The Art Consultant is Building Again

Martin Wickström, 46, is an artist and decision-maker of art. The people of Stockholm have him to thank / blame for the monument of Wallenberg being where it is. If you want to see his own art this is a good weekend to do it.

Two flights of stairs down Martin Wickström opens the door to a windowless industrious space. On the opposite side of the wall the subway passes by and S:t Eriksgatan becomes S:t Eriksbron. Down below, through the floor, pumps the rhythms of the body builders in the gym, the neighbor another flight of stairs down toward the idyllic buildings of Atlasområdet.

From Martin Wickström’s art you can expect a play with models, gadgets and objects put together in a technically inventive manner that can strike the viewer with a vague feeling of boy’s room and a scent of folkhemmet. The first peek into the studio doesn’t disappoint me. To step in is like visiting the workshop of a magician.

– Everybody is talking about the boy’s room thing, Martin Wickström says with a look of slight puzzlement.

In the left end of the studio is a toy ambulance of metal with a big propeller on its roof. In the other end, on a top shelf, is a left over art work from K98, the culture capital year. At that time it was put together with a relief of Winnie the Pooh, now it’s standing on its own – a beautifully figure sawn piece of wood that forms the word “death” in an appealing blue color. Some might think of the word “manly” about Martin Wickström’s world.

– I have to take that, I am a man. And I love building models, he says.

On top of tables and along the walls is the new exhibition of the artist, in a more or less finished state. The next day it is to be taken to veteran gallery owner Göran Engström’s premises on Karlaplan for saturday’s opening.

Martin Wickström is certain how to hang everything in the three rooms of the gallery, where he is at home since the late 80s.

– Sculptures in the entrance, regular square paintings in the middle and these farthest away, he says pointing toward reliefs or silhouettes painted with a floral pattern. If you look closely they appear to be figure sawn and have the contours of a bird, a reference to sir Alfred Hitchcock.

After his time as a project manager at the State’s Art Council and before the new career as an art consultant Martin Wickström is making a new exhibition in his own name. It is the first one in Stockholm for three years and is titled “Cinema Paradiso”, a salute to his own obsession with movies, especially his favorite by the same name by Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore.

Here is not only Hitchcock but also a figure sawn sign with the word “Belmore”, the coffee shop that   forms the central point of the life of Travis, Robert de Niro’s wandering character in Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver”.

– But this image is the center.

Martin Wickström points to the not so inconspicuous cleavage, flesh tinted bosom against pink dress in a large painting of a 50s style lady with the look of a movie star. It stands beside some… portraits you might call them, of buildings from the same era, resembling the ones in Finspång where the artist grew up.

– The woman, the beautiful and wonderful, he says with a smile and explains that the image is based on the cover of a magazine. A photo of Anita Ekberg, incidentally from 1957, the birth year of the artist.

Everything is not nostalgia and geeky movie references, here is up to date danger as well, in the form of white painted reliefs which he has screwed onto the paintings and that occupy parts of the surfaces. Martin Wickström calls them “tattoos”. There is a boy who at first glance could be a child soldier. The urban landscape comes from a travel through Lebanon.

– I work rather freely from several ideas. Some things end up as I expect them. Others pull away and become something different, the entire intensive work with the exhibition is fluent, it is an adventure, it’s not programmatic, you can find distinct links. They are not waterproof, the can limp and be loose, and sometimes you don’t understand at all.

The subtle mechanisms of the art world are also limp and loose. After initially being one of the hot new art names, he suddenly found himself being not as renowned as others from the same generation, such as Max Book and Ernst Billgren.

– You think you have the final solution when you are 25 and studying at the Royal Institute of Art. But suddenly there are new people there who know better, you have to learn to live with that. There are artist who try to race, hunt that beam of light that constantly moves, I think it’s impossible.

During his six recently finished years as a project manager at the State’s Art Council he has not only brought forward fellow artists but also made controversial pieces like Kirsten Ortwed’s monument over Wallenberg happen.

– If I have the commission of a project manger it is because someone thinks I have a good knowledge and know my business. Then I have trust my own knowledge. It can’t be measured like the special competence of Kajsa Bergqvist that can be read in how many centimeters she has jumped. But when I feel that “this is a really great art work” I can’t back down. Even if I on an intellectual level can understand that some people will find the work weird.

– To give in to the doubt about how the piece will be received would be an error of duty. I have given them some incredible art. They will discover that one day.

You can stand up to that?
– Definitely. No doubt.

Clemens Poellinger,

SvD, August 2004