Sound: Off
Sound: Off
Sound: Off
Works
Sound: Off
Nymphaeas
2021
Sound: Off
Sound: Off
Casting
2018
Sound: Off
En Face / 1866
2014
Winter
2013
Wunder
2013
AcuteStillLife
2011
Sound: Off
Figure Out
2009
Dear Prudence
2008
Första Resan
2006
Malplacé
2005
Figur i landskap
2001
Jaisana
1999
Zone V
1996
Other Works
1990–2021
Exhibitions
Nymphaeas
2021
Casting
2018
En Face / 1866
2015
Winter / Wunder
2013–15
Acute Still Life
2011
Figure Out
2009–15
Dear Prudence
2008
Malplacé
2005–10
Figure in Landscape
2010–15
Zone V
2010–15
Biography:

Denise Grünstein was born 1950 in Helsinki. She lives and works in Stockholm. Since the early 2000s she has mostly focused on staged photography with a woman as the leading character. Her photographic work contains references to both the 19th century romantic paintings and the 20th century surrealism. In her pictures, Grünstein often creates a strange world where beauty meets disharmony.
Texts:

Nymphaeas
By Paulina Sokolow
2021

En face
By Bo Nilsson
2015
Selected solo exhibitions:

Nymphaeas, 2021
Hallands Konstmuseum, Halmstad

Nymphaeas, 2021
CFHILL, Stockholm

Casting, 2018
CFHILL, Stockholm

In Transit, 2015 
Strandverket, Marstrand

En Face, 2015 
Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

Figure In, 2013
Mjellby Konstmuseum, Mjällby

Figure Out, 2010 
KIASMA, Helsingfors

Figure Out, 2009
Galleri Charlotte Lund, Stockholm

Malplacé, 2005
Millesgården, Stockholm

Malplace, 2005
Hasselblad Center, Göteborg

Malplacé, 2005
Galleri Charlotte Lund, Stockholm

Figure in Landscape, 2004
Centre Culturel Suédois, Paris

Figur i landskap, 2002
Galleri Mårtensson & Persson, Påarp

Figur i landskap, 2001
Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Zone V, 1998 
Arkipelag-Tekniska Museet, Stockholm

Camera Obscura, 1981
Stockholm



Selected group exhibitions:

Female Icons, 2020 
Artipelag, Stockholm

Different Distances, 2014 
Aperture Gallery, NY
Centre Culturel Suédoise, Paris

Something Turned Into a Thing, 2012
Magasin 3, Stockholm

En annan historia, 2011
Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Åtta samtida kommentarer / Caspar Davis Friedrich, 2010
Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

CatWalk, 1993
Fotografiska Museet, Stockholm

PS 1, 1985
New York

Bländande Bilder, 1981
Fotografiska Museet, Stockholm



Selected collections:

Nationalmuseum, Stockholm
Moderna Museet, Stockholm
KIASMA, Helsingfors
Hasselblad Center, Göteborg
Artipelag, Stockholm
Museet for Samtidskunst, Oslo
Magasin III, Stockholm
SEB Collection, Stockholm
Books:

En face, 2015
Text: Magnus Olausson, Bo Nilsson
Graphic design: Greger Ulf Nilsson
Publisher: Nationalmuseum

Figure Out, 2010
Text: Arja Miller, Bo Nilsson
Graphic design: Greger Ulf Nilsson
Publisher: Arena / Kiasma

59 buketter från min trädgård och lite till, 2007
Text: Denise Grünstein
Graphic design: Greger Ulf Nilsson
Publisher: Prisma, Nordstedts

Malplacé, 2005
Text: Bo Nilsson, Hasse Persson
Graphic design: Henrik Nygren
Publisher: Hasselblad

Figur i landskap, 2001
Exhibition catalogue, Moderna museet
Text: Leif Wigh

Beauty Box, 1993
Exhibition catalogue, Moderna museet
Graphic design: Lars Hall
Contact:

denise@denisegrunstein.com

Denise Grünstein
Olof Palmes gata 25
111 22 Stockholm
Sweden



Gallery:

CFHILL
Västra Trädgårdsgatan 9
111 53 Stockholm
Sweden

michael.storakers@cfhill.com



Agent:

CAMERALINK
Götgatan 32
118 26 Stockholm
Sweden

lena@cameralink.com
Denise Grünstein – Nymphaeas
Paulina Sokolow

Their brief existence, which casts them as sudden explosions of colour in murky waters, and the way their roots reach down to the muck, far below the surface, have combined to make waterlilies into enduring and powerful symbols of the human psyche: most of them remains hidden in the depths, a shapeless mess of stems and petioles, but they are driven by an urge to emerge in the light and draw the gazes of others. In her new exhibition Nymphaeas, Denise Grünstein ties in with this story, and adds her own chapter to it. Here, the blossomed flower, which may owe Claude Monet the greatest debt for its celebrated status, is passed over in order to make room for the heart-shaped leaves, which float on the surfaces of dark ponds and lakes, suspended between death and renewal in an eternal cycle in which a new shoot sprouts just as an existing one dies. Just as with Monet, the approach here is an antirealist one. The optics are recalibrated, subjective, and born from an unfamiliar palette. In this case, the result is achieved by means of the infinity of hues that digital technology makes available. Upon entering the first antechamber of the Nymphaeas exhibition, the visitor will encounter shimmering, vibrant, biomorphic foliage, which foreshadows a distant, parallel borderland in which space and sea will combine into one. In the background, music composed by Älgbrant plays, oscillating between electronic space pulses and warm piano notes. Once inside the main gallery, one finds the entire space transformed, as the walls are covered with giant, floating lily leaves. At the centre of the space, the viewer embarks on a journey to the depths, a loop of placid motion through a maze of oceanic space.


A conversation between Denise Grünstein and Paulina Sokolow

PS: It’s been just over two years since your last major show, Casting.
DG: That one consisted of a number of different elements: sculpture, film, the model with the rotating table/skirt, the cast bronzes, the interiors, and the music. 

PS: When I spoke to you at the time, you actually referred to it as a circus. This exhibition is a lot more restrained and austere, at least in terms of its subjects. What has happened, here?
DG: I suppose the brief response to that is that the world itself has grown smaller. The many options we used to enjoy have been reduced to a bare minimum over this last year. The same thing also happened to my pictures. In the summer, I spent some time by a little lake, not too far from the city, and I didn’t really have much else to do besides stand there, studying the lily leaves that were floating around on its surface. It was only after a while that I began to document them with my iPhone. I didn’t really have any defined plans for these pictures at first, but I found myself becoming increasingly spellbound by the tiny changes on the surfaces of the leaves, and the way they shrivelled and disappeared, only to be replaced by the new leaves that were growing below the surface. The lake’s vegetation became my focal point – my garden, even – for the summer of 2020.

PS: This approach is quite different from anything you’ve done in your previous work. Your work is usually done in collaboration with a number of other people, and, perhaps most significantly, some rather advanced analogue large format cameras. Everyone has a smartphone these days, right?
DG: Yes, exactly, and it made for such an enjoyable change for me! My past projects have tended to be very complex and demand a lot of resources. I’m firmly committed to all things analogue; I really enjoy all the various crafts that go into photography. Now, the smartphone camera has always been available to me, but I’ve tended to use it as a sketching tool. This time, I let that technology take a leading role. It didn’t really begin to gel properly for me until I started post-processing the leaf pictures with an image editing app, which was also on my phone. The leaves turned into explosions of colour and shapes, and the pictures took on a more abstract and playful quality. I’ve always envied painters for the way they can work without the restraint of reality, and this is the closest I’ve ever come to that whole process.

