Fifty Shades of Black
Pierre Soulages, Peinture, 1954. Henie Onstad Collection.
What is black? Is black a colour, a mixture of all colours, or the absence of light? This exhibition presents artists who are all concerned with the colour black, with Pierre Soulages as its starting point.
The French painter Pierre Soulages (1919–2022) worked methodically throughout the 1960s and 1970s to develop a distinctive black painting he called "outrenoir" or "beyond black". He saw the colour black as both a colour and a non-colour, and he explored the relationship between black and light. Sonja Henie and Niels Onstad both collected and were personal friends with Soulages. They bought seven works for the collection. The most recent work, from 1983, was donated by the artist himself. In line with the Henie Onstad Collection’s focus point, the artworks are from the post-war period until today. This is also the period when black became particularly prominent in art.
Parallels are drawn to Soulages' contemporaries in the collection, such as Hans Hartung and Karel Appel, and to Norwegian artists who have been preoccupied with the colour black, such as Anna-Eva Bergman, Olav Strømme and Per Inge Bjørlo. Other artists relate to the colour through shades, as in Ann Cathrin November Høibo's textiles made in greyscale in wool. In Kåre Kivijärvi's photographs, black is deliberately highlighted through various darkroom techniques, while for Nicole Rafiki, black has content that is about far more than just colour.
Artists’ fascination with the rich colour black runs throughout the history of art. The colour affects everything it is mixed with; it highlights and emphasizes. In the search for the deepest black colour in art, various organic materials, such as wood, bone scraps, ivory, tar, oil, plants and fruit seeds, have been burned and powdered, with a binder added to enable the concoction to be fixed to a surface. Today, there are various synthetic black pigments based on iron oxide. Nanotechnology has created a black colour that absorbs 99.96% of light, turning surfaces to which it is applied into black holes.
Black has many different meanings. In ancient Kemet (modern Egypt), which means "the black land", the colour was associated with fertility and life. Black was also used to represent Osiris, a creator god who brought life out of death. In ancient Greece, black was associated with darkness, death and evil. In recent times, black is also associated with elegance, style, and modernity. Beyond the 20th century, artists began to explore black for its own sake.
Through a selection of 50 works from the Henie Onstad collection, Erling Neby's collection, Sparebankstiftelsen DNB and one loan, this exhibition thematizes as many shades of black, including artists such as Pierre Soulages, Hans Hartung, Anna-Eva Bergman, Pablo Picasso, Ann Cathrin November Høibo, Torbjørn Rødland and Linn Pedersen.