Willibald Storn – As We Fall

Willibald Storn – As We Fall [Mens vi faller]
Selected artworks 1989–2021
17th September–14th November 2021

Kunsthall Oslo is very pleased to present the first major retrospective of works by the Oslo-based artist Willibald Storn. The exhibition presents a selection of paintings, drawings, collages, notebooks and photographs from the prolific second half of Storn’s career, which has centred around the daily practice of working and reworking the debris of everyday life in his modest studio in Kampen, Oslo.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a publication with a text by the artist and researcher Wencke Mühleisen. Both the exhibition and the publication are supported by Arts Council Norway.

In the early years of Storn’s career, there were three main strands to his work: uninhibited performance and installation that ridiculed capitalist culture; direct propaganda for the workers’ movement and feminist causes, executed in a sober, utilitarian visual style; and a kind of utopian figuration, romantic and pastoral, indebted to Picasso and Chagall as well as to pre-modern traditions for its pictorial language.

In these later paintings, from the end of the 1980s and onwards, the boundaries between these different modes have almost completely dissolved. Picasso and Chagall have been overrun and the result is a flow of images and text that appears as a debased, expressionist caricature of the contemporary media landscape. The pictures are at once diary pages, news reports, reality shows, advertisements, bad dreams, poems, pornography and propaganda; and all of this written onto figures and faces that play every role from lost lovers to brutalised victims, but which present most often as affectless, mutant, polysexual creatures, whose minds and bodies have long since ceased to distinguish between pleasure and pain, between anger and abjection, hope and despair. There’s no space here for a vision of a better world: the crisis, in all its interconnected manifestations, in all its violence, pours out over page after page, dragging its sordid history behind it. If there’s any respite at all, it’s in the process of painting itself, beyond imagery, beyond text, blanking out the news feed. But turning away, in Storn’s world, is a guilty pleasure, another source of shame. It’s our responsibility to look.

Willibald Storn was born in Austria in 1936 and grew up under German Nazi rule; his father died in the Soviet Union during World War II. He moved to Norway in 1957 and began his studies at the School of Arts and Crafts in Oslo in 1958. After some years working as a merchant seaman, he made his debut at Høstutstillingen [The Autumn Exhibition] in 1963 and held his first solo exhibition at Kunstnerforbundet in 1968. While Storn is still remembered for his iconoclastic actions, provocative artwork and agitprop of the later 1960s and early 70s—including his breakthrough performance-exhibition Coca Donald Samfunn—ikke ta meg [Coca Donald World—Don’t Take Me] at UKS, Oslo in 1969 and his work with the artists’ group GRAS—the past two decades have seen him exploring painting and photography in solo exhibitions around Norway, most recently at Kunstnerforbundet in Oslo, 2016 (curated by Lotte Konow Lund) and Avistegnernes hus, Drøbak, 2018.