Sweden in the United Nations – Dialogos

Sweden in the United Nations
Dialogos by Ann Edholm
Sweden in the United Nations
Dialogos by Ann Edholm
on the occasion of the reopening of the renovated
Economic and Social Council Chamber and the installation of
the new curtain Dialogos by Ann Edholm on 22 April 2013
Publisher: Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Sweden
Photos: Per-Erik Adamsson (pp. 22-23, 24-25)
Margareta Bergstrand (p. 14)
Bill Jacobson (pp. 19, 21, 26-27, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34)
Matti Östling (ARKM) (p. 14)
UN Photo (pp. 8, 13, 28, 35, 36)
Artworks in this print are protected by copyright law. Artworks by
artists represented by the Visual Arts Copyright Society in Sweden
(BUS) are published with permission from BUS.
Photo editor at the National Public Art Council Sweden: Lamin Kivelä
© Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, the authors, the artists and
the photographers
Article no: UD 13.008
ISBN: 978-91-7496-453-0
Graphic design: Ritator
Print: Göteborgstryckeriet, Sweden, 2013
Partners: The National Public Art Council Sweden, Swedish National
Heritage Board, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, and the Permanent
Mission of Sweden to the United Nations, New York
Sweden has always been a strong supporter of the United Nations. Through
our development assistance, peacekeeping personnel, humanitarian aid and
political commitment, we have contributed to the UN’s efforts to promote
international peace, security, development and human rights.
Many are the Swedes who have served the UN, be it in New York or in
the many offices and missions in the field. The best-known, still, is former
Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld.
Known and appreciated for his dedicated work for the UN, Hammarskjöld
was also in many ways personally involved in the interior design and art of the
United Nations Headquarters in New York.
Hammarskjöld took a great interest in the embellishment of the
Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Chamber, in itself a gift from
Sweden. The Chamber was designed by functionalist architect Sven
Markelius, with a curtain by artist Marianne Richter, and represents
the Swedish art and design of the 1950s. He also conceived the idea of
the refurbishment of the Meditation Room, dedicated to world peace
for peoples of all faiths and religions, and decorated with art by Swedish
designers and artists.
And over the years, Sweden and Swedish artists have continued to
contribute works of art to the UN.
A portrait of Hammarskjöld himself, by Bo Beskow, hangs alongside
paintings of the other Secretaries-General. Outside the Headquarters, the
bronze sculpture Non-Violence by Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd reminds the
visitor of the reason and rationale of the world organisation.
When the ECOSOC Chamber is now re-inaugurated, the Markelius
curtain that later replaced the original Richter curtain, marked by time,
has made way for the new curtain Dialogos by contemporary Swedish artist
Ann Edholm. In her work, Edholm takes both Markelius and Richter as
major points of reference.
The other artworks donated by Sweden to the UN have also been
To mark the occasion of the reopening of the renovated ECOSOC
Chamber and the installation of Dialogos by Ann Edholm, it is my great
pleasure to introduce this booklet about Sweden in the United Nations
from a design and art perspective.
Wedges of white and orange meet in the fabric forming the curtain,
Dialogos, by Swedish artist Ann Edholm. The physical location, the City of
New York, is reflected in the abstracted skyline of the piece. At the same
time, the pattern captures the essence and challenge of the United Nations
itself – how to engage in dialogue from different directions and different
The ECOSOC Chamber was designed by Swedish architect Sven
Markelius, who held a strong belief that architecture can foster openness
and democratic values. Dialogos relates to this concept as well as suggesting a
contemporary view of the original curtain by Marianne Richter, visualising
how central concepts need constant revision.
The commissioner of Edholm’s work, the National Public Art Council
Sweden, is the government agency responsible for making public art a
natural and prominent feature in the community. Each year the Council
commissions a number of site-specific works of art around the country. It
also holds a collection of more than 100 000 works, displayed in various
Swedish state-owned properties. As a matter of fact, the Council is a child
of the Swedish welfare state and a contemporary to Markelius. When the
Council was established 75 years ago, the Swedish welfare state was under
construction, and through the Council, the visual arts were given a central
position in the building of this society. Since then, the notion of art has
changed considerably, as have the challenges of public space and the idea
of what is public. The traditional image of public art is a statue in a square.
