Denise Grünstein


 Green Hotel & Konsthall, Tällberg, 29 March–5 August, 2018


Denise Grünstein (b. 1950) has been a member of the constellation of the most long-lasting and brightly shining stars of Swedish photography since the 80s. Apart from dazzling skill and painstaking precision, her photography is characterised by a liberating lack of respect for any notion of what photography “ought to be”, or for the unwritten rule that you should stick to a single visual style. Nothing is off limits to her: fashion, portraits, mental states, black and white, or shiny chrome. Her career in art began in the late 70s, at a time when female photographers were still somewhat rare.

The pictures in this exhibition are a selection of my photographic series from the last decade. I’ve often worked with Marta Oldenburg, who has acted as a kind of alter ego and model in my projects. In the beginning, she was clear and readable (Malplace), but as time went on, she grew more abstract, and eventually came to represent an unidentifiable female figure (Figure Out, Wunder).

In my most recent project, which was set in the vacant premises of the Nationalmuseum, this female figure multiplied into many. They move through the spaces together in oversized crinoline, big skirts, which have now become a table in my next project, Casting, which is set to be exhibited at CFHILL this autumn.

1981 has become a highly significant year in Swedish art history. That was the year when the Bländande bilder exhibition was shown at Fotografiska Museet (which had not yet been integrated into Moderna Museet). This exhibition presented a young generation’s perspective on images, representing a break with a Swedish photographic tradition that had previously taken pride in its documentary nature and status as a traditionally male domain. Naturally, the exhibition provoked much discussion. Two of these young artists were Denise Grünstein and Tuija Lindström (1950–2017).

Inside looking Out, 120 x 150 cm.

Inside looking Out, 120 x 150 cm.

Green Hotel in Tällberg, Sweden.

Green Hotel in Tällberg, Sweden.

A new kind of photography had seen the light of day, one in which the creation of pictures became an arena which the artist could enter and engage with scenographically, to create poetic landscapes and depict inner states. Denise Grünstein’s experiences as a film set and costume designer probably made progressing to arranging pictures an easier and more natural step for her to take.

Other sources of inspiration were the American icons Irving Penn and Richard Avedon. In the 90s, another groundbreaking shift took place in the world of photography. Once again, Denise Grünstein was a driving force in this reformulation of photography, which redefined what it could mean and which artistic paths were open to it. At this point, we might point out that this was a time when art and photography were still thought to be entirely separate worlds, which represented entirely different values.

Denise Grünstein’s detailed and richly nuanced surrealistically arranged pictures invoke the sense of a spiritised nature–a romantic, melancholy fairytale dream. Their beauty is striking, and the human protagonists–usually solitary females–and the surrounding environment appear to be joined through some eternal concord. But not everything is in a state of harmony: there is an ever-present drama here, and a progression. The Nationalmuseum in Stockholm will reopen this October. When it does, her series of photographs from the buildings national romantic interiors will be on permanent display, as they belong to the museum’s collection now. This is quite an honour, considering the fact that the museum otherwise exclusively collects works that predate the previous turn of the century.