Three students and a professor from the Academy of Art in Oslo turn their attention to Henie Onstad Art Centre as an object of study. The result is a major exhibition.
During the 20th century the definition of the art object became increasingly precarious; its status being a result of negotiation within a discursive field rather than a consequence of the study of a fixed object, e.g. the nude. Today, the human body as the historically defined Study Object of the Art Academy is non-existent. This, however, should not exclude the possibility of introducing a common ”study object” within the curriculum practice of the Art Academy.
The exhibition MoDERNISM MACHINE is an investigation of the possibility of localising such an object within the physical framework of the Museum. In treating HOK as a object of study, a vast material has been researched: the architecture and design, the extensive documentation of HOK’s activity from administration to exhibition- and art production, its storages and archives, the so-called Core Collection of primarily high-modernist art, the sound archive and the considerable production of HOK-publications. However, it became clear that HOK could no be reduced to one specific study object, but rather constitutes a collection of practises. This exhibition selects, negotiates and reflects upon these historical, modern and contemporary traces of art production. Working with the Museum as a study object accumulates future archival material, and we find ourselves in the middle of what we are analyzing, generating material for future archives; entering a site of production rather than an abstract position of analytical distance.
“Whereas earlier art students gathered around a nude model as a subject for their sketches, students now turn to theory to find their models. The old system of art training has vanished, and in its place we have created this project together with the Academy,” says Tone Hansen, director of Henie Onstad Art Centre.
For the three students, Bjarne Bare, Mari Hofseth Opsahl and Henrik Mojord Jahnsen, together with artist/professor Dag Erik Elgin, the classical model has been replaced with the institution of Henie Onstad Art Centre as object of study. Once a week they have gathered at Høvikodden to scrutinise in detail the architecture, collections, archives and catalogues, and to interview members of the Art Centre’s staff. They have even taken soil samples to analyse the potential fertility of the Høvikodden site.
"Our original concept was for an exhibition based on the Henie Onstad collection. Early in the process it became clear that the collection cannot be considered in isolation, and it would be necessary to explore how the location has functioned and still functions as a site for production. In this respect, the architecture of the Art Centre is of crucial significance. Ever since the place opened in 1968, Engebretsen and Eikvar’s layout has been conducive to production, and not just of exhibitions and presentations. Historically speaking, the architecture has facilitated activities that have helped to extend the concept of art. This aspect of production is still noticeable when you work here, and will be reflected in the design of the exhibition,” says Elgin.
The art students and professor Elgin place themselves at the centre of the Art Centre’s specially designed glass elevator. It consists of a glass tube with hidden mirrors and is crowned with a glass roof bearing an array of neon lights. Not only does a leisurely ride in the elevator take one between the two floors, it also bathes the passenger in natural and artificial light, reflected in an endless number of angles. The Academy students point out that here, in the middle of the circular elevator, one has found the Art Centre’s navel. It is from this single moving point that all the lines of the building originate.
Elgin emphasises the uniqueness of designing the building around an idealised central point that moves. Whereas traditional museums tend to distinguish between production areas in the basement and exhibition spaces on the ground floor and above, at Henie Onstad Art Centre, production and presentation are placed on an equal footing thanks to the elevator that moves between levels. This interaction has helped to shape our collective perception of the place, the professor explains. The same principle is taken further in that the exhibition halls are juxtaposed with a studio of similar size. This clearly underlines the fundamental concept of the donors. Rather than build a classic mausoleum, the architects were able to design an art centre for “the art of tomorrow today”, a building that encourages the development and production of new artistic forms.
With the building as the setting for this exhibition, the students promise to provide a new way to view both the collection and the architecture. “We want to highlight underlying structures, and are working out how we can illustrate the architecture,” says Mari. They have placed themselves on one of the building’s sightlines, where daylight originally entered between the exhibition halls. Bjarne points out that the many extensions to the building have resulted in a certain loss of architectural integrity.
"When you visit the place today, you can easily get confused. We will therefore emphasise the building’s sightlines and structure, the ‘guts’ of the Art Centre,” says Bjarne. As one of several means to this end, they are planning a mural.
“One gets a lot from being here. Which is not to say that the Academy isn’t ‘the real thing’; but in many ways the Art Centre really is a notch better. It offers a unique opportunity to work concretely while also giving energy and ideas to continue working on other projects,” says Henrik.