Another North: Landscape Reimagined, found in Scandinavia House tucked quietly on Park Avenue in New York City, is a masterfully curated show that challenges our preconceptions of “the north.” Drawing on contemporary Nordic photography, the exhibition illustrates unexpected stereotypes we all may hold about both the nature of the far north and the artists who draw on it for inspiration. This is not a show of icy landscapes or barren fjords or Scandinavian beauties. Instead, the show demonstrates the absurdities of those notions even while it nonetheless overwhelms us with beauty and imagination.
Many of the pieces are large format. Ole Brodersen’s massive c-prints glow in the gallery, and images likes “String, Cloth and Kite #04” are simply magical in their ability to use human creations to illustrate the invisible forces of wind and air over the land. Simen Johan’s fantastical creations, which relocate zoo creatures into surprising landscapes, are both irresistible and, in a wonderful way, hilarious (which is not to say flippant, as their real genius is their ability to lay bare our expectations of what the world “should” be). Susanna Majuri’s large, dreamy c-prints usurp a rather clichéd (of late) idea of photographing swimmers and divers as they disturb the water and turns it into a wash of form, figure, and color that bends reality. “Winter, 2009” is especially brilliant in its juxtaposition of swimmer with a snowy, cloudy scene, made even more luminous because it is so close to Johan’s dark “Untitled #171, 2012.”
While the large format images really dominate, the intimate black and white photographs by Pentti Sammallahti, should not be ignored, greeting you when you first enter the gallery. The larger, brightly colored images of the other artists will draw you away if you aren’t careful, and while you won’t regret any time you spend immersed in those large images, you will regret if you don’t take a breath, slow down, and lean into Sammallahti’s world. “Signilskar, Finland (white rabbit in forest)” alone will make you glad you did.
Another North: Landscape Reimagined is on view at Scandinavia House through August 6, 2016.
Roger Thompson is the Senior Editor for Don’t Take Pictures. His critical writings have appeared in exhibition catalogues and he has written extensively on self-taught artists with features in Raw Vision and The Outsider. He currently resides in Long Island, New York and is a Professor at Stony Brook University.