Text: Ingrid Opstad | Photos © Nina Ansten and Vestfossen Kunstlaboratorium
Modern art laboratory in a historic setting
S ituated inside a former cellulose factory, Vestfossen Kunstlaboratorium welcomes visitors to discover contemporary art by Norwegian as well as international artists in a truly spectacular and historic setting. With its unique and rough character, the building itself provides an interesting historical frame for the modern artistic expressions of our time. This season, we are invited to experience a varied programme with the three exhibitions Kubatana(33 contemporary African artists), Natura Morta (Christer Glein) and From Evening in Oudenaarde to Summer Evening in Hokksund (Frits Thaulow).
Vestfossen Kunstlaboratorium (VKL) is an art centre that exhibits contemporary artwork by Norwegian as well as international artists. Open from May to October every year, the modern art laboratory has a goal to make art interesting and available to everyone. “We believe everyone can benefit from art, no matter their age or taste:that it can have an important effect on your life, and needs to be easily accessible,” says director Lars-Andreas T. Kristiansen.
Looking back at the history of VKL, itis truly remarkable. The former cellulose factory that today houses the art space was founded back in 1886. Later, in 1973, the factory was closed down, and it was empty for almost 30 years, until the artist Morten Viskum bought it in 2001. “He wanted to create a unique space to display art. Between 2001 and 2003, work was initiated towards transforming the old building into a modern exhibition space,” Kristiansen recalls. “It is such a beautiful and historic place – many visitors are blown away by the building itself when they walk through the doors. It creates a great backdrop for the art.”
Varied programme showcasing contemporary art
Today, VKL is known for being a modern art laboratory. “Our aim is to be literally like a laboratory for contemporary art. In fact, contemporary art can itself be seen as a laboratory for the study of the modern world, taking it apart and putting it together in new ways – first and foremost as themes or metaphors, but also more directly,” he says.
Kristiansen is delighted to present this season’s main events, a varied programme with three very different exhibitions he believes the public will enjoy. “This is a wide-ranging programme, as reflected both in the themes of the exhibitions and in the cultural and geographic roots of the selected artists,” Kristiansen explains.
The main exhibition this year, Kubatana, is one of the largest presentations of contemporary African art seen yet in Scandinavia, bringing together 33 artists ranging from 25 to 89 years old, representing 18 countries. Four of the participating artists are also taking part in this year’s Venetian bienniale: Joël Andrianomearisoa, Gonçalo Mabunda, Zanele Muholi and Ibrahim Mahama. The exhibition is curated by the London-based Norwegian gallery owner, Kristin Hjellegjerde, who has brought boundless and genuine enthusiasm as well as her enormous knowledge of the field to make it happen.
Several of the artists taking part in Kubatana have visited VKL’s guest studio in Vestfossen and produced site-specific works for the exhibition. One piece that has already garnered interest is the gigantic, yellow installation on the façade of the VKL building, the creation of Ghanaian Serge Attukwei Clottey.
“We are very excited about this exhibition and to show the importance of African contemporary art on an international level,” says Kristiansen. “The word Kubatana means ‘togetherness’, which is the feeling Hjellegjerde took with her back from her travels throughout the African continent. It is the hope of everyone at VKL that our visitors will also feel this sense of communality with the artists taking part in this year’s main exhibition.”
Norwegian artwork on display
At Galleri Star, the public is invited to discover works by Frits Thaulow, one of Norway’s foremost landscape painters of the 19th century, through From Evening in Oudenaarde to Summer Evening in Hokksund. “The art selected includes different Norwegian scenery and even one motif with a local connection, the 1891 painting Summer Evening in Hokksund. While Thaulow is still well-known among most Norwegians, the attention devoted to his art by institutions and scholars has been slight, compared with its compass and the recognition it had initially achieved. It is therefore with great enthusiasm that we are able to now make it possible to enjoy his works in an institutional context,” says Kristiansen.
Furthermore, in the exhibition hall, the Oslo-based artist Christer Glein is showing his new works, large-scale oil paintings with motifs borrowed from art history, including figures by Picasso and the Norwegian artists Bjarne Melgaard and Sverre Bjertnes.
Since VKL was founded in 2003, it has opened its doors to 32 large and small exhibitions, and complemented these with 16 substantial publications. Today, you can also visit its very own bookstore as well as the cosy Café Cellulose, which offers a relaxing and elegant environment perfect for taking a break from exploring art. “We are still a relatively young art centre that is ceaselessly striving to find ever better ways to promote contemporary art, something we will continue to do while also focusing on expanding our offering as well as adding digital elements,” Kristiansen concludes.
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