– Spring 2013

‘HON – en katedral’: Behind Pontus Hultén’s Theatre of Inclusiveness

Benoît Antille

Installation view, ‘HON — en katedral' (‘SHE — a Cathedral'), 1966, Moderna Museet, Stockholm. Photograph: Hans Hammarskiöld. Courtesy the artists and Moderna Museet

In the summer of 1966, two women were competing for the limelight in Stockholm. The first was Sweden’s Queen Christina (1626—89), to whom the National Museum was devoting a large-scale historical exhibition. The other, who bore the name of ‘Hon’ (‘she’ in Swedish), occupied the entry hall of the Moderna Museet for three months. Distant by barely two miles, these two museums were ideologically separate. While the National Museum embodied traditional institutions, the Moderna Museet was Swedish curator Pontus Hultén’s response to the need for a new type of museum in the changing social and cultural context of the 1960s. Thirty years later, in 1996, Hultén explained to curator Hans Ulrich Obrist that ‘a museum director’s first task is to create a public’.1 ‘HON — en katedral’ (‘SHE — A Cathedral’) is emblematic of the projects he developed in the early years of his career to accomplish this task: seeking more inclusiveness, Hultén commissioned a spectacular and participative work addressing ongoing social issues (women’s liberation, sexual mores and the Americanisation of Europe), imposed a specific working method on the artists and borrowed tools from public relations to garner interest in the exhibition. Hultén’s attempt to fulfil contradictory goals raises questions about his agenda and demonstrates ambiguity on the part of the curator in the instrumentation of inclusiveness.

Appointed director of the Moderna Museet in 1960, Hultén was one of the first European museum curators to introduce North American artists such as Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol and John Cage to Europe. He also had a wider conception of the scope of exhibition programmes than most at the time, combining various art forms — painting,

  1. Hans Ulrich Obrist, A Brief History of Curating, Zürich: Ringier Kunstverlag, 2008, p.37.

  2. In Europe, other institutions such as the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (where Willem Sandberg was director from 1945 to 1962) were among the few also developing similar programming strands at the time.

  3. Catherine Valogne, ‘La Hon-Cath.drale et le Mus.e de Stockholm’, Les Lettres françaises, 1 September 1966, p.29.

  4. Franklin D. Scott, Sweden: The Nation’s History, Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1988, p.527.

  5. See Pierre Bourdieu and Alain Darbel, with Dominique Schapper, The Love of Art: European Art Museums and Their Public (trans. Nick Merriman and Caroline Beattie), London: Polity Press, 1997. Citations in this text are from the French original: P. Bourdieu and A. Darbel, L’Amour de l’art, les musées et leur public, Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1966.

  6. Pontus Hult.n, Hon — en Historia: Hon, she, elle, sie, lei, zij (exh. cat.), Stockholm: Moderna Museet, 1967, p.32.

  7. P. Bourdieu and A. Darbel, L’Amour de l’art, les musées et leur public, op. cit., p.125. Translation the author’s.

  8. Anonymous, ‘What a Woman’, [Baghdad] Daily News, 22 June 1966.

  9. P. Hult.n, Tinguely (exh. cat.), Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou, 1988, p.168. Translation the author’s.

  10. Transcription of a quote taken from an author referred to as S.F., in Aujourd’hui, no.54, date unknown, 1966, Moderna Museet Archive, call number F1a:32. Translation the author’s.

  11. Letter written by Katja Walden to the Russian poet Y.A. Yevtushenko, 2 June 1966, Moderna Museet Archive, call number F1a:32.

  12. C. Valogne, ‘La Hon-Cath.drale et le Mus.e de Stockholm’, op. cit. Translation the author’s.

  13. Niki de Saint Phalle, ‘Letter to Pontus’, in P. Hult.n, Niki de Saint Phalle, op. cit., p.148. Translation the author’s.

  14. N. de Saint Phalle quoted in Uta Grosenick, ‘Les Lettres de Niki de Saint Phalle: Une Introduction’, in P. Hult.n, Niki de Saint Phalle, op. cit., p.145. Translation the author’s.

