Party for Öyvind

Jean-Philippe Charbonnier, Öyvind Fahlström in the exhibition Pentacle at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, 1968 © Jean-Philippe Charbonnier/Gamma-Legends via Getty Images

Party for Öyvind. Öyvind Fahlström & Friends
16 February – 1 May 2022

This large group exhibition focuses on the work of one of the most innovative and proactive artists of the 20th century: Öyvind Fahlström (1928-1976) created an oeuvre that broke boundaries in every respect during his short creative period. This unique exhibition comprises fine art, poetry, theatre, literature, music, dance, and film, and so reflects the enormous range and breadth of expression of the international network of artists that inspired, and was inspired by, this singular Swedish artist.

Claes Oldenburg, Invitation Party for Öyvind, 1967, private collection.

The title of the exhibition quotes an invitation sent out by Patty and Claes Oldenburg, who in 1967 threw a party to celebrate both Öyvind Fahlström’s birthday and his first solo show at the near-legendary Sidney Janis Gallery in New York. The party was a major event with several hundred guests, many of them fellow artists whose works feature in our exhibition.

Öyvind Fahlström was born to Scandinavian parents in São Paulo, Brazil, in 1928. In July 1939, aged just ten, he travelled to Stockholm to spend six months with his relatives. As the outbreak of the Second World War prevented his returning to Brazil, he spent the remainder of his childhood and adolescence with an aunt in Stockholm. After the war, he studied art history and archaeology in the Swedish capital as well as in Rome. On moving to Rome in 1952 he immediately immersed himself in the local art scene, creating his first works and befriending fellow artists such as the painter Giuseppe Capogrossi, whose handling of signs and symbols was an important inspiration for the much younger Swede. Fahlström also wrote reports on Rome for the arts and culture pages of Swedish newspapers – among them pieces on Robert Matta and Cy Twombly.

Installation view of the exhibition Party for Öyvind with among others Per Olof Ultvedt, Mannen i stolen, 1966 (sculpture left) & Niki de Saint Phalle, Jean Tinguely, Per Olof Ultvedt, A Piece of HON, 1966 (centre) und HON, 1967 (poster right) © 2022 Museum Tinguely, Basel; photo: Daniel Spehr

Installation view of the exhibition Party for Öyvind with among others Per Olof Ultvedt, Mannen i stolen, 1966 (sculpture left) & Niki de Saint Phalle, Jean Tinguely, Per Olof Ultvedt, A Piece of HON, 1966 (centre) und HON, 1967 (poster right) © 2022 Museum Tinguely, Basel; photo: Daniel Spehr

Installation view of the exhibition Party for Öyvind with among others Lena Svedberg, Painting 7, ca. 1970 (centre) & Faith Ringgold, Peoples Flag Show at Judson Church, 1971 (right) © 2022 Museum Tinguely, Basel; photo: Daniel Spehr

Installation view of the exhibition Party for Öyvind with among others Lena Svedberg, Painting 7, ca. 1970 (centre) & Faith Ringgold, Peoples Flag Show at Judson Church, 1971 (right) © 2022 Museum Tinguely, Basel; photo: Daniel Spehr

Installation view of the exhibition Party for Öyvind with Wiveka Wachtmeister, The Druds, 2020, mixed media, approx. 70 × 100 × 50 cm © 2022 Museum Tinguely, Basel; photo: Daniel Spehr

Installation view of the exhibition Party for Öyvind with Wiveka Wachtmeister, The Druds, 2020, mixed media, approx. 70 × 100 × 50 cm © 2022 Museum Tinguely, Basel; photo: Daniel Spehr

Installation view of the exhibition Party for Öyvind with among others Öyvind Fahlström, ESSO-LSD, 1967 (top) & James Rosenquist, Paper Suit, 1966 (front right) © 2022 Museum Tinguely, Basel; photo: Daniel Spehr

Installation view of the exhibition Party for Öyvind with among others Öyvind Fahlström, ESSO-LSD, 1967 (top) & James Rosenquist, Paper Suit, 1966 (front right) © 2022 Museum Tinguely, Basel; photo: Daniel Spehr

Installation view of the exhibition Party for Öyvind with among others Jean-Jacques Lebel, Mr. America Bomb, 1961 (front) & Claes Oldenburg, Pat Lying as Olympia, 1959 (top right) © 2022 Museum Tinguely, Basel; photo: Daniel Spehr

Installation view of the exhibition Party for Öyvind with among others Jean-Jacques Lebel, Mr. America Bomb, 1961 (front) & Claes Oldenburg, Pat Lying as Olympia, 1959 (top right) © 2022 Museum Tinguely, Basel; photo: Daniel Spehr

Installation view of the exhibition Party for Öyvind with among others James Rosenquist, Paper Suit, 1966 (left) & Jean-Jacques Lebel, Mr. America Bomb, 1961 (front right) © 2022 Museum Tinguely, Basel; photo: Daniel Spehr

Installation view of the exhibition Party for Öyvind with among others James Rosenquist, Paper Suit, 1966 (left) & Jean-Jacques Lebel, Mr. America Bomb, 1961 (front right) © 2022 Museum Tinguely, Basel; photo: Daniel Spehr

Installation view of the exhibition Party for Öyvind with The New York Collection for Stockholm, 1973 (31 framed works in the centre) © 2022 Museum Tinguely, Basel; photo: Daniel Spehr