But public space is as much a mental space, that is a sphere created when
our thoughts and reflections are confronted with what we share and have
in common beyond our own individual interests. This public space is a
continuous diversified dialogue, within which different thoughts collide
and questions and solutions continually need to be reformulated. In a
similar way, contemporary art is far from just an object, but rather offers us
profound experiences, new perspectives, and critical reflection.
The concept of freedom of expression captures the ways in which
art does not serve simply as decoration, but constitutes a fundamental
element of a democracy. Equally important are the freedom of thought and
the freedom to express oneself with all the means we human beings are
capable of, through images, gesture, voice or movement. A person can have
something very important to say, but if he or she is not able to express it,
to give it a form in a manner that actually moves others, it will have no
relevance. The arts have this unique ability to teach us not only how to
think, but also to express ourselves, and thus art is not only decoration;
rather it plays a key role in democratic development.
Stockholm, April 2013.
Carl Bildt
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Proud and grateful to display Edholm’s work, the National Public Art
Council Sweden would also like to express its gratitude for the great
collaboration with the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, without
which this project would have remained only a dream. Thanks also to the
Swedish National Heritage Board, Moderna Museet and Lotta Mossum, our
project manager.
Magdalena Malm
Director of the National Public Art Council Sweden
The Economic and
Social Council Chamber
Its design and interior
The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Chamber was
designed by Swedish architect Sven Markelius, who was a member
of the international committee of architects that had a consultative
role in the design phase of the United Nations building complex in
New York, under the leadership of Wallace K. Harrison. Markelius
is mostly remembered in Sweden as the foremost architect of
the developing Swedish welfare state and as a city planner. It
was suggested during the planning of the UN complex that the
Scandinavian countries contribute national works of art to embellish
the chambers for the Security Council, the Trusteeship Council
and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Markelius was
initially asked to suggest the design of the Swedish work of art for
the ECOSOC Chamber and was later asked to suggest the interior
design of the entire chamber. The chamber’s interior design and
embellishment were largely presented as a national gift from Sweden
to the United Nations.
Markelius himself later described the work with the ECOSOC
Chamber in an article published in 1953:
The nature of the United Nations as a forum for
addressing international issues has found expression
in various ways in its enormous newly built United
Nations Headquarters complex in New York.
The planning and construction has taken place in
the spirit of international cooperation and has been
characterised both by the sincere desire for broadbased collaboration and by the difficulties entailed
in coordinating many and differing opinions. The
actual building, its overall planning and design,
must be regarded, however, as essentially a creation
by Wallace Harrison and his closest associates.
The international committee of architects, which
gathered in New York for several months in 1947,
had a purely advisory function. Various principles
were discussed and the many differing ideas
and projects that gradually accumulated on the
committee’s desk were deliberated and reviewed.
It cannot be denied that this preparatory work
had an impact on the final project. But neither in
connection with the ongoing planning work, nor
during the construction phase was the advisory
committee called upon or utilised in any other way.
Nor, as far as I know, was any individual member in
contact with the work during this time.
The chief architect alone had architectural
responsibility for the essential features of the
building’s planning and design. I wanted to
explain the situation on this point, as people have
misunderstood this in various ways and have
criticised the supposed collective form of the
architectural work. No such imagined form of
cooperation between the committee and the chief
architect occurred, nor would it have been feasible
to carry out. It was undoubtedly right to entrust the
leadership of the main architectural task, from the
outset, to one man.
On the other hand, cooperation was sought with
various countries’ art industries and applied
arts regarding the building’s interior design and
furnishings. One expression of this ambition was
the initiative that led to the three council chambers
– for the Security Council, the Trusteeship Council
and the Economic and Social Council – being
designed with contributions from Norwegian,
Danish and Swedish interior design art. Originally,
the task was limited to each country providing a
gift representing its national arts and crafts. In
conjunction with this, the Swedish Riksdag in
1951 approved an appropriation of SEK 160 000 to
be used for a Swedish gift to embellish the United
Nations Economic and Social Council Chamber.
