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13 In Memoriam: Lillebeth Foss (1930—2017)

12 Sigmund Skard: Plommer i egget

11 Nora Joung: Operette Morali

10 Exhibition A 025: Jakob Weidemann

09 Exhibition Y 003: Multiples

08 Exhibition Y 009: International Photography & Conceptual Art

07 Calle Segelberg: Logo till 30-åriga kriget

06 Sanna Helena Berger: The edge must be scalloped

05 Lise Soskolne: Bethenny

04 Nils Rundgren: The Underbidder

The few of Nils Rundgren’s early paintings that have survived suggest that attention to landscape and background diminished over the years. It’s as if the lens through which he observed the goings-on in the peculiar world that he reports from, was tilted back to capture more sky. In the process the ground got reduced to a thin, indistinct smear along the bottom edge of the cardboard sheet (his support of choice). Any surrounding noise was muted. As his commitment to capturing a 3D-world waned, the fauna inhabiting his pictures grew increasingly bizarre. Where his paintings had started out as dwellings for hat-clad humanoids milling about huts and trees, soon they also housed Abyssinian cows with abnormally large heads and a strange species of beaked animals, christened 'Kroxiandjur', alongside a small register of roughly hewn architectural and mechanical contraptions.

The earth-bound lot of Rundgren’s figures tend to be poised along the skyline, their odd physiques cast in relief against the sky. This sky also plays host to a mix of curiously wheel-driven aviation-machines and fat, improbably short-winged birds. In between his more 'detailed' specimens Rundgren frequently inserts the standard 'm'-sign for 'bird seen from afar' — just to fill the gap, one suspects. His tendency to distribute figures in straight lines gives Rundgren’s skyscapes a schematic look. Very few overlaps — or any kind of spacial effects, really — are to be found. Likely his paratactic composition style has to do with his economical attitude towards art making. The time spent on a picture should reflect its going price, was his philosophy. Thus he would paint his pictures mostly on demand, sometimes using his finger in lieu of a brush, customer waiting coin in hand. It goes without saying that the price he saw fit to ask (or they to give, which was more often the case), didn’t allow for fancy elaborations — or for the paint to dry. Quick solutions abound. Rundgren’s idiom is the product of a specific transaction model: The motifs are repetitive to a fault, the brushwork rash and inattentive. The stiff hairs of Rundgren’s unkempt brushes would dig into the paint and smear it out in uneven blotches, added with fuzzy edges.

As sometimes benefactor, and former schoolmate, Gerhard De Geer drily commented in response to Rundgren’s sudden rise to prominence in the Swedish art world: 'Those truly competent on the matter probably considered [Rundgren’s] paintings rather worthless'. As ungenerous as this verdict may sound it mirrored the attitude of the artist himself. While on the road for some twenty-five years, painting had been only one of many activities that Rundgren occupied himself with. In no way did he subscribe to the idea of himself as a painter. His works were by-products of a lifestyle, a form of makeshift hobo currency — which he derisively referred to as 'lappar', or alternately, with no small amount of irony, 'Rembrandt-tavlor'. In the course of his roaming years Rundgren had virtually carpet-bombed rural Sweden with his 'lappar'; his signature hung to wither on the wall of almost every outhouse in Bergslagen. When people began showing up at his door asking him to make them a painting, Rundgren happily obliged. He seems to have remained largely indifferent to his own growing renown. More keen on the here and now of the person-to-person encounters that these intimate transactions enabled, than cashing in on his new-found fame, Rundgren was actively underbidding himself. The only visible effect the increased attention had on his output, except that his production tempo rose to meet the predictable rise in demand, was that now, occasionally, a canvas cropped up to replace the more common cardboard support — but only when someone had brought it with them and insisted that he use it. Even at the height of his career Rundgren apparently refused to charge above SEK10, though he was hardly ignorant of the fact that his pictures sold for many times that price in the second hand market.

According to sources people were at one point willing to pay up to SEK 10000 for one of Rundgren’s paintings. Reality has now caught up with the pricing. The staggering quantity of works that Rundgren produced over the years can satisfy the actual demand many times over. At online auctions today an original work by Rundgren sells for only a few hundred kroner. This state of affairs has allowed Diorama to buy close to forty Rundgrens — and counting. In the spirit of transparency it should be stressed that the current Rundgren exhibition at Diorama is designed to increase attention towards, and subsequently the value of, said artist. Rather than flood the walls, only five works from our collection have been included in the show, this to lend Rundgren’s unwieldy body of work a sheen of composure and containment. Additionally, we have commissioned an English upgrade of the last catalogue dealing with Rundgren’s oeuvre, to open him up to a non-Scandinavian audience.

Having soon vacuumed the online market for Rundgrens, to see a rise in prices would certainly be a welcome turn of events! Yet, all is not self-interest and cynicism — this exhibition also has an altruistic component: Although, in a certain sense, he still turned out to be right, the actual value of art is not equal to the intrinsic quality that De Geer implied was lacking in Rundgren’s haphazard paintings, but something established at the intersection of art and the market. In retrospect, what Rundgren did wrong was to overindulge his (very human) compulsion to extract immediate social rewards from his practice — to gift, to overproduce, to entertain. His generous hyper-productivity might have afforded him a form of invaluable joy while he was alive, but it has proven detrimental in the long run, by making it near impossible to truly appreciate him today. The time has come to right Rundgren’s sentimental mistake.

—Nils Rundgren: The Underbidder, 28 August - 18 October, 2015

03 Sigmund Skard: Plommer i egget

02 Axel Ekwall: Big Sur

01 Andreas Slominski: A Hunt for Optimism