As its Festival exhibitor for 2006, Bergen Kunsthall has invited one of Norway’s leading contemporary artists, Ole Jørgen Ness. Although “Realms of Sentiment” is the artist’s largest solo exhibition to date, it is by no means a straightforward retrospective of the artist’s work. For that, Ole Jørgen Ness’ artistic production contains too many facets, unsolved mysteries and contradictory positions.
The transgression of boundaries and questions of presentation are two central aspects of Ole Jørgen Ness’ art. The aspect of transgression is demonstrated in terms of both content and an extensive blending of genres. In Ness’ exhibitions, artistic craft and traditional media play a part as naturally as sound, video and installation. His themes are as likely to be classical art history as popular culture, myths, fantasy and desire. The aspect of presentation has most clearly been expressed in the continuous questioning of different identities and artist roles. In the 1990s, Ness adopted a range of artistic alter egos, presenting himself as, among other things, a formalist, a conceptual artist and a minimalist. The question of presentation is also evident in Ness’ approach to the exhibition space, where different media are often blended together in complex systems that suggest numerous possible approaches to his art.
In the Festival Exhibition Ole Jørgen Ness presents exclusively new works, with the rooms of Bergen Kunsthall providing the setting for a production that amply demonstrates his unique attitude to space. Using scenographic elements that combine, for example, glasswork, sound and wall paintings, Ness creates a backdrop for various mythological and philosophical issues. Here traditional oil painting is placed in a broader context, in which the paintings tend to function as components in a spatial entirety rather than as individual works on the wall. Not only do the distinctions between the various media cease to apply, there are also no clear boundaries between categories such as figurative and formalistic, naturalistic and surrealistic. A seemingly abstract painting may contain hidden figurative elements, and a drawing can at one and the same time accommodate both realistic detail studies and stylized cartoon motifs. Despite this refusal to adhere to any one medium and the perpetual questioning of the artist as subject, Ness still manages to inscribe his extensive production with a highly characteristic signature.
In “Realms of Sentiment” Ness’ various identities meet in mutual agreement. Although his characteristically individual voices echo strongly through this exhibition, they manage to establish a shared dialogue. Whether that conversation will continue in the future or the voices will resume their separate musings is, however, far from clear.
The Festival Exhibition gives insight into Ole Jørgen Ness’ artistic production as it is today, while this book offers the reader a retrospective view of his work. With this collection of texts, editor Kari J. Brandtzæg has put together a publication that presents different perspectives on Ness’ oeuvre. In the first article, Andrea Kroksnes places Ole Jørgen Ness in a contemporary context by means of art historical references. Tommy Olsson’s highly personal contribution explores the more romantic and recondite aspects of Ness’ output, while Stein Bråten takes the work Sketch for a Century as starting point for an exploration of the psychoanalytical and mythological aspects of Ness’ art. And lastly, we get to hear the artist’s own voice in conversation with Kari J. Brandtzæg. These texts open various routes into Ness’ world. But neither the Festival Exhibition nor this wide-ranging book has all the answers – and fortunately so.