The commission assigned to me, to propose a
suitable design for the Swedish gift, was expanded
later to also include participation in the design of the
chamber’s other furnishings. The later commission
was from the UN Headquarters Planning Office
and assumed comprehensive cooperation with
that office. Three factors made this cooperation
particularly imperative: time was short, the budget
was meagre and strictly limited, and the building
work was already well advanced, with a completed
structure and orders already placed for many
important interior fittings. The completed structure
formed a room of large dimensions, roughly 50 by 20
metres. The height of the room along the window
side was approximately seven metres. Because of
the sharply rising ‘amphitheatre’ for the press and
general public, this dimension was reduced at the
chamber’s upper end to just under three metres
from the lower edge of the beam. The low ceiling
height was from the outset an important factor in
the detailed design of the room’s interior.
To counterbalance the impression of the
chamber’s compressed proportions, I thought it
right to emphasise the area closest to the window,
where the floor-to-ceiling height was greatest.
Accentuating this part of the room would also
logically highlight the delegates’ area. Both these
aims led to the thought of bestowing a special
atmosphere to the delegates’ area through the
use of light, colours and, in relation to the rest of
Interior of the ECOSOC Chamber, 1 March 1952,
showing part of the famous open ceiling. UN Photo
the room, finer materials and a more elaborate
treatment of detail. According to this game plan,
the delegates’ area would stand out as a relatively
‘closed’ interior in contrast to the room’s otherwise
diffuse proportions; the platform lit up and the
public gallery subdued and unobtrusive is hardly
too contrived an analogy in this case. By limiting
more costly interior fittings to a smaller area of the
chamber, it also became possible, despite necessary
economic restraint, to display an interior finish of
the desired craftsman quality. The design of the
delegates’ area was constrained by the space and
design plan, not least by the fact that the large
horseshoe-shaped table, with its complicated
installations, was already designed and ordered.
Naturally, the design of the window wall was also
already decided. Glass walls between the council
chamber and the booths for radio, press, television
and simultaneous interpretation, etc. were already
determined in terms of location and design details.
The enclosing ribbed wall of knot-free pine was
designed to provide a certain sense of reserve. It also
protects the sound-absorbing facing on the section
of wall behind it, increasing its efficiency.
The floor is covered with a Wilton-quality
carpet, delicately patterned with white stripes on
a dark mottled background of black, brown and
green. Around the carpet is a frieze of polished
Ekeberg marble. The freely suspended white ceiling
over the delegates’ area, which further emphasises
this part of the chamber, was originally intended to
stand out against a higher under-roof construction,
painted in the subdued dark grey colour of the walls.
As the planning progressed on the project,
the proposed covering of the ceiling’s beam
construction was abandoned, partly for financial
reasons. These beams and the ventilation shafts,
with their branching pipes and exhaust fans located
between the beams, together created an interesting
three-dimensional pattern which, painted in an
appropriate colour, could be expected to enrich the
impression without violating the original basic idea:
the contrast between the ‘interior’ of the delegates’
area and the surrounding neutral whole.
To this end, the dark grey tone of the walls was
repeated on the ceiling, with rectangular patches
and areas in black and white introduced with the
intention of breaking up the ‘composition’ for the
eye, making its technical elements less obvious. As
neither I nor any of my associates were given the
opportunity to monitor the colour scheme on site,
the method of testing the colours on a large-scale
model of the entire chamber was used. One model
(reproduced here) of the actual ceiling was sent to
New York to guide the painting work (vignette).
The entire window wall can be covered with either
a day curtain or an evening curtain. These textile
works together comprise Sweden’s gift. Following a
competition, their design was entrusted to Nordiska
Kompaniets Textilkammare (the Nordic Company
textile firm) and Märta Måås-Fjetterströms AB.
The day curtain, designed by Astrid Sampe of
Textilkammare, is a loose weaving made of rami
yarn in natural tones. The evening curtain was
designed by Marianne Richter and made using one of
Barbro Nilsson’s elaborate tapestry-like techniques,
with wool yarns on a linen ground. The colours were
mainly orange, red and violet. Both these textile
works, each in their own way, represent a very high
artistic standard, well suited to the purpose that
drove their creation.