  15. Ibid., p.144.

  16. Ibid., pp.167—68.

  17. As Johanna H. Stuckey has pointed out, ‘many feminists, especially during the Second Wave, found the possibility that prehistory had been ruled by a mother goddess very exciting, for it suggested that women had once wielded power, even supremacy’. J.H. Stuckey, ‘Ancient Mother Goddesses and Fertility Cults’, Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering, vol.7, issue 1, 2005, p.32.

  18. Arthur Secunda and Jan Thunholm, ‘Everyman’s Girl’, Ramparts, no.5, November 1966, p.66. Indeed, the giant literally offered her body for consumption. But, like a carnivorous plant attracting its prey with bright colours, Hon devoured visitors driven by their desire to consume. Saint Phalle’s sculpture might thus be associated with a symbol of the era of sexual liberation: the figure of the woman as man-eater. This thematic was represented in comics, such as in Jean-Claude Forest’s Barbarella (1962), and cinema, as in Bertrand Blier’s Calmos (also known as Femmes fatales, 1976) and Federico Fellini’s Il Casanova di Federico Fellini (Fellini’s Casanova, 1976).

  19. Monica Furlong, ‘Well, What Is a Woman’s Place?’, Daily Mail, 6 July 1966.

  20. See Arnold A. Schwengler, ‘Genug Jetzt!’, Der Bund, no.256, 11 July 1966; Anonymous, ‘Wie lange noch?’, Rhein Neckar Zeitung, 27 June 1966; and Anonymous, ‘Das Zeitalter der Schweine’, Tat Zürich2 July 1966.

  21. Anonymous, ‘Like Life Itself’, The Scandinavian Times, no.4, date unknown, 1966.

  22. Ibid.

  23. A. Secunda and J. Thunholm, ‘Everyman’s Girl’, op. cit., p.66.

  24. Anonymous, ‘Une curieuse cathédrale’, Specimen, Voix Ouvrière, 14 July 1966.

  25. Terry Coleman, ‘This Way to the Womb’, The Guardian, 16 July 1966.

  26. Frank Morton Todd, Panama–Pacific International Exposition: The Story of the Exposition, vol.2, New York and London: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1921, p.369.

  27. The first ideas developed during the elaboration process didn’t match the organisers’ expectations. Hultén proposed the idea of creating an environment in the form of a Nana to break the deadlock. Tinguely and Saint Phalle loved it, but Ultvedt wanted to build a man. They voted and the Nana won. At this moment, Hultén probably knew that the exhibition would not only be ‘pictorial’ during its construction but also when completed.

  28. P. Hult.n, Hon — en Historia, op. cit., p.45.

  29. The first Maison de la Culture was inaugurated in 1961 in Le Havre.

  30. André Malraux, text for the French Assembl.e Nationale, 27 October 1966, excerpts available at http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/histoire/malraux_oct66.asp (last accessed on 6 October 2012).

  31. Patrik Andersson, ‘Against Stasis’, Fillip, no.5, Spring 2007, also available at http://fillip.ca/content/against-stasis (last accessed on 14 August 2012).

  32. Designed by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano, the Centre Pompidou was architecturally inspired by Cedric Price’s Fun Palace (1961), an interactive, multi-storey building presenting conceptual similarities with Hon and Hultén’s museum model.

  33. Claire Bishop, ‘The Social Turn: Collaboration and Its Discontents’, Artforum, vol.44, no.6, February 2006, p.179. See also C. Bishop, Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of SpectatorshipLondon and New York: Verso, 2012.

  34. See C. Bishop, ‘The Social Turn’, op. cit.; Sven Lütticken, ‘Once More on Publicness: A Postscript to Secret Publicity’, Fillip 12, Fall 2010, also available at http://fillip.ca/content/once-more-onpublicness- href="http://fillip.ca/content/once-more-onpublicness-a-postscript-to-secret-publicity">a-postscript-to-secret-publicity (last accessed on 6 September 2012); Claire Doherty, ‘New Institutionalism and the Exhibition as Situation’, Adam Budak (ed.), Protections ReaderGraz: Kunsthaus Graz, 2006

  35. S. Lütticken, ‘Once More on Publicness’, op. cit.