Without the aristocratic grandeur of Stockholm, or indeed nearby Copenhagen, Malmö has traditionally been ignored by culture-vultures. But a recent visit has persuaded me this should be reassessed.
With Medieval Danish origins the city was once famous for its herring-markets and didn’t actually become part of Sweden until the seventeenth century. By the middle of the nineteenth century Malmö was home to one of the largest shipbuilding industries in the world, bringing with it a vast increase in the population and some of the finest Victorian architecture you’ll see in the Scania region. After the recessions of the 1970s and 1980s, during 1990s the city council invested heavily in regeneration programs – including the incredible Öresund Bridge linking Malmö with its ancient capital Copenhagen, a new university as well as the revived waterfront. Perhaps the most impressive architectural project of recent years is Santiago Calatrava’s ‘Turning Torso’ (2005) apartment building which dominates the Malmö skyline and is the tallest skyscraper in Scandinavia.
Like any city there is the old stuff to see: the beautiful ‘Baltic Gothic’ St Petri Kyrka (St Peter’s Church) begun in 1319 and still standing defiantly in the heart of the city, then there’s the impressive Malmöhus (Malmö Castle) founded in 1434 by Eric of Pomerania and briefly ‘home’ to the Earl of Bothwell, third husband of Mary Queen of Scots. Any visit to Malmö must include a visit to the charming wooded Victorian Kallbadhus (the cold baths) at the end of the Ribersborg pier. Here one can sweat it out Swedish-style in one of the several saunas before diving into the icy waters of the Öresund – even when it’s snowing!
In the last few years Malmo has acquired two fantastic modern art spaces – the Konsthall exhibition hall and the Moderna Museet modern art gallery. Tucked away in a beautiful Medieval building, the vivid orange entrance hall of the Modern Museet comes as a jolting shock. Such intensity of colour is continued in the cloakroom area with a brilliant, vibrant yellow. Even some of the gallery walls themselves have, unusually, been accented with a kind of mossy green, and this feels somehow appropriate for the Moderna Museet’s current exhibition: ‘Supersurrealism’. Examining the work of current surrealists alongside those of the inter-war Masters, this exhibition vibrates with fruitful exchanges across half a century. Upstairs has some of the museum’s permanent collection of early surrealist painting, sculpture and photography; downstairs, contemporary takes on the unconscious.
Surrealism concerns things, objects, actions, people, places being ‘out of place’ as it were – breaking free of their conventional classifications; re-forming, exposing, confounding, returning. Dali’s Renaissance brushwork leads us unwittingly into uncharted territory which both excites and terrifies; De Chirico’s desolate Italian townscapes and uncanny ‘dummies’ bring to mind the horrors and isolation of childhood; Ernst’s human figure (1931) is a primitive sea monster similar to the watery-hybrids of H. P. Lovecraft’s fictional New England; Magritte’s paintings intellectualise the contingency of language and conception whilst Bourgeois’s tactile sculpture manifests a new kind of language for the expression of trauma. In one of the stairwells one feels somewhat uncomfortable thanks to Magnus Wallin’s uncanny Concrete Decoration (2012) on the ceiling. Biological in colour, texture and shape it is as Wathough, in a brief and illicit moment of honesty, the building is shifting itself to exposing the damaged lining of its own stomach.
Once downstairs the animated work of Nathalie Djurberg continues to unnerve; her 2004 film ‘Florentin’ explores the violence of family life, featuring what appear to be a father and two daughters. Happily laughing and fooling around one minute and engaging in sadistic, and perhaps sexualised, violence the next, the family dining room becomes a microcosm of society. Carsten Holler’s now-famous giant mushrooms (2012) turn the tables on us; deliberately returning us to childhood fantasy and confronting us with our collective desire to dominate and discard. One of the last rooms, and indeed the darkest features Magnus Wallin’s black and white holographic film Mission (2009). Here a human skeleton engages in an unknown though nightmarish series of repetitions, through an endless set of maze-like ‘boxes’ (reminiscent of Francis Bacon’s ‘cages’), encountering what looks like a giant tongue and is caressed by it. But of course we can’t be sure.
The third largest city in Sweden is ripe to turn its face to world. Malmö is a relatively cheap and deeply multi-cultural place to visit, signs of gentrification are everywhere, there is a small bohemian quarter – as well a wealth of second-hand shops (still yet to be rebranded as ‘vintage boutiques’). It seems Malmö is on course to become the next go-to destination for trendy Shoreditch artists and Kreuzberg filmmakers – meaning that within the decade Malmö will be on all our cultural maps. Go early to avoid the rush.