PS: Have you learned anything particularly important while working on this project?
DG: Absolutely. Once again, it has reminded me of the lesson that my life keeps teaching me: to dig where you stand, and cultivate the art of seeing grandness in the little things. It brought to mind something I read on Instagram, a quote from photographer Wolfgang Tillmans: “Big ideas don't make themselves known as big. They begin with the little, ridiculous ideas that most people would discard or reject. Every successful picture I've done has really been based on taking a very flimsy, fleeting little idea, grabbing hold of it, and taking it seriously.” Josef Sudek, another photographer and source of inspiration, from another time, worked just like that. He created a whole world out of nothing but the shapes of a few glass vases and the view through the window of his little studio.

PS: Could you tell us a bit more about your working process?
DG: I would often take pictures in the early mornings, either from the wharf or rowing out in a little dinghy. In the evenings, I would sit and play with these initially rather unassuming pictures in the image editing app on my smartphone. The process involved a lot of trial and error, and sometimes the pictures turned out too dull, or too far out. The process depended on equal parts luck and flow, and on being prepared to approach the images with playfulness. In the end, they grew into a whole theme, infinite in scope, with tiny variations. I made the film, which is a 42-minute slow-motion tracking shot over the leaves, in more or less the same way; I had to perch on the fore of the rowing boat to shoot it. All the pictures in the main gallery are film stills taken from the video. My friend, the composer (Simon) Älgbrant, produced a score for the film, and in doing so, he created an entire auditory space for the exhibition.

PS: What does beauty mean to you?
DG: Again, I’d have to say everything! But it is also something I have to work hard not to lean on too much. That’s why there aren’t that many flowers in the pictures - the water lily itself possesses a beauty that seems too obvious, somehow. The brief life-cycle that begins as the young leaf starts to age and accumulate imperfections served as a window for me, something to dwell on. Beauty is a lot more interesting when it comes right up against its own limits.


Denise Grünstein is a pioneering Swedish photographer, and one of the most prominent of her generation. Her new series, which is being shown for the first time, will constitute her second major exhibition at CFHILL. Notable besides her technical skill and her extraordinary sense of detail is the way she manages to liberate her own photographs from any notions of what photography “ought” to be. Her domain is that of the imagination. Ever-present in her portraits and dramatic tableaus is the sense that there is something more, something hidden just below the surface. Denise Grünstein creates a world altogether her own. She has spent more than three decades working on an oeuvre characterised by the mythical and the psychological, a low-key narrative unfolding from her ground-breaking exhibition at Fotografiska Museet in 1981, Bländande bilder, which would later develop into the many series she has made in collaboration with Marta Oldenburg, her model for the last twenty years. Over the years, she has consistently returned to the practice of staging a kind of animated, dreamy chamber plays, and enacting them through the restrained drama of the still life genre. CFHILL is proud to present an all-new series of works by Denise Grünstein – and, as is customary for this artist, a great deal more besides: A whole new world in which to lose oneself.
Back
Denise Grünstein – En face
Bo Nilsson

It is exciting that the Nationalmuseum has allowed a new art project and exhibition by Denise Grünstein to develop organically. Since the Swedish National Portrait Gallery at Gripsholm files under the Nationalmuseum, Grünstein’s portraits there formed a natural starting point. But the concept soon took off in a completely different direction. All that remained was a portrait of Queen Silvia, and then only as a comment on the artist’s new pictures. The result is shown in the exhibition En face, focusing on Grünstein’s art photography. This also includes examples from the artist’s earlier projects, as parts of a larger totality that is not shown in full here. Instead, only a selection is displayed, to enhance and explain the experience of the new work. Grünstein’s serial photographs do not convey stories with a beginning and an end. Instead, they are characterised by an emotional structure, where image is added to image, in complex interplay. This is why Grünstein’s oeuvre does not generate distinct meanings, but can be seen as part of a larger puzzle, or as clues in a detective story that invites the spectator to a dialogue. Her aesthetics is fundamentally open, with roots in the 1960s art situation that continues to dominate contemporary art.  