The delegates’ chairs, made of ash and covered
with light-brown faux leather upholstery, were
designed by Elias Svedberg, and like the secretaries’
chairs – with a chromium-plated frame – were
delivered by Nordiska Kompaniet. The carpet was
also delivered by Nordiska Kompaniet. The ribbed
panelling and a number of other pieces of finished
carpentry work were made by Holmsunds AB.
The structural tube frame of the panel and
barriers was delivered by AB Bröderna Hedlund.
The marble frieze was a gift from Sveriges
Stenindustriförbund (the Swedish association of
quarrying industries). Architects Hans Borgström,
Bengt Lindroos and Brian Richards have been
valuable associates in the accomplishment of this
architectural commission.
Architect Bengt Lindroos, who worked together with Markelius,
later confirmed that one of the major challenges of the ECOSOC
Chamber was the low ceiling height at the back of the room,
designated for the press and the public. The solution to strip the
ceiling at the back and make the fully visible construction beams and
ventilation pipes a part of the architectural design in order to double
the height of the ceiling was controversial. According to Lindroos,
Harrison was initially against the idea. The open and ‘unfinished’
ceiling has made the ECOSOC Chamber famous in architectural
history, not only because of its uniqueness but also because it has
become a symbol of the ongoing work of the United Nations which
is never finished.
UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld personally thanked
Markelius for the part he had played in creating the ECOSOC
Chamber (see enclosed copy of a letter from Hammarskjöld to
The ECOSOC Chamber has undergone several alterations over
the years, including drastic changes to the seating. The first change
took place in 1974, when the number of Council members almost
doubled. New delegate chairs were made in Italy to resemble the
original chairs designed by Elias Svedberg and manufactured by
the Swedish firm Nordiska Kompaniet. Over the years, the chairs
have been mended and re-upholstered so that there are at least five
variations of the chairs, with vinyl covers of slightly different nuances
of beige. The horseshoe shape of the table for the chairperson of
ECOSOC was altered and a podium was built and raised above the
floor level. In 1995, Sweden financed the renovation of the floor,
tables and lighting, as well as minor repairs of cracks in the paint on
the walls and ceiling and cleaning of the carpet.
In the recently renovated chamber, the walls have been painted
in the original colours, the pine-slatted cladding has been cleaned
and new lighting has been installed, along with new and modernised
audiovisual equipment. Sweden has contributed financially to the
renovation of the delegates’ chairs and donated the new curtain by
Ann Edholm.
Letter from Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld to Sven Markelius, thanking
Markelius personally for the part he had played in creating the ECOSOC Chamber.
From The Swedish Museum of Architecture’s collections.
The curtains
According to Markelius, it was the curtain designed by Marianne
Richter that ultimately gave the ECOSOC Chamber its character.
It was woven in Båstad at Märta Måås-Fjetterström AB, a wellknown studio that is still in operation. Once one of the largest and
most expensive textiles ever made in Sweden, the curtain took ten
weavers one year to complete. The curtain was huge, roughly 220
square metres in area. It was intended for evening use to cover the 22
by 7 metre window wall facing the East River, whereas a ‘day curtain’,
designed by Astrid Sampe, was intended as protection against the
glaring sunlight during the day. This intention was probably not
followed, as the Richter curtain was too heavy to pull and served
better as a backdrop for the chairperson of the ECOSOC than the
view of the East River. In later years, security demanded that the
Richter curtain cover the window at all times so that no one outside
could look into the chamber.
At the time, Richter’s curtain for the ECOSOC Chamber was
described as the largest curtain in the world, as well as unique,
because of its non-figurative character, displaying mussel-like
patterns in orange, violet and white against a bright red background.
The translucence of the cloth was a key element given its position
over the large window facing the East River.
“As a manifestation of Swedish textile art, the woven curtain
is memorable,” stated the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter in
August 1952, when Richter’s curtain was shown at the National
Museum in Stockholm prior to being shipped to New York. The
newspaper added: “And it is precisely the absence of a narrative
subject that gives the work its calm dignity, a stability and gravitas
that must be a major asset in such a consciously architectural space
as Markelius’s chamber would seem to be.”
