Mamma Andersson: Humdrum Days

Mamma Andersson, Artefakter med Fikus (Artifacts with Ficus), 2021, oil on canvas, 47 1/4 x 35 3/8". Courtesy the artist and Galleri Magnus Karlsson, Stephen Friedman Gallery, and David Zwirner
Mamma Andersson, Artefakter med Fikus (Artifacts with Ficus), 2021, oil on canvas, 47 1/4 x 35 3/8". Courtesy the artist and Galleri Magnus Karlsson, Stephen Friedman Gallery, and David Zwirner

FROM CÉZANNE’S APPLES TO LOIS DODD’S CLOTHESLINES, the quotidian world, with its domestic scenes and unremarkable landscapes, has long inspired artists. Their scrupulously focused attention can yield surprising insights about ordinary things—the geography of shadings on an apple, the dance of towels hung out to dry. Mamma Andersson, whose recent retrospective at the Louisiana Museum in Humlebæk, Denmark, is documented in this exhibition catalogue, also delights in the mundane. Whether depicting a kitchen sink, linen closet, or cluttered desk, Andersson imbues her subjects with an engrossing complexity. In Flunkey, the objects arrayed on a kitchen counter are both expected—frying pan, oven mitt, tea kettle—and less so: a pair of female figurines stand at the edge of a glimmering sink’s seeming abyss. If the statues destabilize an otherwise familiar setting, the apparent realism is further undermined by Andersson’s technique. Some objects, like the glove or the faucet handles, have been rendered in a depthless black; others, like the sink or a trio of scissors beneath the cabinets, are intricately shaded and seem to almost tremble. By varying the texture of her surfaces, Andersson creates a deliberate confusion about the materiality of both the painting and what it purports to represent. As critic Barry Schwabsky observes in one of the volume’s essays, Andersson “paints the artificiality of the image.” 

The theme of art about artmaking finds explicit elaboration via Andersson’s repeated depiction of artworks and theatrical stage settings. Artefakter med Fikus (Artifacts with Ficus), 2021, centers the spindly houseplant between two paintings on the wall behind it that strongly resemble the artist’s own work. Presented with seeming offhandedness, both images are only partially visible and one hangs askew. A female figurine is perched on a dresser. Surrounded by these examples of artistic representation, the ficus might be read as an example of something real, something alive, but Andersson renders the plant with such flatness that it appears painted on the wall, another artifact. In Deadheads, three female busts are arranged on a tablecloth that appears to hover in the air, the table’s legs barely evident. Each bust is black with white highlights delineating hair, ears, and neck. The faces, though, lack any such molding and are, in fact, disconcertingly featureless. The suggestive eeriness of the void-like countenances is sharpened by the humdrum design of the tablecloth, even as, upon closer viewing, the faded floral pattern comes to dominate the image. Andersson simultaneously domesticates the strange and defamiliarizes the ordinary. 

Writing about Old Hat, a close-up view of a tree trunk, Karl Ove Knausgaard reflects on this mutability: “If we take a few steps back, the painting changes radically once again.” The change is one that “occurs within ourselves.” Andersson invites her viewers to think about their own relationships to the everyday—its unnoticed qualities and capacity for multifarious revelations. Her paintings reveal and attach the extra to the ordinary.