En face

The title of the exhibition, En face, refers to portraits in a broad sense. Denise Grünstein is a natural link in the long history of the art of portraiture. She began her artistic career as a portrait photographer for Swedish magazines such as Månadsjournalen and Elle. When carrying out these assignments she adhered to tradition, but also added a new dimension by combining fashion photography with a purely artistic approach. By styling her models with make-up, accessories and clothes, as though for a fashion shoot, she enhanced their visual impact. Instead of focusing on facial features to bring out the essential personality of the portrayed persons, Grünstein introduced elements to indicate their lifestyle and the aesthetics they surrounded themselves with. In other words, not only the most distinct personality traits, but also more marginal aspects that may even contradict the given identity. Naturally, these enigmatic and exciting qualities form a part of the photographic interpretation that is so characteristic of Grünstein. 

It was the encounter between photographic assignments and art photography that inspired Denise Grünstein to let the various aspects enrich one another. In this way, her work came to oscillate between commercial approaches and the more humanistic values of art photography. This interaction was driven not only by the contradictions between different image conventions, but also depended on how she defined her artistic mission. In the beginning, she would set herself a task. Consequently, it is hard to establish exactly when Denise Grünstein took the step from one genre to the other, but there is reason to suspect that it took place in connection with the exhibition Bländande bilder (Dazzling Pictures) at Fotografiska Museet in Stockholm in 1981–82, which was her breakthrough as an art photographer.

When Stockholm was Cultural Capital of Europe in 1998, David Neuman launched a project called Arkipelag, for contemporary art that sought new forums outside the usual art institutions. Denise Grünstein was invited to create an exhibition at the National Museum of Science and Technology. She chose to show a series of photographs taken in 1996–97 on a trip that started in Berlin and went through the former GDR, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. 1996 Grünstein’s journey went to St. Petersburg. Her interest in former East Europe and parts of the central European cultural sphere originated in a travel feature where she had assigned herself the task of documenting the cultural conditions in eastern Europe after the Wall. Her incentive was to portray a world that was being obliterated by the influx of market forces and the transformation of communist planned economies into modern capitalist nations. The exhibition initially consisted of 17 images with the collective name Zone V. The title comes from the American photographer Ansel Adams and his way of seeing photography as a state between light and dark. This did not merely refer to the photographic starting point, but can also relate to an emotional state on a scale ranging from a form of optimism to deepest gloom when encountering the accounts from the concentration camps.

Denise Grünstein’s interest in history has also resulted in a collection of old photographic objects, including a formidable number of glass plates, the predecessor of the film negative. Since the large-format camera is also a historic relic, and the glass plates bear traces of past use, this prompted in Grünstein the idea of going back in time to the early days of photography. In Jaisana, on the Indian-Pakistani border, she found a place where time seemed to stand still. With camels and people, Grünstein staged a voyage to the landscape of the past, which eventually came together in an exhibition at Galleri Charlotte Lund in Stockholm. Here, the technically flawed photograph became an expression for another era.

Figure in Landscape

For those who had a preconceived notion of Denise Grünstein as a black-and-white photographer, her exhibition Figure in Landscape at Moderna Museet in Stockholm in 2001 may have come as a surprise. Grünstein continued to work with her large-format camera, but replaced b/w photography with an intensified colour scale. The exhibition featured ten photographs, where the technical quality had attained what amounted to hyperrealist perfection. An omniscient eye appears to have full control of every detail, in the hope of discovering something therein that would supply the answer to the mystery of these images. The pictorial suite shows a solitary woman in a beautiful natural setting, but her body language expresses a neurotic relationship to nature. Here, there is no trace of the communion with nature that is habitually seen as a male territory.

