Max Walter Svanberg
Strange Bird
17 May – 15 Sep 2013
In his work, the leading Swedish surrealist Max Walter Svanberg (1912–1994) gives the audience a view into the innermost depths of the human imagination, a rarely visited place. The Strange Bird exhibition presents an entire world of strange sights in the form of 72 works of art, each one offering a rare glimpse into the soulscape of the highly personal surrealist artist. Some of the views are picturesque in their beauty, others are nightmarish, yet they are all equally fascinating. Svanberg himself said: “To reach the extreme acuity of beauty, I believe one must be aware, even to the point of suffering, of the terrible presence of transitoriness.”

The exhibition showcases the life of Svanberg and the development of his brand of surrealism from the early years to the last decades of his career. All works are on loan from the Max Walter Svanberg Collection in the Malmö Art Museum, and they present the artist’s output on a scale never before seen in Finland. Svanberg’s range of techniques and media was extensive, from drawing and painting to collage and bead mosaics, even theatre costumes. The exuberant decorativeness and sensuality of his imagery evoke the world of African or Arabic aesthetics, Byzantine mosaics and Dalecarlian horses, yet the centrepiece of his art is always Woman, the tender object of desire and passion, an eternally mystical hybrid and fearsome wild creature, whom Svanberg shows us in the most peculiar forms. Svanberg’s tireless ode to Woman is ultimately a tribute to his wife, Gunni, the sustaining force of his life and art who helped him through difficult times and whose faith in his art never wavered. Gunni’s face is the leitmotif that runs through the entire exhibition, dressed in the guise of surrealist images and dreams.

Initially Svanberg’s harshest critics regarded his works as repulsive, perverted and perfumed, whereas for his admirers they represented the height of surrealism and imagination. The international art world became interested in Svanberg in the 1950s and ‘60s, and he was adopted as a favourite by the surrealists, André Breton in particular. Breton described the discovery of Svanberg’s art as one of the most significant encounters in his life. International attention resulted in exhibitions around the world, and also in the acclaimed illustrations for Arthur Rimbaud’s book of poems that now come alive on the walls of the museum galleries. These sensual and poetic images linger on in the mind, making us wonder: what was he ultimately, fish or fowl?

The exhibition is produced in cooperation with the Malmö Art Museum.
Turun taidemuseo, Aurakatu 26, 20100 Turku, Puh. 02 2627 100. © 2014