Springtime for Liljevalchs
Publish date: 27 February 2023
As February comes to a close, Liljevalchs Konsthall opens the doors to 2023's edition of its Spring Salon. Now over 100 years old, the annual exhibition's eclectic mix of styles, subject matters, and techniques has become a beloved Stockholm tradition. “It’s a smorgasbord of art, a national pastime”, says Liljevalchs director Mårten Castenfors.
A still-life rendition of a Swedish Christmas dinner, a cast of tire tracks going through mud, a cartoonish bronze gnome clinging to a shoe, and summery landscape paintings. As always, the 2023 edition of Liljevalchs annual Spring Salon in Stockholm is a diverse mix of artists. Materials, techniques, and themes, range from the absurd, humorous, or folksy to the abstract, subversive, or symbolically rich.
“It’s a smorgasbord of art, a national pastime”, says Liljevalch’s director Mårten Castenfors. “A normal Spring Salon should include something beautiful, and something ugly. Something marvelous and something slightly dangerous and provocative. We normally get about 100 000 visitors during these weeks, and for many, it might be the only art exhibit they visit during the year, which makes the mix of styles and subject matters important.”
The Spring Saloon at Liljevalchs is the largest jury-selected exhibition in Sweden. Artists have until mid-October each year to send in their submission – anonymously and consisting of a maximum of five art pieces – after which a handpicked jury narrows it down through a process of elimination until about 300 individual sculptures, paintings, screen prints, videos, and installations remain. Enough to start planning the nitty-gritty of the exhibition's final layout.
“It’s important to be effective and systematic”, says Mårten Castenfors. “Usually we have about 20 000 pieces of art to review which is… a lot. It’s like trying to solve a giant jigsaw puzzle. Everything must gel and be in the right place, and each of Liljevalch’s halls must have a unique voice. And the artists have to feel that their works are represented in an optimal way”.
The juror’s particular tastes also shape the exhibition in no small way, as a new jury is selected each year. “It creates a unique and fresh mix. This year, for example, the artist Jockum Nordström was on the jury. Taking a walk in the exhibition halls, and knowing what he likes, I can clearly see which works he most likely selected”.
This year’s exhibition has set a new record with 4,135 hopeful applicants from different walks of life, encompassing all of Sweden: from Ystad in the southern county of Scania to Råneå in the far north of Norrbotten. By design, the Spring Salon mixes high-brow with low-brow art as the application process is open to the public, and not a gated community for established artists only. Anyone with an artful hobby or a creative output is encouraged to send in a submission.
“It’s a reflection of Sweden”, Mårten Castenfors continues. “And you’ll notice many artists contemplate their identity or history. There’s always a certain amount of Nordic melancholy present. At the same time, you notice all the productivity and creativity in Sweden, despite a sometimes dark and cold climate, which is really energizing”.
Moreover, artists have a good incentive to apply. While it is unreasonable to expect every featured artist to become an overnight sensation, the Spring Saloon has been the foot through the art world’s door for many.
“They [the artists] are probably the most important reason for the Spring Saloon’s longevity”, Mårten Castenfors says. “Many of Sweden’s most prominent artists, like Lars Lerin and Lena Cronquist, have been featured in the exhibition. Visitors, on the other hand, get the chance to see work by young and unknown artists, and even bring it home as all artworks are for sale”.
In 2021 the Spring Salon celebrated its 100th anniversary. And in Mårten Castenfors’ mind the beloved annual exhibition, a marquee event for Liljevalchs konsthall will soldier on. “It will outlive us all because there will always be a need for this type of exhibition. I’m sure two people will discuss the Salon's 200th anniversary eventually, just not you and me”.
Liljevalchs Konsthall was built in 1916, as a venue for contemporary and modern art. The exhibition hall is located on Djurgården and is owned by the City of Stockholm. Liljevalchs was named after wealthy businessman Carl Fredrik Liljevalch the Younger, a well-known patron of the arts.
The main building was designed by Carl Bergsten and is considered a seminal work of Swedish Grace in architecture. In 2021 a new annex designed by Gert Wingårdh (Liljevalchs+) opened up, adding several exhibition halls and a new museum restaurant.
The annual Spring Salon has been a fixture at Liljevalchs since 1921. It has become a beloved art tradition and a sign of springtime in Stockholm.