Malplacé

At the Hasselblad Center in Gothenburg Denise Grünstein showed the photographic series Malplacé in 2005. In these photos, Grünstein revisits a place that is very familiar to her. This is Hangö in the Finnish archipelago, where Grünstein spent many summers in her childhood. Despite her return to black-and-white photography, we should not mistake this for a nostalgic project about her private experiences from those days. At the centre is a middle-aged woman who appears to have come back to recall the happy summers of her youth. However, she gives the impression of feeling out of place both in her childhood landscape and in the current situation. It is this emotional state that can be characterised by the word malplacé, which means to feel out of place, not only geographically but also in one’s own body.

The First Voyage

In art history, we find the term voyage pittoresque, denoting the phenomenon of artists travelling to places that were deemed to possess particular beauty and visual (picturesque) qualities that were suitable for depiction. Skagen was one such place that attracted many painters in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was thus with great curiosity that Denise Grünstein set off for Skagen to take in the vast landscape there. One result was The First Voyage (2006), featured in the exhibition Eight Contemporary Commentaries, which accompanied the major Caspar David Friedrich exhibition at the Nationalmuseum in 2009. There are obvious formal similarities between Grünstein’s photography and Caspar David Friedrich’s paintings. Like him, she has extracted a part from what appears to be an infinite totality. In this eternity, Grünstein has placed a small, solitary figure, a woman. Just as in several of her other portrayals of women, the body of the female figure is in a strangely contorted posture. It transpires that one of her high heels has got stuck in the beach sand. This is an occurrence verging on the tragicomical, giving some indication of the difference between a male and a female relationship to nature.  

Figure Out

The Figure Out series, shown at Galleri Charlotte Lund in Stockholm in 2009, is imbued with all the interpretational complexity indicated by the exhibition title. Figure Out, which has the dual meaning of outdoor figure and guessing, has similarities with the world of dreams and displays a surrealistic fascination for conscious and subconscious levels of the human mind. Here, the play between gender identities presents an exciting and uncharted territory.

The location in Figure Out is once more the beach in Skagen, where Denise Grünstein set up her studio, like a plein-air painter. Here she instructed a woman to perform more or less intelligible actions. Grünstein has removed the woman from a domestic environment and put her in a landscape together with elements from the interiors associated with women’s lives. The table with the white cloth appears in several of the pictures, as a sign of a bourgeois lifestyle, with its traditionally female responsibility for the social events that take place around the table. In the open landscape, the middle-class idyll is challenged by the forces of nature that the women are occupied with keeping at bay. This is an old-fashioned female role, accentuated by Grünstein with clothing that is reminiscent of the fashion worn by the women in the works of the Skagen painters.

AcuteStillLife

The still life is one of the most common themes in art history and continues to be relevant today. In a suite of photos with the somewhat quirky title AcuteStillLife, or Stillebenakuten, Denise Grünstein has portrayed a still life that does not comply entirely with the established iconography, with its allusions to a still life, death. The exception is an eraser in the form of a skull, toying with a dangerous symbol that has become emblematic of the commodity fetishism of mass culture. The other objects include an exotic bird in the form of a parrot sculpted in wood, a cultural artefact representing nature, a miniature ceramic vase and a bowl of pigment. The latter has been used by Grünstein to paint a few exotic fruits that appear to be in a state of putrefaction. In Grünstein’s still life, they have been transplanted from nature to the cultural domain. This is one aspect of the duality that characterises the still life tradition, where death, paradoxically, does not entail entropy but life eternal. 

Wunder / Winter

At the Galleri Charlotte Lund in Stockholm, Denise Grünstein created an exhibition in two parts, Wunder / Winter, in 2013. One part consisted of colour photos of an interior built in a corner of her studio. Set against a backdrop of muted nuances demurely suggestive of the 1940s, is a female figure in a marble-coloured body stocking. The figure has relinquished the classical physical ideal for a biomorphous body that occasionally takes on grotesquely irregular proportions. These female creatures are related to works by modernist sculptors such as Arp, Brancusi and Henry Moore. This is a tradition that sought to combine the female body and the shapes of nature into an ideal synthesis, and is an expression of a male attitude to the female body. 

