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INFORMAL ART: The Small in the Big and the Big in the Small

In the 1950s, Paris’ position as the Capital of Art was being challenged by New York and a generation of Abstract Expressionists that infused their large-scale canvases with a metaphysical dimension. The Parisian Informal painters were more poetically low-key. Their interest in temporary structures such as blotches and other random shapes resulted in an art based on the interpretations of the artists, which were often of an existential nature.

Born in Stockholm and raised in Norway, Anna-Eva Bergman forged her artistic career in Paris where she met her future husband, the German painter Hans Hartung. In Bergman’s later work, Norwegian nature played a central role. Her paintings were not primarily representations of the Norwegian landscape but rather revealed nature’s complex relationship between the small and the big. In this respect, Bergman’s late work is more related to American Abstract Expressionism than to European Informal Art. Particularly evident is her affinity with the work of the American artist Mark Rothko, with whom she was in close contact. The art historian Robert Rosenblum defined the kinship between Nordic and American art as the Nordic Romantic tradition.

Öyvind Fahlström was an artist who worked in media such as painting, film, radio and poetry. He made his debut in Stockholm in 1953 with the drawing Opera, but it was during his time in Paris in 1956–59 that he developed his Informal Art practice. His india ink drawings from this time are informed by the randomness of Spontanism. Also evident is the importance he placed on the sign as part of language, which visualises Fahlström’s interest in Concrete Poetry. In his later work, there are mass-cultural references including comics. In 1959, Fahlström moved to New York where he quickly established himself in the dominant Pop Art scene. However, Fahlström never favoured the commercial aspects of Pop Art and instead veered towards a political and ideological approach, which transformed him into an important model for many of the politically active artists of the 1970s.