preference for the green color on the palette. The poetic always present. Jan Manker belongs to the older generation of the association´s members and is represented by 18 works. Graphics and painting. The oldest work is from 1968, the acrylic painting Another Man. The large face portrait of the man is in the color fields of gold, navy, turquoise and pink. The man’s face appears as a pattern, reminiscent of cuts from sheets of colored paper. Like a pop art icon. Who is the man? Hippie or Jesus? A self portrait? Vide Jansson formed the Grödinge group in Grödinge just outside Södertälje. The group developed its own unique graphic technique. Vide Jansson, with his colored abstract planographic prints, is probably the most well-represented artist in the collection. During the 1960s and 1970s, over 100 of his prints were purchased, often in multiple editions. His student during this time, Hans Nygren is represented by thirty-five graphic sheets.
Lenny Clarhäll, based for a long time in Hölö, Södertälje, has made a strong impression in the public environment. The collection contains 37 of his works. In the municipality, he is probably best known for the sculpture group Skogen, which for many years adorned the stairs in the city library. Today, the work can be viewed in Södertälje city hall. Another of Clarhäll’s works can be found in the city hall, a black-painted wooden sculpture Gauguin’s dog, inspired by Paul Gauguin’s painting.
The sculptor Gunilla Wihlborg was born in Enhörna, Södertälje. The three LED beacons at the central station are created from recycled bricks from Sandviken’s brickworks, which was located in Enhörna. On the tops, the led beacons are decorated with led light loops. The portrait-like bronze sculpture of Salvation Soldier Christina Sandberg is right in the middle of the city center. Sandberg was chosen through a vote announced by the local newspaper and as the inhabitant in Södertälje of most importance during last century. Wihlborg also created gazebos in different sizes and materials. In the municipality’s collection there are four smaller ones. One temple is patinated with gold leaf, one is stainless steel, another black rubber. A gazebo Temple in concrete and gold leaf is located at the city hall.
Göran Pettersson, born in Södertälje, is one of the artists who has been a member of the Södertälje artist´s association for a long time. Above all, he has profiled himself as an exciting portrait artist, often with a clear nod to classic role models. The starting point is often the own geographical sphere and the ancestors or friends as motifs. The techniques range from traditional painting to multimedia art, as in his lifelong and impossible project Humana monument – a sculpture for every human being on earth. The works created through photography and computer manipulations. In earily close-up videos of his own parents’ young faces. An acrylic painting on canvas from 1983 depicts the grandmother at work as a Cigarette Roller at the Tobacco Monopoly in 1920 in Södertälje. The collection contains 21 of Pettersson’s works.
The focus of the municipality’s art collection is mainly on paintings and graphics. Textiles, drawing, sculpture, photography and mixed media are somewhat less represented. Unique to Södertälje’s collection is a recent large donation of Arpilleras of 54 works. Arpilleras are textile works based on an appliqué technique, a Chilean tradition where women’s perspectives are at the center. With the help of their sewing, they have expressed resistance to oppression and the fight for human rights. Arpilleras often contain embroidered slogans and messages. When the women were unable to express themselves freely due to political circumstances, they encapsulated secret messages between the image and the back cover. Several exhibitions with Arpilleras have been shown at the kunsthalle over the years. The pictures are of a narrative nature, in a naïve style and with a strong color palette. The donation of Arpilleras comes from textile artist, Södertälje resident and former Södertälje konsthall employee Cecilia Valdés. The early works were created by women from the Salvador Allende committee in Södertälje. A number of works by Cecilia Valdes are from the years 2010-11 and are based on work with children through Bårstabergen’s tenant association. The children’s drawings have been the basis for Cecilia Valdes Arpilleras.
During the 1960s and 1970s, art purchases were generous. Art with up-to-date political commentary, environmental and civilization criticism takes place. The little man’s dreams, conditions and shortcomings are a common thread that runs through Södertälje konsthalls purchase and exhibition history during this time, a thread that still holds strong today.
National artists such as Helga Henschen, Siri Derkert, Bertil Englert, Lars Hillersberg, Karin Frostenson, Peter Tillberg, Kjartan Slettermark and Roj Friberg are some of those with activist or socially critical traits who are represented in the collection. In the works of Helga Henschen and Siri Derkert there is a clear connection to feminism. Henschen’s Dafne sculpture is inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The free woman emerges from all corners of the earth with the help of nourishment from the tree from which he draws strength. The work is located on the ground floor of the Luna mall (Lunagallerian). Henchen lived and worked for a period in the Turinge church school in Nykvarn, outside Södertälje. In the municipality’s collection there are, among other things, the watercolor sketches that form the basis of Dafne as well as a large oil painting of a Dafne-like woman entitled Black is beautiful. There are eight works by Siri Derkert in the collection. Collage and lithographs. One of her wall reliefs can be found in one of the town hall court’s council chambers.
