The recent reopening of the American Swedish Institute features a whimsical new exhibit exploring the high-fashion possibilities of paper and ink. The international Papier exhibition by Swedish artists Bea Szenfeld and Stina Wirsén, originally showcased in Lidköping ArtHall in Sweden in 2018, has made its Midwestern debut at ASI.
After following each others’ work for nearly 20 years, Szenfeld and Wirsén have collaborated on six exhibitions since 2015. Papier showcases Szenfeld’s craft with paper couture accented by Wirsén’s colorful, feminine illustrations.
ASI’s Osher Gallery provides a little taste of the Papier exhibition with seven of Szenfeld’s paper, geometric garments against the backdrop of Wirsén’s watercolor illustrations, which blend from wall to wall. This gallery was the most straightforward for setting up and displaying their work because it is a more traditional space, unlike the Turnblad Mansion, says Erin Stromgren, the exhibitions manager at ASI.
Setting up the rest of the exhibit in the Turnblad Mansion required extra creativity since the artists couldn’t travel due to the pandemic. Szenfeld, Wirsén, and the ASI team worked virtually together—via Zoom and iPad—to marry the traditional architecture of the mansion with the whimsical geometrics of the artists’ work. Their pieces stretch from one room to the next complemented by some of ASI’s permanent collection to accent the space between rooms.
The Turnblad’s third floor features Szenfeld’s compelling and powerful piece Grief. Since 2012, Szenfeld has grappled with the idea of losing a loved one and the grief that follows. It almost takes on a new meaning after 2020, the tumultuous year amid the pandemic.
The photos online do not do Szenfeld and Wirsén’s work justice because of the three-dimensional element of the “paper couture.” Grief should be admired in person, and you should take an up-close look at the watercolor backdrops, too.
Take a stroll through the museum store on the way out or when you arrive at the museum. Be sure to take a look at some of Wirsén’s children’s books that resemble the illustrations in the Water, Sky and Me gallery in the museum store.
ASI has been closed since November and reopened with Papier on February 6. FIKA Café has also reopened, and features an excellent lunch menu that serves food from 11-3 p.m., with a soup of the day, traditional Swedish open-faced sandwiches known as smörgåsar, and a selection of wines and traditional cocktails with aquavit.
With the limited capacity, currently at 25%, there is plenty of room to move around and maintain a safe distance from other visitors. The museum, cafe, and store are open to visitors from 10-4 p.m., Thursday through Sunday, and Papier runs through July 11. Tickets can be pre-purchased online. ASI is also offering a virtual tour with a different curator on the first Friday of every month through July. The virtual tour starts at 5 p.m., and provides a behind-the-scenes look into the exhibition.