Text by Svein Thorud
Elisabeth von Krogh’s solo exhibition at the gallery Kunstnerforbundet in Oslo in 1994 was a phenomenal success. All of Norway’s museums for decorative art and design as well as the government agency Arts Council Norway bought works from the show. Even though the exhibited works of art related to her earlier production, they also represented something fundamentally new and exciting. The artist’s large vessels had an unsettling character, also an ability to trigger the imagination in ways that were thus-far unique in Norwegian craft. Von Krogh’s sculptural forms pointed both to the potential for growth in nature and to its antithesis: withering and transformation.
Elisabeth von Krogh studied craft at the National College of Art and Design in Oslo (1967-71), and graduated with a degree in ceramics. Like many other artists who worked with crafts, she and a colleague rented a workshop at Frysja Artist Centre (1975-83). In 1983, she moved her practice to Borgheim on the island of Nøtterøy near Tønsberg. Her breakthrough exhibition was at Kunstnerforbundet in 1982. Since then, she has continued gaining distinction through numerous solo and group exhibitions. She has made several commissioned works of public art, and many public institutions have purchased her art for their collections.
Elisabeth von Krogh’s works have a surreal quality. They have also been seen as expressing Post-Modern diversity. Her objects exude vitality, humour and absurdity. Perhaps they even border on the bizarre. Add to this the artist’s confident sense of style: she builds on an organic theme, oftentimes rooted in Functionalism of the 1950s. Her works can move in the direction of kitsch, they are certainly unconventional, and they broach the question of what can be considered ‘good taste’.
Von Krogh has made tiger bowls, half-moon bowls and curious lidded containers with dangerous, prickly growths. She sets up a contrast between the organically formed material and the petrified expression of fired clay and surface treatments. This we see in her striking ceramic ‘cacti’ that highlight the contrast between organic and geometric form (the flower pot). This sense of form borders on a mannered but willed style. It expresses an ambivalence that is typical for much of the best contemporary art.
Von Krogh’s poetic expression and exotic approach has roots in, among other things, the romantic current of the 1970s. This was a polarized period with increased political involvement and a longing to look beyond everyday trivialities. Many craft artists started seeking an exotic borderland in which to work. To exemplify: Norwegian ceramic artists’ enthusiasm for the Japanese raku technique gained an almost metaphysical tinge at the time. The interest in distant cultures was prominent; craft artists started focusing on occluded Arabian domains and African traditions. Von Krogh remained faithful to earthenware clay and slips. As far as her practice was concerned, the ideals of the 1970s led to liberation from the weighty ceramic tradition we Norwegians associate with so-called ‘Trønderkeramikk’ [earthenware, from central Norway].
The idealism of these years has more recently been supplanted by ambiguity. In line with the realization that we are approaching the end of a millennium, ideas emerge about a fin de siècle – as a theme and a style-sensibility. Von Krogh’s latest monumental works can serve as examples of this. They are all exquisitely beautiful and stylistically sure in form, but they also seem alarming and dangerous; they can have an archaizing and timeless character, but at their best, can also allude to decadence and decay. The organic growth cycle themed in von Krogh’s art results in stunningly beautiful works which nevertheless have a lethal shear. Elisabeth von Krogh likes working in relation to the requirements set by public art projects. Her decorative commissions relate in an imaginative way to the architecture and the desires and demands which users of a building might have. Not all artists manage this. Being able to produce public art requires both adaptability and flexibility. Von Krogh’s works instantiate this; they are painterly and exotic enrichments. They also have a life-affirming character.
Elisabeth von Krogh takes into account the dimensions of the room where her works will be placed, its design, wall surfaces and whatever is on them. She uses all parts of the building, also the floor if necessary, and creates elegant interaction between the decorated fields and plain wall surfaces. In Sem Prison (1993), she revitalized a prosaic hallway with a refined Egyptianizing, even ethereal decorative solution. But just as in her other production, her monumental ceramics have gained a more defined and heavier tone in recent years.
This came to expression in the regional exhibition ‘From Paganism to Christianity’ at Haugar Art Museum in Tønsberg in 1995, when she presented the wall work Time and a large floor-standing candelabra.
Svein Thorud (1996), Art historian
Translation: Arlyne Moi