Moderna Museet Malmö proves that to really succeed as an art gallery, particularly as a gallery of modern art, you really don’t have to have a blockbuster building on a harbour frontage designed by a starchitect … to use that awful phrase.
That is not to say that the Malmö gallery is boring or safe - it’s neither - but what it has clearly is a strong sense of being a community gallery. It is within the central area of the city but is slightly out to the east side of the centre in a long narrow square, rather more a wide street than a piazza, with apartment buildings around. When I was there this week it was a bright Spring day and people were sitting outside in the sun waiting to meet friends. Inside, in the entrance hall and cafe, local people were having lunch. The entrance from the street, through a relatively ornate archway into a small courtyard, is shared with a school and as it was a warm day; the door was open and you could hear the children playing. That’s good, he hastens to add.
The gallery also has a school room or children’s room that seems to have been well used. The main exhibition space, in a former turbine hall at an upper level, was busy despite it being a morning mid week and as I left a large party of what I took to be recent immigrants to Sweden of lots of different ages and countries of origin arrived with a teacher presumably as part of their induction course into the language and life of the city. As I say, the gallery has a really good and really strong community feel.
The architecture is good too. Clever and sophisticated. The main space is a large open top-lit hall - the guide book says the ceiling height is 11 metres - so there would seem to be a lot of options about what can be shown and how. The hall is on an upper level running parallel to the street and across the street frontage is a two-storey range which includes offices, services and so on along the ground level and a second, narrower, exhibition space with a lower ceiling height on the first floor.
The original industrial building dates from 1900 and is in dark red brick with pale stone for doorways, windows and decorative details. The main new addition is a bright orange steel box next to the entrance arch and across the front of the turbine hall to contain the entrance hall, book shop and cafe and services such as a staircase and lift. The steel sheet on the front is perforated and the lower level has hinged shutters that run across the full-height windows of the cafe but hinge right back to open the space visually to the street but also to allow the street to see in.
The gallery opened in December 2009 and is a branch or regional gallery of the gallery of modern art on Skeppsholmen in Stockholm. The work was designed by the architectural partnership of Tham & Videgård from Stockholm.
Sculpture is also displayed in the public square outside … the present piece is a massive and dramatic X of cylinders with a spiral motif by Leif Bolter.
In the main exhibition area, the current show is Nils Dardel and the Modern Age.
Moderna Museet, Gasverksgatan 22, Malmö
Nils Dardel continues until 6 September 2015