One of the strongest works in the collection by Roj Friberg is a monumental drawing made in the erasure technique, The classic image. A purchase from his solo exhibition in 1979. The work from 1974 is inspired by a photo published in the daily press. Out of the darkness emerges the self-proclaimed city manager Augusto Pinochet, supported by the junta that took over Chile in connection with the military coup on September 11, 1973.
The dictator appears wearing sunglasses with his arms demonstratively crossed. Beside him and in front appear skeletal figures, as a testimony that from this comes nothing but death. Behind him, the junta backs up, wearing their uniforms. All are depicted without eyes, mouths cruelly drawn down. It is a picture without confirmation of the other. The blind power is depicted in its raw perfection. Many Chileans came to Södertälje as refugees after the coup, and perhaps it is because of the timeliness that this work was bought.
A look back at political art was most recently done in the exhibition Brännpunkter 2012 with works from the collection. There are 19 works by Jacques Zadig and the exhibition included his monumental and terrifying oil painting Fireworks II from 1969. The oil painting Jätten Multi from 1973 by the Swedish-Dutch artist Henck Wognum was shown. The giant in space swallows the whole earth with its enormous gap. Circled around are symbols of earth’s gasoline and oil companies that moon around the planet, bearing the price tags of ownership. The collection also includes two oil paintings, a variant of the American and Russian flags as block lights. Power-power part 1 and Power-power part 2. On the sides of the candles depicted, a Star-Spangled banner and the Hammer and Sickle is painted. It is clear from the paintings that the block candles were difficult to light. A small pile of extinguished matches in each painting shows that attempts have been made. The paintings are interesting time documents from 1972. The graphics cabinets in the kunsthalles workshop are also filled with social- political commentary art from the late 1960s. Rolando Perez and Olof Sandahl are both members of the Södertälje artists’ association and are well represented in the collection. They have long been the locally based artists whose work perhaps best commented on the political events of the 1970s and onwards. Both with a strong pathos around issues of peace, activism, and struggle.
Parallel to this time you find a completely different type of graphics on shelves and drawers. Landscape and nature in harmony. Images that bring out a more introverted and imaginative aesthetic. Perhaps a longing away to a more beautiful world, a truer nature. We find people in joy in the Swedish-Finnish Thelma Aulio-Paananen’s depictions of a bygone era. The collection contains twelve of her graphic sheets. One of them depicts well-dressed young people in På väg till dansbanan (On the way to the dance). Gerd Kern was a resident of Södertälje and, together with Staffan Kihlgren, founder of Södertälje’s graphics workshop, of which she was the director for many years. Gerd Kern was a distinctive graphic artist with a unique visual language. There is a meditative wonder at the nature of things in her pictures. They are sparingly flavored and take on an almost surreal meaning. The concentration is on the selected object, whether it concerns an old water pump or reed straws shaped into sailboats floating over a dark lake. The collection includes eleven of her color etchings and watercolors. Of the national artists that can be mentioned in the context where one finds a similar mood is Sten Dunér. A couple of his large oil paintings from the early 1970s are in the collection. The mysterious floating orbs characteristic of him move through a blue twilight atmosphere as in a strange dream.
High ambitions were set from the start for Södertälje konsthall´s exhibitions and collections. Some international artists in the collection are: Wieland Förster, Antoni Tàpies, Kimmo Kaivanto, Palle Nielsen, Pierre Soulage, Curt Stenvert, Jörgen Nash, Salvador Dalí, Roberto Altmann, Tullio Pericoli, Carlos Carreiro, Pablo Picasso and Carlos Hermosilla Alvarez. Exhibition titles such as Five Cubans, Romans, The Weavers of Harrania, Edward Munch, Alvar Aalto, Tove Jansson, Shinkichi Tajiri (Japan), Antonio Gaudi, Hungary 82, International Resistance Museum – Salvador Allende, Latin America in Europe – Europeans in Latin America, The Cult of Death in Mexico, New art from Latvia, Daniele Galliano (Italy) Eteri Chkadua (Georgia) testify to an outward curiosity.
