On ViewMusée D’Art Moderne De Paris
Anna-Eva Bergman “Voyage vers l’interieur”
March 31–July 16 2023
The exhibition pamphlet for Anna-Eva Bergman’s first major retrospective at the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris begins with a blunt, but necessary, assertion: “Although celebrated and exhibited around the world in her lifetime, [Bergman’s] work needs to be more widely reconsidered today.” This ethos is carried through the entire exhibition, which spans eight galleries and features over two hundred works by the artist, rightfully securing her place as a major post-war artist.
Anna-Eva Bergman (1909–1987) grew up in Norway and sketched both the Nordic and Mediterranean landscapes extensively. Motivated by an interest in global politics and feelings of anxiety over Hitler’s rise to power, Bergman turned to graphic illustrations, where she created caricatures that mocked and denounced Nazi ideals. In an ink drawing on view, Futur national-socialist (1933), Bergman sets a scene of tranquil transportation, complete with a horse-drawn cart, a plane, a motor car, and a bicycle. The caveat is that all the wheels and propellers are fashioned out of swastikas. Though this is a depiction of movement, the passengers are all at ease, blissfully unaware of what is going on around them. Here, Bergman comments on the Nazis’ sophisticated propaganda campaign, showing how it has affected and controlled every aspect of life—but without anyone really seeing its impact just yet.
Though her interest in the landscape and terrain of her native Scandinavia would inspire Anna-Eva’s oeuvre for decades to come, in the 1920s and 30s she traveled extensively through Europe for her art education, moving from Oslo to Vienna, and then to Paris. While in Paris, she married German abstract painter Hans Hartung in 19298 (the pair would later get divorced and remarried) and for a period of time moved to Germany, where the couple took refuge in the artistic community of Dresden. But Norway always called her back: during the summers of 1949–51, Bergman returned to Norway, staying on the small island of Citadelløya. Here, she began what would become a lifelong experimentation with abstraction, not just through the forms created on the canvas but also through the materials she employed. Mimicking the varying textures and pleats of the stones of Norway, from pebbles to the bedrock itself, Bergman’s work in this period finds her beginning to incorporate sheets of metal into her paintings.
Her work from the 1950s was described at the time by the French critic Michel Ragon as “an original type of painting that owes nothing to fashions.” Although superficially similar in form to the abstract paintings of her contemporaries, Bergman’s work is more about the creation of a personal visual alphabet. By designing non-figurative forms in a multitude of materials, Bergman could express the relationships she found between colors, emotions, and tactile sensations, while also relating these forms to those found in nature. Her most common themes included geological stones, trees and the natural landscape, and astrology and outer space.
Walking deeper into the exhibition we enter the “Naissances des forms (The Birth of Forms)” gallery and the paintings crescendo to an overwhelming size, with many of the works taking up entire walls. It is easy to get lost in these paintings: the range of forms and mix of materials come to life as one walks from one side of a work to another. The light catches different textures, shines on lighter or darker areas, and forms that might not have been seen initially are revealed through deeper looking. An example of this transformation is found in N°2-1966 Finnmark Hiver (Northern Horizon Winter) (1966), where abstract forms change into cosmic visions. This work is a science-fiction-esque representation that resembles either the northern Norwegian landscape at night or the surface of the moon and the deep, jet black of outer space. Bergman was fascinated by space exploration, maintaining a regular subscription to the magazine Planèete and creating many works that evoke the wonder of interstellar space. Here the surface of the landscape—be it the moon or Norway—is created through various applications of different colored vinyl and sheet metals on the canvas. The work becomes its own world, a window to somewhere vast and distant.
Like Malevich, Klee, or Kandinsky, Bergman sought in each of her paintings a whole that “must contain its own inner life,” as she put it. Layering pigment upon metal leaf and vice-versa, Bergman synthesized the topographic spaces that she inhabited in Norway and created new landscapes in her mind and on her canvases. Anna-Eva Bergman’s work makes it clear that she deserves a deeper look, and this exhibition is a step in the right direction.