In Ruben Östlund’s award-winning film The Square (2017), the director of a major Stockholm art museum commissions an installation consisting of a small square cut into the city’s cobblestones.
It’s meant to delineate a zone in which trust and solidarity prevail, a sliver of utopia. Of course it doesn’t work as intended, and the fabric of society unravels outside its borders.
The film’s sardonic tone belies Östlund’s genuine passion for art. (In fact, the fictional installation was based on a real-life “square” Östlund and a fellow filmmaker had built two years earlier in the town of Värnamo.) So we asked him for the three places he would take an art-loving visitor in the Swedish capital.
To play the museum’s CEO, Östlund cast Marina Schiptjenko, co-director of the Andréhn-Schiptjenko gallery in the Vasastan neighborhood, and came to admire her curatorial taste.
The space shows Swedish artists like sculptor Per B Sundberg and painter Lena Johansson as well as a few international rising stars, such as the South African artist Nandipha Mntambo. “They just have a great selection,” says Östlund.
Though Stockholm’s Royal Palace stood in for the exterior of the fictional museum in The Square, Östlund modeled the institution after the Moderna Museet.
The collection “is very international,” Östlund says. “You can tell that they had a quite strong relationship to American artists in the ’60s and ’70s.”
Any favorite pieces? “Well, they have a goat that is trapped in a tire that I think is quite beautiful”— actually a Robert Rauschenberg combine titled Monogram. There are also works by Swedish artists such as Mama Andersson and Hilma af Klint.
Built in 2011 to showcase developer Sven-Harry Karlsson’s wide-ranging Nordic art collection, the museum is especially notable for two features: its gleaming golden façade and its rooftop terrace, which contains a near-exact replica of Karlsson’s former 18th-century home, furniture, paintings and all. It’s not hard to see why the museum would appeal to Östlund.
You could describe it like one of his films: cheeky, absurdist, thought-provoking, and deeply satisfying.