Palle Nielsen. The Model: A Model for a Qualitative Society, 1968. Photo: Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Barcelona. Courtesy Palle Nielsen and MACBA

The Model: A Model for a Qualitative Society, 1968

To this day the noise level of the pedagogical art project is surely unparalleled in art history.”

Lars Bang Larsen1

In 1968 Danish artist Palle Nielsen and collaborator Gunilla Lundahl persuaded the infamous museum director Pontus Hultén to cede gallery space of Stockholm’s Moderna Museet to be transformed into a children’s playground. Over the course of six weeks 33,576 visited The Model, 20,000 of which were children.

At the time, Nielsen was interested in more social forms of aesthetics. Amidst the appalling conditions of post war cities built increasingly for cars and highrises in seeming ignorance of their human impact, the artist became involved in children’s playground activism in Copenhagen. In contact with other activists in Stockholm, he met writer and editor Gunilla Lundahl, engaged at the time with the activist group Aktion Samtal (Action Dialogue) and the “Model” group emerged.

Vitally, Nielsen said, he wanted to give children “a frame, not a sculpture” and his photographs of The Model convey this aesthetic openness as ebullient playfulness and immersive delight – children swimming in paint, hurling themselves into big chunks of foam, dressing up in costumes, listening to LPs from sounds of trains to Renaissance dance music, trying on masks of political leaders of the time (Mao, Johnson and de Gaulle), and, surprisingly given contemporary restrictions, wielding hammers and saws.

Fascinated by the notion of the model as a generative concept Maria Lind, curator and director of Tensta konsthall, a contemporary art space in a suburb of Stockholm, invited Lars Bang Larsen who has published extensively on The Model, to revisit its legacy in a project called The New Model - an open-ended curatorial initiative involving exhibitions, seminars and contemporary artist commissions by Magnus Bärtås, Ane Hjorth Guttu, Dave Hullfish Bailey and Hito Steyerl.

Presented here are two videos each approximately 18 minutes in duration based on interviews conducted in August 2011 and May 2013.

1) The Model – explores the historic context and critical questions of the 1968 project featuring interviews with Palle Nielsen, Gunilla Lundahl, Lars Bang Larsen and Maria Lind as well as Nielsen’s enigmatic photographic documentation of the dynamic playground.

The Model from Instituto MESA on Vimeo.

2) The New Model – explores the critical legacy of the historic project unfolding as The New Model featuring interviews with Maria Lind and Magnus Bärtås as well as additional contributions from Lars Bang Larsen, Palle Nielsen and Gunilla Lundahl.

The New Model from Instituto MESA on Vimeo.

Many thanks to Gunilla Lundahl, Lars Bang Larsen, Palle Nielsen, Magnus Bärtås and Maria Lind for their time and willingness to be interviewed and in particular to Palle Nielsen who also welcomed Revista MESA editors into his home and generously gave permission to use his photographs of The Model, now in the collection of Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona who also kindly allowed their use. We are also very grateful to Tensta konsthall and Asrin Haidari for organizing and providing photography of The New Model’s exhibitions, events and commissions and to Magnus Bärtås for sharing images of his work and 2014 film (Theoria) A Miracle at Tensta as well as to MAR (Museum of Art of Rio de Janeiro) for permission to use a brief clip filmed on occasion of their first anniversary illustrating the dynamics of visiting contemporary museums. Also special thanks to editor and collaborator Daniel Leão for his sensitivity, critical eye and dedication to this project. The videos would not have been possible without him. Full credits are acknowledged at the end of each video.

Finally two important acknowledgments: first to Moderna Museet and staff: Eva Ioannidis who generously shared archival material in 2011 and Anna Tellgren, Karin Malmquist and Fredrik Liew in 2013 for their time and critical insights on The Model and their contemporary practice; and lastly to the History of Art and Architecture Department at the University of Pittsburgh whose Frick Fine Arts Travel Grant vitally supported PhD candidate and MESA co-editor Jessica Gogan to conduct research on The Model and travel to interview Palle Nielsen and Lars Bang Larsen in 2011.

For more information on Tensta konsthall and The New Model:

1 Lars Bang Larsen. “Social Aesthetics: 11 Examples to Begin with, in the Light of Parallel History.” Afterall/Online Journal 1, 1999 http://www.afterall.org/journal/issue.1/social.aesthetics.11.examples.begin.light.parallel.