Already by the early 1960s, the curtain was showing signs of
deterioration. In 1965, it was sent back to Sweden, where it was
treated and washed. After this, it was sent back to New York and
rehung in the ECOSOC Chamber. In accordance with the laws of
New York City, the curtain had been treated with a flame-retardant
The ECOSOC Chamber in its original design in 1952
with the curtain by Marianne Richter. UN Photo
chemical before it was installed in 1952. It is not known today if this
treatment was repeated after it was washed in 1965. What is known
is that its condition deteriorated rapidly and new treatments were
considered. In the early 1980s, the condition of the curtain was so
bad it was taken down. At the artist’s request, some smaller pieces
were sent back to Sweden and to the Märta Måås-Fjetterström studio
(see enclosed photo, p. 14). One piece remains at the Minneapolis
Institute of Arts. Richter’s curtain is a lost great work of art of
Swedish Modernism.
In 1988, the curtain was replaced by a geometrically-patterned
velvet curtain in mostly red, yellow and orange, designed by Markelius.
The printed pattern, ‘Pythagoras’, was designed at about the same
time as Markelius was working with the ECOSOC Chamber, but
it was intended at that time for entirely different buildings: Folkets
Hus in Linköping and the Royal Institute of Technology assembly
hall in Stockholm. Pythagoras is a Swedish design classic and is still
in print. Over the years, this curtain also became badly soiled and
the white parts of the pattern had yellowed. An informal spot test
performed on site in 2008 indicated that a cleaning of the curtain
would not be entirely successful.
Dialogos – διάλόγος
Ann Edholm – Space and Body
Fragments from and trial weave with samples of specially
dyed yarns for the curtain by Marianne Richter. Photo: Margareta Bergstrand
After thorough consideration, prior to the renovation of the
chamber recently carried out, a reconstruction of the original
curtain was ruled out. It would be too costly and it would also be
impossible to return the ECOSOC Chamber to its original state as
in 1952. Conservation of the Markelius curtain was also considered
to be too costly.
It was finally decided that Sweden would donate a contemporary
work of art for the ECOSOC Chamber that would symbolise
Sweden’s dedication to the United Nations and convey the special
character of Swedish contemporary art. This also coincided with the
idea that the ECOSOC Chamber was a room for ongoing change
and a ‘workshop for peace’.
Marianne Richter: Sketch for curtain, 1952. Photo: Matti Östling.
From The Swedish Museum of Architecture’s collections.
To be honest, being a painter, a born painter to the very tips of
her fingers, it is pretty amazing that Ann Edholm is the author
of the curtain for the ECOSOC Chamber. Noted for several large
public commissions and working in extended series, Edholm stages
large, occasionally even monumental, paintings that verge on both
geometric abstraction and delicate expressionism. The latter reveals
itself in barely perceptible details such as small thumbprints and
smear marks made by the brush or, more often, by the palette
knife, thus destabilising the seemingly solid compositional patterns
of basic geometric shapes. With an elaborate network of cultural,
religious and symbolic references, Edholm meticulously merges
classical painting with elemental geometric shapes and sudden
painterly gestures. While at first glance these marks may appear as
smudges, they reveal unexpected connotations to other traditions of
Western art and to highly contemporary discourses concerning the
relationship between painting, the human body and the self.
This approach to painting has now been transformed into a
curtain that is closely connected with its predecessors and the
special architecture of the ECOSOC Chamber. As its title, Dialogos,
suggests, Edholm’s curtain seeks to establish and promote an
artistic discourse characterised by principles of equality between
the various factors involved: primarily the City of New York, with
its familiar and often graphic silhouette; the East River outside the
chamber’s panoramic windows; the city’s special light; Markelius’s
architectonic vision, based on the fundamentals of Functionalism,
with a particular emphasis on the delegates’ area closest to the
window, with its original horseshoe-shaped arrangement of tables,
in relation to the other parts of the chamber, not least the roof
construction with its beams, ventilation ducts and other functional
details as parts of a large, abstract composition; Richter’s original
orange, red, purple and white curtain from 1952, with its butterflyshaped compositional elements; and, not least, the delegates, the
general public, and all those who use the chamber and who –
thanks to the monumental impact of the curtain and its precise
character of decisiveness, strength, and transparency – are expected
to experience the significance of the democratic discourse and the
historic importance of the decisions that are made in the chamber.