Installation view of the exhibition Party for Öyvind with The New York Collection for Stockholm, 1973 (31 framed works in the centre) © 2022 Museum Tinguely, Basel; photo: Daniel Spehr

Installation view of the exhibition Party for Öyvind with among others Öyvind Fahlström, The Cold War, 1963-1965 (left) © 2022 Museum Tinguely, Basel; photo: Daniel Spehr

Installation view of the exhibition Party for Öyvind with among others Öyvind Fahlström, The Cold War, 1963-1965 (left) © 2022 Museum Tinguely, Basel; photo: Daniel Spehr

Installation view of the exhibition Party for Öyvind © 2022 Museum Tinguely, Basel; photo: Daniel Spehr

Installation view of the exhibition Party for Öyvind © 2022 Museum Tinguely, Basel; photo: Daniel Spehr

Installation view of the exhibition Party for Öyvind with Öyvind Fahlström, Sixteen Elements from «Chile 1», 1976 © 2022 Museum Tinguely, Basel; photo: Daniel Spehr

Installation view of the exhibition Party for Öyvind with Öyvind Fahlström, Sixteen Elements from «Chile 1», 1976 © 2022 Museum Tinguely, Basel; photo: Daniel Spehr

Christer Strömholm, Öyvind in Villefranche-sur-Mer, 1967, Christer Strömholm Estate.

Christer Strömholm, Öyvind in Villefranche-sur-Mer, 1967, Christer Strömholm Estate.

Back in Stockholm he cultivated friendships with fellow artists, art historians, museum curators and directors, musicians, and countless other creatives. He was also a great champion of the Moderna Museet that opened in 1959, and besides being involved in a number of cross-disciplinary projects there would later become the museum’s own personal ambassador to the USA.

Soon, Fahlström was exhibiting outside Sweden, most notably in 1958 at Daniel Cordier’s gallery in Paris. It was there that he forged ties to Jean-Jacques Lebel and Alain Jouffroy, the organisers of Anti-Procès (1, 1960), an artists’ manifestation against the French war in Algeria and Apartheid in South Africa whose manifesto Fahlström also signed.

In 1961 Fahlström travelled to the USA on a one-year stipend together with his partner and collaborator, Barbro Östlihn, whom he had married the previous year. They were introduced to the New York art scene by Billy Klüver, a Swedish engineer who worked for Bell Laboratories and was the founder of Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.), an institution set up to assist artists with the technical aspects of their work. The couple’s first friends in New York were Patty and Claes Oldenburg. Fahlström, moreover, was able to take over Robert Rauschenberg’s studio and so became a neighbour of Jasper Johns. Suddenly at the centre of America’s rapidly changing art scene, he experienced the rise of Pop Art and happenings at first hand. Barbro and Öyvind stayed on in the city even after the stipend ended and remained a fixture of the New York art scene right up to Öyvind’s death in 1976.

Öyvind un Tinguely

Joan Kron, Öyvind Fahlström and Jean Tinguely during the Construction of Boston, 1962, private collection.

Not that the connection to Sweden had ever been severed: Fahlström, for example, represented his country at the Venice Biennale of 1966, which is why he was unable to take part in HON, the gigantic sculpture of a reclining woman that Niki de Saint Phalle, assisted by Jean Tinguely and Per Olof Ultvedt, installed at the Moderna Museet that same year. Öyvind met Tinguely in 1955 when the latter came to Stockholm for his first solo show in Sweden. Öyvind and Niki got to know each other in May 1961 at the exhibition Rörelse i Konsten und and one year later when all three of them were involved in Kenneth Koch's staging of The Construction of Boston.

Fahlström was also a poet and in 1953 published the world's first Manifesto for Concrete Poetry. He also wrote plays, took part in performances, happenings, and theatrical stagings, and, collaborating closely with his wife, created an artistic oeuvre consisting of paintings, a vast array of prints, and three-dimensional installations that range in style from the ‘peinture’ to the ‘comic’ and address all the political, social, and societal issues of the day.

Party for Öyvind reflects a period that was shaped largely by the challenges of the aftermath of the war, but that also offered unique opportunities for a new brand of openness and playfulness in art as a younger generation sought to throw out the old order and carve out a lifestyle of their own. The emphasis now was on joie de vivre, hope in the future, the right to one’s own identity and sexuality, and the primacy of self-expression in art, music, literature, and poetry.

Party for Öyvind brings together the works of many of the most influential artists of the 1950s and 1970s, including Alexander Calder, Andy Warhol, Barbro Östlihn, Carl Johan De Geer, Christer Strömholm, Claes Oldenburg, Cy Twombly, Dennis Hopper, Ernest Cole, Faith Ringgold, Gunilla Palmstierna-Weiss, Jean Tinguely, John Cage, Kiki Kogelnik, Lee Bontecou, Lena Svedberg, Marie-Louise Ekman, Marisol, Merce Cunningham, Mimi Gross, Niki de Saint Phalle, Patty Oldenburg, Peter Weiss, Robert Rauschenberg and Roy Lichtenstein – men and women in more or less equal numbers. And, of course, Fahlström himself.

The exhibition is curated by Barbro Schultz-Lundestam and Gunnar Lundestam and after being shown first at Sven-Harrys Konstmuseum in Stockholm was enlarged under the guidance of Andres Pardey and Tabea Panizzi for the version shown here in Basel. Its next port of call will be the Kunstverein in Hamburg, where it is to open in the summer of 2022.

Introduction with the Curators