Denise Grünstein – En face

An exhibition by photographer Denise Grünstein, based on a series of images taken in the empty museum building earlier this year. On display at Nationalmuseum @ Konstakademien Feb 19 - May 3.

Image: Denise Grünstein, Gatekeeper, Déjà vu, Enfants teribles, all from the series 1866 from 2014 (the images are cropped). © Denise Grünstein

Denise Grünstein, Lumière och Enfants terribles. Both from 1866, 2014.

February 19 – May 3, 2015
At Konstakademien

When all the art and the office equipment was removed from the Nationalmuseum building ahead of the renovation work at the start of 2014, Denise Grünstein was given the opportunity to create an art project in the empty space. The result was the suite of images 1866 whose name harks back to the museum’s opening year. But the photographs cannot in fact be fixed in time. It is not possible to tell with any certainty whether they are from the past, the present or the future. As an artist, Denise Grünstein deliberately plays with these ambiguities, allowing the viewer to shift between two poles – the past and the future – that can never be reached and are the opposite of each other. 1866 has seen her returning to different themes that she has worked with before, with the empty museum space serving as a background to her world of images. 

Denise Grünstein was born in 1950 and early in her career became renowned for her portraits of famous faces in the magazines Månadsjournalen and Elle in the 1980s and 1990s, earning her the soubriquet “the Annie Leibovitz of the Swedish welfare state”. In the 1990s she started to tire of portrait commissions. Faces were too easy and too predictable and she was fed up with the pretentiousness of her models. Instead Denise Grünstein has increasingly delved deeper into her own skill as an artist in a number of art projects that have seen her become one of the foremost figures in gestalt photography. The ability to constantly recreate oneself anew, try out unexpected solutions and push the boundaries of photography makes her one of Sweden’s greatest photographers. 

Denise Grünstein has operated in the borderland between free and commercial photography despite the fact that doing so was long taboo. At the same time she constantly stands out from the prevailing norm in contemporary art by asserting romantic imagery in an age that is anything but romantic. She says that she wanted to tell stories from an early age and likens her pictures to scenes pulled out of a fictional narrative. The suites of images do not tell a story with a beginning and an end. Instead they are characterised by an emotional structure in which photograph is added to photograph in a complex interplay.

A total of about 55 works, two of them video works, were on display in the exhibition. Eighteen photographs and one video work from the new suite 1866. The exhibition also included a number of selected works from earlier suites of images such as Figure in Landscape (2001), Malplacé (2005), Figure Out (2009), Acute Still Life (2011), Winter (2013) and Wunder (2013). 


The exhibition was accompanied by a catalogue, containing a wealth of photographs, with text in Swedish and English written by Magnus Olausson and Bo Nilsson.

Denise Grünstein, Looking at the Overlooked, ur serien 1866, 2014.
Denise Grünstein, Looking at the Overlooked, from 1866, 2014.

Denise Grünstein, En Face, ur serien 1866.
Denise Grünstein, En face, from 1866.

Denise Grünstein, Emerald Green, ur serien AcuteStillLife, 2011.
Denise Grünstein, Emerald Green, from AcuteStillLife, 2011.


Art Library and Museum Archives,
Holmamiralens väg 2,
Skeppsholmen, Stockholm 

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