Art so true it’ll make you cringe

Jun 04, 12 Art so true it’ll make you cringe

While doing the touristy thing in Stockholm, my husband, Dr. Christian Thurstone, and I screeched to a stop when we spied Swedish artist Marcus Mårtenson’s work through the front windows of the Angelika Knäpper Gallery.

The colorful, cartoonish images, all painted on wood with Caran d’ Ache pastel crayons, struck plenty of whimsical notes — but the collection, titled “Stay Motivated,” was deadly serious. Mårtenson delivered searing insight into problems of the mind, body, heart and soul that are often rooted in self-absorption and arrogance — and exacerbated by today’s highly charged media and politics. As David Bartal, writing for the gallery, noted about the collection, billed “art in the age of anxiety”:

There is an element of the absurd in our contemporary obsessions with ephemeral beauty, status and hedonism. An awareness of mortality, coupled with a focus on topical trends and events, sets Marcus Mårtenson apart from many of his contemporaries.

There’s hardly a trend Mårtenson, whose work is profoundly shaped by his six-year, childhood stay in the United States and

Artist Marcus Mårtenson, left, and Dr. Christian Thurstone in Stockholm on May 20, 2012. (Photo by Christine Tatum)

his appreciation of Carl Jungian psychology, overlooks. From self-help books, iPhones and plastic surgery, to “thin worship,” drug use and reality shows, he takes a swipe at ’em all — and relentlessly challenges the mantras reinforcing what Mårtenson calls today’s “Gospel of Success.” You can have it all, the gurus and prevailing culture tell us. Just stay calm. Just stay motivated. Focus on you, you, you. Your rights. Your freedom. And yours alone.

It’s a trap, Mårtenson warns.

He graciously met with us on the exhibit’s closing day, May 20 — and smiled widely when we told him how much we appreciated one small element in his biting diagram of the brain. It’s a trap we often see these days: confusion of addiction with liberation.

Take a look at a series of photos we snapped at the gallery (with, yes, our iPhone). Most of these works are now in the hands of private collectors. Mårtenson said their purchases have given him the freedom to rest, recharge and contemplate his next big project.

We’re already looking forward to what he’ll come up with next.

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