Nippon Art by a Norwegian Artist


The Norwegian artist Gardar Eide Einarsson is perhaps the most unpopular young artist in Norway, but in his new hometown Tokyo he has acquired an added status as an all over tattooed performer of martial arts.

His exhibitions over the past decade have followed a highly consistent thematic trajectory, continuously tracing out what one would call an ‘iconography of resistance’.

"Say nothing" by Gardar Eide Einarsson
“Say nothing” by Gardar Eide Einarsson

When Gardar Eide Einarsson (39) moved from Norway to New York some years ago, he believed he would return to Norway after a short stay. Instead he moved to Tokyo, and bought an apartment in the fashionable Aoyama district. Later he bought a house from the elderly professor and famous architect Kazunari Sakamoto, who had just restored his own designed house in the Ebisu area. “The project had been more expensive than expected, but this is a home suitable for an artist who actually wanted to be an architect,” he says.

From the exhibition "Power Has a Fragrance" by Gardar Eide Einarsson at the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo, Norway. May 6, 2010.

Some years ago he made a rotating neon sign that said, Jesus Saves for Art Basel in Switzerland. Einarsson says it is based on one of the scenes in Dirty Harry, where Clint Eastwood is hiding on a rooftop, staking out a serial killer. It became clear to him how evil the bad guy is when he shoots up a Jesus Saves sign.

The artist used lives with his Japanese wife and their two years old son. His Japanese wife runs a fashion and PR-agency. Einarsson exercises daily in his Brazilian jiu-jitsu club, and he has of course, he has designed the club’s logo.

The signs and symbols created by Einarsson often refer to fundamental conflictual structures between a society of control following 9/11, and the individual’s rebellion against and threat to central power.

66 car tyres and resin. Photo: Joshua White
66 car tyres and resin. Photo: Joshua White

“I grew up with a lot of American culture,” he says. “I was interested in stuff like skateboarding and hardcore music. But growing up in Norway, the whole relationship between the individual and society is very different from what I experienced in America.”

From the exhibition "Power Has a Fragrance" by Gardar Eide Einarsson at the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo, Norway. May 6, 2010.
From the exhibition “Power Has a Fragrance” by Gardar Eide Einarsson at the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo, Norway. May 6, 2010.

He explained that he moved to New York the day before 9/11, and there were armed guards on the subways and Humveens downtown. There was a very different relationship to individualism than he was used to in Norway. “I can still see those experiences in my work,” he adds.

Einarsson also uses historical examples of tragic, abortive attempts to achieve individual freedom, and looks at popular culture’s treatments of the myths, signs, and visuality of the outsider ideal as drawn from examples in reality where instances of extreme individualism have resulted in terrorism and crime.

Yves Saint Laurent by Einarsson
Yves Saint Laurent by Einarsson

He explains that he became interested in arts through conceptual art and institutional critique during the ‘70s. If that critique hadn’t been there, I think a lot of my work would be stupid,” he adds.

During a solo exhibition in Bergen Kunsthall in Norway, the book “Versuchsstation des Weltuntergangs” was published and is the artist’s first comprehensive monograph. The book contains documentation of a large section of works since the early 2000s.

Three paintings by Gardar Einarsson and one by Stanley Whitney
Three paintings by Gardar Einarsson and one by Stanley Whitney

The walls in his house is filled with photographs, depicting his life and his acquaintances, from both New York and Tokyo. One image shows a sculpture made by Einarsson’s favourite artist Cady Noland, photographed by Larry Clark. A photography from the famous work “Following Poece” by Vito Acconci, a New York artist, who Einarsson assisted for two years after having been asked to help him to build a shelf. Pictures by the post war classics Daido Moriyama and Araki, photo veterans Einarsson happens to meet in Tokyo.

He tells that he has become increasingly attracted to the more extreme, tragic versions of rebellion. He has done a number of collaborations with the Norwegian artist Matias Faldbakken, who he met in school, including Norway’s least favorite public arts piece. “It was demolished by the people,” he smiles. It was based in a German fairy tale about Schlaraffenland (Cockaigne) where nobody has to work, and if they did, they were punished.

“We tried to turn a public square in Bergen, the second largest city in Norway, into the fairy tale, and people got mad, telling us it was the worst thing they had ever seen.

The philosopher Nick Land outlines a complex interpretative horizon in the ecounter with Einarsson’s precise analyses of the language of power by exploiting and reactivating the vocabulary of ‘post-Minimalist’ art. Martin Herbert tackles Einarsson’s output in the 2000s, and shows how he continually problematizes the residual potential of art as critique and political tool within an art institution that has long since been exposed as a power structure in its own right, by constantly pointing to the contradictory oppositions between power and anti-power, between resistance and repressive tolerance.

Einarsson is, however, concerned about that his art is not becoming too nice and clever.

Gardar Eide Einarsson
– Born in 1976, grew up at Ås, outside Oslo.
– Educated 1995-2003 at Bergen Art College, Städelschule, Frankfurt and New York’s Whitney Museum Independent Study Program.
– Known for paintings, sculptures and installations, using found material, often depicting sub cultures.
– Together with his artist partner Matias Faldbakken, he is often described as new conceptualist.
– He belongs to the most noted international artists during the recent years.
– His work has been bought by prestigious museums, like Museum of Modern Art in New York and Moderna Museet in Stockholm.
– He is represented by prestigious galleries, like Standard in Oslo, Yvon Lambert in Paris, Team Gallery in New York Maureen Paley in London and Nils Stærk in Copenhagen.
– He has cooperated with fashion designer Johan Lindeberg and designed perfume flacons for Yves Saint-Laurents.

Nippon Art by a Norwegian Artist, written by Tor Kjolberg