A strong early trend during Södertälje konsthalls first director Eje Högestätt was to look towards Eastern Europe, and above all Poland. A later director of Södertälje konsthall, Kristina Möller, was already a very young employee. She writes in the 2018 catalog ”In search of time that has flown”, ”Eje Högestätt’s exhibitions alternate between the traditional, experimental and universal. He had a certain fondness for Polish art and Polish artists”. First, Marek Piasecki was shown, then Stanislaw Visniewski, followed by the group exhibition Polish naivists. In 1970, Magdalena Abakanowicz brought her unique and innovative sculptural textile art to Södertälje konsthall with a large solo exhibition. One of her early works Abakan 32 from 1968 was acquired for the collection. In 1972, the artists and happening artists Wladyslaw Hasior and Jerzy Berés arrived. After Högestätt, Per Drougge took over as director of the art gallery. A small special work of art by Jaromir Svozilik has become a small mascot for the art gallery. The work in mixed media is created on corrugated cardboard packaging. It is franked, sent from Aarhus Art Museum, stamped and addressed to Per Drougge. The name is misspelled, the spontaneous work takes on a dimension of humor and charm. Several Polish artists are represented in the collection. Above all Wladyslaw Hasior with 15 works. Per Drougge was the one who made it possible for a retrospective separate exhibition of Hasior’s art in 1989 at Södertälje konsthall. (See separate text under the exhibitions icon).
Hasior is best known to the residents of Södertälje through the sculpture group Solspann (Sun Chariot) by the bathhouse hill. He literally put the shovel in the Swedish mud when he dug out the molds directly in the ground. The forms were then filled with concrete with inserts of details. Hasior himself sought out flea market finds from the Sörmland region. In the works, you can find remnants from the agricultural society as well as the steel industry. The collection contains the eight drawings that form the basis of Solspann. Another sculptural altar/assemblage Night Rider from 1967 is covered in fur. The rider with his blank staring eyes rides on, merging with a wolf-like beast creature. From this strange duo, sprawling cold steel structures emerge, equipped with uncomfortably associative aircraft heading upwards in the same direction towards a target unknown to the viewer. In this way, the viewer’s imagination is also guided to a certain extent towards the artist’s intention. A balancing act that Hasior mastered to a great extent. A necessity for Eastern European artists for a long historical period.
A series of 16 C-printed photos Scenes from Wonderland in large format with motifs from
T-centralen and Stockholm’s subway by Frédéric Gillet belongs to purchases from the late 1990s. A sweep from an era that with its symbols has already left us. Of the 16 works, 2 are gifts. The continuity of the art purchases decreases drastically after the first generous decades and after 2008 there has almost not been any purchases to the collection.
Of the recent purchases of Södertälje artist associations members’ art, Monika Kiviniemi’s large acrylic painting America 08:45 am and 09:08 am, created in 2005, can be mentioned. In the painting, one can trace a special way of relating to the outside world. The snapshot of a falling World Trade Center looms behind a shroud of red and white stripes. Like partially sealing a reality that can be too hard to grasp. Not letting the intangible take over.
In 2015, the exhibition We have an important thing going on was shown and several of the comic artists’ screen prints were purchased. Among other things, Liv Strömqvist’s debated Ice Princess. During Hög svansföring, an exhibition themed around the dog in art in the same year, some of Hans Esselius’s prints were bought. In 2017, the collection was enriched with some woodcuts by Kristina Anshelm and Hans Eliasson. In 2018, several serigraphs were bought by Owe Gustafson, known from the children’s program Fem myror är fler än fyra elefanter (five ants are more than four elephants). The very latest purchase is from this year, a playful sculpture of a very rare child-sized snowman-shaped gardener by Lisa Jeannin. The gardener is a protector and friend to the children.
Times of reduced financial resources for purchases have persisted, but when you look through a collection, you easily realize that the collection is an entire Art Museum! A large part hidden underground, in stuffy warehouses under the Luna gallery building. Magazines that are so cramped that it is almost impossible to get in unhindered. Down here are all the paintings, the framed graphics and the sculptures. In the magazines on ground level, most of the textile works, unframed graphics and sculpture are found. A large part of the art is also deposited in the municipality’s various offices. At the town hall, citizens can see works by Hertha Hillfon, Suzanne Nessim, Sofie Proos, Lena Cronqvist, Ulrika Wärmling or Bianca Maria Barmen, among other things. In the municipality’s collection are Peter Dahl’s 87 color lithographs Fredman’s Epistles purchased in 1981. Some of them are deposited at the city hall. On the first floor, you are greeted by the Södertälje-born artist Johan Patricny’s impressive oil painting Sankta Ragnhild from 2008. Södertälje’s own patron saint has her given place in the town hall. Patricny was a student of Odd Nerdrum and trained in classical painting.
With this exhibition we want to make parts of the collection, the Art Museum, visible. Show the wealth of variation that exists, both in traditional representation and in abstract and experimental art. The span from the local to the international. But to give the collection more justice, and a better overview, completely different possibilities and premises are needed. In many ways, it has long outgrown its own costume. It is a collection that needs care. Södertälje konsthalls collection is a piece of art history.
Text/Research: Anneli Karlsson Research: Marie Grundsten Photo: Per-Arne Sträng