A new exhibition opened in the castle in Malmö on the 11 October 2014. Called Summer sunshine and dark clouds, it marks the centenary of the Baltic Exhibition that opened in Malmö on the 15th May 1914 and ran through that summer until early October.
A new park, Pildammsparken, out to the west of the old city and a couple of blocks south of the castle, was created specifically for the 1914 exhibition, with substantial temporary buildings and pavilions as well as fountains and sculpture. It was primarily a trade fair but, like most trade fairs of the period, contained exhibitions of art (in this case some 3,500 artworks) and there was music, a Baltic Games with swimming events over 12 days, fairground attractions including a roller coaster and three large lakes with boats and pleasure steamers. The park is still there but few of the buildings survived.
A contemporary film of the Baltic Exhibition shows the visit by Gustaf V, the Swedish king, with the citizens of Malmö, dressed in smart hats and their best clothes, seen walking around the park. Then, of course, the motor car that the king arrived in and the film camera itself were relatively novel and were, clearly, the subjects of much interest.
The aim of the exhibition was to promote the manufacturing companies of Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Russia, the main countries around the Baltic, and there must have been a strong sense of the promise of a new age and a new future with the new century well on course. What makes the film sad and poignant is that all those people would be thrown, just two months later, into the turmoil of the First World War. All that finery of top hats and elegant summer outfits were not celebrating, as they probably thought, the start of a new future but marking the real and complete end of the previous century and its sense of order. By the end of the war Europe was a very different place.
One of the biggest single displays of art in 1914 came from Russia. The paintings were bright and novel, and probably, at that time, seen as slightly outrageous and certainly challenging. At the outbreak of the war in July 1914 both German and Russian officials withdrew from the Baltic Exhibition but the Russian art remained and with the upheavals of the war and then the revolution in Russia in 1917 the works were not reclaimed and still form a substantial and important collection in Malmö city art gallery.
The present exhibition includes the Russian art that remained in Malmö with displays highlighting the novel attractions of the Baltic Exhibition, including a passenger lift that took visitors up to an observatory, and there are costumes and displays of furniture and household items that show how different levels of society lived in Malmö in 1914.
The exhibition in 1914 came at the end of a period of rapid growth and rising prosperity in Malmö. Between 1900 and 1915, the population of the city increased from 60,000 to 100,000 people and the wealth of the city then can be seen in the large number of imposing buildings from the period around 1900 that survive in the streets and squares of the city now.
There are also important parallels to be made with the situation now … with the apparently strong growth of middle class wealth in the city: just look at the new apartment buildings around the west harbour and the major office buildings under construction west of the railway station. There is the potential for sustainable growth in Malmö based on a growing population and the revitalisation of the city's infrastructure with the building of the road and rail bridge to Copenhagen and the extensive upgrading of the railway system. That growth is or should be reflected in a new demand for more housing and for furniture and household goods to fill all those new apartments.
Buildings in the centre of Malmö from around 1900
Summer sunshine and dark clouds, Malmö Museer, Malmöhus Slott
11 October 2014 until April 2016 - for opening times go to the city web site