This Charming Man

In a small but concentrated exhibition at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm you will be able to encounter the artworks by Swedish painter/sculptor Håkan Rehnberg. HR has been exhibiting since the early 80’s in the Stockholm area in a poetic conceptualist tradition largely inspired by the contemporary masters such as Brice Marden, Donald Judd and Gerhard Richter and now recent a touch of Cy Twombly.

He is the most likeable person you could meet, any topic you discuss turns out to be delightful and intelligent. He has a way of describing the matter eloquently, a wonderful use of words and sentences that sounds totally comprehensive.

The artworks are perfectly executed in a precise and romantic manner so that you forget about the big names he has been so inspired by. It is almost a Zen like approach to the work, all the way from his studio which is a storefront in a quiet neighborhood in Stockholm, to the formats and material that are carefully chosen and worked with. He uses his spatula in the most expressive manner, it’s the tool he has consequently used for the past decade.

This is accompanied with a fondness for Greek philosophy, that he is translating in his spare time, he also writes the most amusing stories which you will find in the impressive exhibition catalogue.



In this exhibition there are a series of new paintings, oil on acrylic glass that has been sandblasted on one side, all of the same exact formats that he always uses. There are also three minimalistic structures or sculptures in the room that has a very industrial feel over them.

A need to know is that HR has had a minor success with his paintings for the last 12 years. In a very decorative manner he has used the scraping technique favoured by the grand master Gerhard Richter, but HR has been more sparse in his use of oilpaint and makes them more uncomplicated than the master’s. Very beautiful and decorative almost like a prop for interior design.

But the new works are of a whole different story, here the artist has used the same materials but moving more towards the abstract expressionism and almost towards a total collapse of the painting process itself.

They are sometimes beautifully balanced while most of the works become complicated. The artist is evidently breaking away from Rigor mortis and moving towards a newfound freedom.
It is obvious that the artist has had thoughts for his ideal of painting as he has tried them all earlier. The result becomes an existencial outcry that seem to be leaning towards maximalism. Maybe we are experiencing the new bold and adventurous Håkan Rehnberg exploring the future of painting?



On the other hand we find his sculptures carrying a much more interesting set of ideas. The work “The Sealed Studio” is a Judd like structure of a space reminiscent of the artist studio, a storefront that is completely sealed. It generates a claustrophobic sense as the space within is unreachable like a store window at a departement store, and there is no way out, an absolutely horrible situation to encounter. A private space just like his own studio where he seldom invites visitors. The execution is straight forward with a no nonsense attitude that makes this work one of his strongest to date.

The other sculpture “Double Scene” is from a more recent date, according to the description a study of the dual possibilities in ones imagination of how we stage ourselves in life.
HR is also interested in the practice of architecture and has been working with different objects and sculptural forms that invoke architecture.

This sculpture reminds us of on of the modernist iconic buildings in New York City, the Lever building (by Gordon Bunshaft and Nathalie de Blois at Skidmore, Owings & Merril) with the elegant glasscurtain facade and its courtyard used for public displays the works seem to have a connection with Rehnbergs interest for display. There is also a clear link to the works of Mies van der Rohe and his love for details.



HR shows in this exhibition that he is able to generate true elegant energy through his sculptures that has a lot in common with the classical Greek architecture and philosophy he admires so much. Hopefully we will be able to see more of this sculptural work in the near future.


Words by Axel Mörner

Håkan Rehnberg – Double Scene at Moderna Museet 24 january – 12 april, 2015.