The Greek title of the curtain, διάλόγος (Dialogos), relates
naturally to Edholm’s oeuvre that has been characterised precisely as
‘grand’, on the edge of the sublime in dialogue with, for example, the
American Abstract Expressionist Barnett Newman, who was at the
peak of his art at precisely the time when the ECOSOC Chamber
was built and when Markelius was commissioned to design the
interior, as well as the Russian founder of Suprematism Kazimir
Malevich and the German Romantic Caspar David Friedrich.
Conceptually, διάλόγος seeks its point of departure in the notion
that the first democratic discourse took place between free citizens
at the Agora in Greek antiquity, as a reminder of the significance
of the mutual exchange of views on equal terms, something that
also characterises the United Nations and is also embodied in the
deliberations that take place at a global level within the ECOSOC
Chamber. Moreover, the title of the curtain recalls the etymology of
the notion, with the combination of the Greek prefix διά and the
word λόγος (logos), which was used by Plato and Aristotle to describe
human reasoning and our knowledge of the world and of ourselves.
The dictionary is emphatic on this point: the word ‘dialogue’
originally meant ‘by means of conversation’. This is a notion which
also applies metaphorically to Edholm’s curtain, reflecting a mutual
conversation between the wedges which, in turn, leads to ‘sharp’
decisions and resolutions, just as sharp as the points of the wedges in
the graphic composition.
The Special Light and Architecture
In her work, Edholm discusses – in an interesting interplay with
contemporary art – precisely those functionalistic ideals of purity,
simplicity and frankness on which Markelius insisted. Thus, the
curtain elucidates both Markelius’s and Richter’s engagement in
First sketches of the curtain, by Ann Edholm in collaboration with HV Studio, at
the beginning of the process in 2010, with calculations of the scale and proportions
of the pattern in relation to the windows of the ECOSOC Chamber and proposed
fabrics. The initial sketches were in black and white, pending a decision on the
final colours of the curtain. From Ann Edholm’s private archive.
qualities such as light, space, and bodily presence. All this is repeated
in Edholm’s curtain, as its most obvious frame of reference, together
with significant echoes of her own oeuvre, setting the curtain into
its equally obvious contemporaneity.
Dialogos builds on the idea of the possibility of a dialogue with
Markelius and Richter, as well as between the outer room and the
architectural interior, as it was once created and designed by both
Harrison and Markelius, in which the large panorama windows
open to the East River and the buildings on the opposite shore. As
already mentioned, the special light of New York City was also a
source of inspiration. This light was also referred to, for example, by
the American artist Brice Marden when, in 1980, he explained that
his paintings should be experienced as both hot and cold at the same
time: “By cold I mean as in hot and cold. I mean, now in this light
it looks cold, in this daylight – famous silvery New York daylight,
on the Bowery.” The glittering East River, the intense light and the
silhouette of the skyscrapers opposite all converse with the chamber
through the huge windows pierced by the contrasting bars of the
window panes.
Like Richter, Edholm also displays a specific sensitivity in regard
to the monumentality of the space of that part of the chamber
which is closest to the window. The ‘cloud’, the white ceiling
suspended above the delegates, points to the large scale here. A
photo from the 1950s shows a man standing in front of the window,
whose bodily reference thus emphasises the grandness of Richter’s
curtain. The window wall is seven metres high, and above the man
in the photo, the wedge-shaped patterns of Richter’s curtain unfold
the curtain’s ‘angel wings’ (like the angels children love to make in
the snow during the winter). The curtain is characterised by a strong
visual force, both from a close and a more distant position of the
viewer. The distinct encounter between the size of the triangles and
their distribution allows for a change of the curtain’s scale effect,
depending on the viewer’s position.
The colours are simultaneously linked to that dark space which
Markelius and his team tried to achieve when working with the
contrasts of the open ceiling’s modular structure.
