Looking for love in all the wrong places

Harald Sohlberg. Uendelige landskap

28. september 2018–13. januar 2019

  • Nasjonalgalleriet will shut down next weekend prior to their move to Aker Brygge. To celebrate they have hiked their prices (AGAIN!) to 120kr, but both of us have identity cards proving we are real art professionals, so we got in for free 🙂

    The future of the old museum has been angrily debated for the past 20 (+/-) years, while just before Christmas, Nasjonalmuseet and the private foundation DNB-Sparebankstiftelsen announced they will join efforts to secure the building to be used as a gallery and, even perhaps, to provide space for living artists. 

    Just a few years ago, Sparebankstiftelsen rebuilt what is now Sentralen. And Nasjonalmuseet must be inspired by this new kulturhus, because not only have they adopted Metric to develop their new visual identity, but also LAVA Oslo to run the new museum café: both companies are doing design and food respectively at Sentralen. Andreas, happen to work here as a waiter, and not a single day goes by without him having to guide a visitor to the hidden restrooms, the secret bar, a secluded concert venue or one of the many meeting rooms. Sentralen is a maze!

    But enough talk about old houses and labyrinthian aspirations. We came to see Infinite Landscapes, a show presenting the romantic paintings of Harald Sohlberg (1869–1935).

    La petit mort

    – I immediately recognized Sohlberg’s two self portraits as Grindr profile pictures. He must have painted them with something like 7 years apart. The younger artist is candidly looking at the spectator with longing in his eyes. He has smooth features and strong cheek bones. The wall behind him is decorated with paintings, communicating his preference for refined culture. Clearly he is the artisté type, not interested in shallow conversation or bad smell. But looking to drink wine, discuss psychoanalysis, have cocktails or just do it right now. The older artist, painted in 1986, has moved out to the countryside and enjoys long solitary walks. Body type: slender. His eyes are even more refined, the gaze is pleading sensuality, and his exquisite mustache is now renowned as essential gay accessory. Also notice the many telegraph poles in Sohlberg’s landscape paintings, all precursors to telecommunication dating.

    When looking at Sohlberg’s ugly paintings of mermaids, I pointed out how Michelangelo too was a bad painter of female figures. And I am very happy with this remark as we later got to see Sohlberg’s sketch of Michelangelo’s depiction of male pain and pleasure, the sculpture Dying Slave (1513–1516); a representation of la petit mort if there ever was one. 

    A lonely sweet heart

    – I for one saw him more like the dickslinger genius kind of artist who thought of ladies as nothing but fishy distractions from the main goal. I notice from the later self portrait that he might have something called Sanpaku, a Japanese term that means being able to see the whites of someones eyes under or above the iris. Supposedly, if you can see the white above the iris, your interior world is out to get you. But in Sohlberg’s case, the white is visible under his iris and that means the outside world is out to get you.

    There is little information in the show about Sohlberg’s personal life beyond the places he lived and liked to go. Maybe he was more connected to places than people. Not to frame a comparison, but Munch’s work is full of people. Sohlberg’s is so devoid of human form that it can at times look post-apocalyptic in a cool Cormac McCarthy-kind of way, or The Leftovers. Like someone had just been eating breakfast on the veranda and then *puff* everyone disappeared. 

    There were two tiny skiers in one of the versions of Vinternatt i Rondane, but they were so far away. It makes me suspect Sohlberg had a hard time communicating with other people, to the point where his proto-Grindr self portraits seem to be self idealizing, nakedly hoping to catch the eye of just The One. Maybe he saved all his tenderness for describing his landscapes, simplifying and shading all the little details with the devotion you would give to a lover.

    Small child-like decisions in the work, like the constant star in the middle of the two mountains in his Rondane paintings, take things to the edge of being illustrative. But actually they elevate the whole body of work. I am convinced he was a lonely sweet heart who decided the empty town and cold mountains were the only place to be free and cute.

    Harald Sohlberg, Landeveien, 1905.