Winter, which was the title of the other part of the exhibition, suggests a considerably chillier temperature. In these photographs Grünstein has staged a form of historic tableaux, resembling the battles with tin soldiers that were fought in many boys’ rooms. Grünstein’s link between childish games and the realities of war appears like an educational (didactic) dissection of the male mind.

“1866”

During her relatively short career as an art photographer, Denise Grünstein’s exhibition activities have mainly focused on galleries and other commercial art spaces, with the exception of her exhibition at Moderna Museet in 2001. The commission from the Nationalmuseum, leading to her project in the vacated museum building on Blasieholmen, is equally prestigious. In a series she has named “1866” after the Museum’s opening year, she explores the architectonic environment. Some of the photographs depict the building in a denuded state, with ladders and scaffolding as the only props. 

The Nationalmuseum building is far more complex, however, than these bare halls reveal. Grünstein’s photographs also feature some odd nooks that do not seem to comply with the grand architectonic scheme. In these mysterious spaces Grünstein evokes a secret world, where things happen that seem to hold reminiscences from another time beyond any given reality. Grünstein has tinted the architecture with a reddish filter that can give the impression of protective plastic or some kind of dust sheet. But her motif is not as trivial as that. Red light is used in the darkroom when developing the invisible image and making it accessible for a female mindset.

En face

In one of the most spectacular parts of the “1866” project, she populates the Nationalmuseum with figures that would not be out of place in a Hollywood production titled Night at the Museum. These figures can be interpreted as relics from the Museum’s collection that have suddenly come to life and roam the halls. And although these ghostly apparitions can be said to be figments of Grünstein’s imagination, her choice of bourgeois crinolines, which were in fashion exactly when the Museum first opened, present an alternative interpretation. The crinoline was an expression of the social and economic power of the bourgeoisie, but it could also represent the female body, which allows itself to be subjugated by prevailing ideals and preferences. The crinoline restricted movement but enhanced the body’s sculptural dimension. In Grünstein’s staged photos, the women (and some of the men) also wear masks, accentuating their lack of identity. It may appear odd that one of these pictures has the title En face, which is an art historic term normally denoting a full-frontal portrait. But en face also means confronting a person directly, which is apparently something of a feminist artistic strategy that Denise Grünstein implements.

Some of the exhibitions produced by the Nationalmuseum during its “exile” in the premises of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts and Kulturhuset, juxtapose contemporary artists with works from the Nationalmuseum collection, in search of keys to the past that could also open doors between history and the present day. In En face Grünstein has applied the same curatorial approach. Grünstein has selected some works from the Museum’s collections but consciously avoided integrating them with the exhibition. Instead, she has photographed the reverse side of the paintings, as if she was refusing the works themselves. But this should probably be seen as a way of transforming them into readymades in the spirit of Duchamp. With this conceptualisation, she creates a secret dimension that we rarely get to see in museums. It contains masses of information about the origins, provenance and exhibition history of the paintings, involving a journey from their moment of conception to the present. This somersault takes the viewer back to the artist’s studio and to the actual moment of creation. In some strange sense, the reverse side feels more authentic than the front. Is this because of its novelty?

The exhibition in the Royal Academy of Fine Arts has a complexity that is held together by Denise Grünstein’s ability to highlight a problem from multiple perspectives, both in her choice of photographic medium, and in how the works are interconnected in an exhibition. In this respect, Grünstein approaches her task not only as an artist but also as a curator. She defines her works in relation to her entire oeuvre and to the context in which they are shown. It becomes obvious that Grünstein, in her fascination for how meaning is generated by context, presents a complex picture of what a museum is, and what it could be.
Back
Denise Grünstein Archive is loading