As mentioned, Dialogos thus establishes and sustains a very special
artistic discussion with Markelius’s distinct architecture, with
its functionalist foundation, not only through the orange and
white wedge shapes that are vaguely reminiscent of 1950s Swedish
Modernism, but also on account of the curtain’s ‘rational’ design
and, not least, through its graphic simplicity which creates a sense
of monumentality in relation to the scale of the interior. The effect
is nothing less than a determined, cogent and convincing discourse
between an architecture that is as proud as it is modern, and a curtain
that has been designed expressly to stimulate such a discourse with
the help of unequivocal artistic arguments based on the idea that
the decisions made in the chamber are understood as realised visions
Ann Edholm: Dialogos (2012).
Installed in the ECOSOC Chamber. Photo: Bill Jacobson
‘with their feet firmly on the ground’ and their gaze directed towards
the light. Much as in Plato’s Socratic dialogues, a particular relation
to both tradition and the here and now is simultaneously created.
In accordance with Markelius’s original ideas, the monumental
impact of the curtain and the contrast between the intensely orange
wedges and the equally intense white ones, where the density of
the colours is achieved through the light-absorbing felt fabric, is
intended to establish the delegates’ area as a partially enclosed
interior with a very special character. At the same time, the curtain
should remain in dialogue with the chamber in general. The ceiling
surfaces form important compositional elements, working together
with the ventilation ducts and other technical equipment, as well
as the curtain’s functionalistic design, paying homage to Markelius
as one of the leading architects of the epoch-making Stockholm
Exhibition of 1930.
It is worthwhile repeating that if διάλόγος was conceived to pay
homage to Markelius and Swedish Functionalism, and, not least, as
a reference to the dialogue character of the democratic discourse,
then, indeed, it should also be seen as paying homage to Richter.
It is no coincidence that the wedge shapes refer indirectly to the
‘butterflies’ that were created on Richter’s original curtain, using
wedge shapes that were a characteristic visual element in Swedish
Modernism at that time. Edholm’s curtain builds on the insight
that the inheritance from both Markelius and Richter is a binding
obligation for contemporary Swedish art.
Dialogos was made as two lengths of curtain. Dividing the
curtain into two lengths was necessary for reasons of safety, for
opening the curtain and for emptying the building, if necessary.
The wide sections of the curtain were made as uniformly and as
tightly stretched as possible, the white wedges creating the effect
of painting in opposition to the orange wedges. At this point, the
curtain enters into discourse with important parts of Edholm’s
art, in which the specific character of painting is, as mentioned, an
absolutely essential element impossible to put aside in spite of the
fact that we – here – encounter a curtain. Edholm describes it herself
in a manner that leaves no room for doubt regarding precisely the
relationship between image and body: “In my paintings the beholder
is in a frontal position, body to body, seen from in front. You see the
picture at a distance and the closer you get to it, the more the picture
dissolves into colour, body and painting.”
Indeed, Edholm manages to combine painting with sculpture
and textile, and space with thought, concept, idea and the human
body in a communion that simultaneously comprises all of the
equally subtle and artistically significant aspects that these promote
and require. It has also been said that, ever since the early 1980s,
her work has concentrated on developing an approach in which
painting opens itself as both a speaking and a listening medium
without compromising its material nature as involving anything else
than such basic necessities as brushes and pigments, oil, turpentine,
squeegee, cotton canvas, wooden stretcher, staple gun, hammer
and nails. According to the Swedish critic Anders Olofsson, it is
natural for Edholm to use painting as a medium for testing all of
the relationships between figures and volumes that have often led
other artists to sculpture or to a physically much heavier style of
painting in which the canvases acquire the character of massive
Ann Edholm: Dialogos (2012).
Installed in the ECOSOC Chamber. Photo: Bill Jacobson
objects; each line, each form that seeks out a place on her canvases is
also, in a physical sense, the bearer of narratives that emanate from
our meeting the image in the same way that the human body is the
home of language. Perhaps this is the real secret underlying Edholm’s
ability to attract both body and idea: her way of expressing the
strange combination of physical presence and intellectual urgency in
a manner in which both collaborate with each other without being
separated. She has now done it in textile, too.
Tom Sandqvist
Writer and Professor of Art Theory and the History of Ideas as well as
Docent in Art History
Following pages: Dialogos at KKV, where it was produced (pp. 22-25);
Dialogos installed in the ECOSOC Chamber, April 2013 (pp. 26-27).
More Swedish art and design at the United
Nations Headquarters in New York
The Swedish gifts to the United Nations Headquarters in New York
form a landmark in Sweden’s art and design history, albeit unknown
to a larger public.
The Dag Hammarskjöld Meditation Room
Dag Hammarskjöld Meditation Room with Fresco by Bo Beskow (1957)
and iron ore block from Sweden. UN Photo
The Meditation Room was part of the original plans when the
United Nations building complex was built. At the initiative of
Dag Hammarskjöld, the room was refurbished in 1956 and 1957.
Hammarskjöld personally took an active part in this work. He stated
in his booklet for the reopening of the refurbished Meditation Room
in 1957, “This house, dedicated to work and debate in the service
of peace, should have one room dedicated to silence in the outward
sense and stillness in the inner sense.” The room includes a fresco by
the Swedish artist Bo Beskow, a close friend of Hammarskjöld’s, and
an iron ore block imported from Sweden.
The fresco is mounted on a panel, creating the impression that it
floats out of the wall. With the composition, Beskow has tried to open
up the room so the eye can travel into the distance when it strikes
the wall. As a resting point for the eye, there is a black semicircular
form where all the lines in the fresco and the room converge.
Weighing more than six tons, the iron ore block is located in
the middle of the room. According to Hammarskjöld, in the same
booklet, “We may see it as an altar, empty not because there is no
God, not because it is an altar to an unknown god, but because it is
dedicated to the God whom man worships under many names and in
many forms.” Hammarskjöld continues: “The material of the stone
leads our thoughts to the necessity for choice between destruction
and construction, between war and peace. Of iron man has forged
his swords, of iron he has also made his ploughshares. Of iron he has
constructed tanks, but of iron he has likewise built homes for man.
The block of iron ore is part of the wealth we have inherited on this
earth of ours. How are we to use it?”
According to available correspondence, the original carpet in the
back of the room was made by HV Studio, which has now also
made the new curtain by Ann Edholm for the ECOSOC Chamber.
The carpet has since been replaced. The benches in the room were
designed by Swedish interior designer Carl Malmsten.
The Dag Hammarskjöld Library
The Dag Hammarskjöld Library, built in 1961, was appointed with
furniture and carpets from Sweden, including five carpets designed
by Astrid Sampe and woven by Kasthall. The carpets have since
been replaced.
Other works of art
Bo Beskow: Portrait of Dag Hammarskjöld (1966).
Oil (est.) on canvas. Joint donation by the Ford Foundation
and the Bonnier Company. Photo: Bill Jacobson
Bo Beskow: Composition for Concave Wall (1961).
Oil (est.) on solid support. Located in the Penthouse.
Donation by the Ford Foundation. Photo: Bill Jacobson
Dag Hammarskjöld Meditation Room with Fresco by Bo Beskow (1957)
Photo: Bill Jacobson
Celina D. M. de Mundin Schaffter: Portrait of Dag Hammarskjöld (1974).
Oil on canvas. Joint donation by Argentina and Sweden. Photo: Bill Jacobson
Arne Olsson: New York – New York (1991).
Nine individual bronzes. Donation by H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden
and his sister Princess Desirée. Photo: Bill Jacobson
Solveyg W Schafferer: Portrait bust of Folke Bernadotte (1997).
Bronze. Photo: Bill Jacobson.
Carl Frederick Reuterswärd: Sketch for Non-Violence (1988).
Acrylic (est.) on board. Donation by the artist. Photo: Bill Jacobson
Sweden and the United Nations
Ever since becoming a member in 1946, active involvement in the
United Nations – as the core element of effective multilateralism –
has been a cornerstone of Sweden’s foreign policy.
For many, Dag Hammarskjöld, Secretary-General 1953–1961,
epitomises Sweden’s commitment to the world organisation. Other
Swedes that have served the UN in prominent positions include
Folke Bernadotte, the UN’s first mediator, and, more recently, Jan
Eliasson, both as President of the General Assembly, and currently as
Deputy Secretary-General. Agda Rössel was the world’s first female
Permanent Representative to the UN (1958–1964). Over the years,
some 80 000 Swedish military and civilian personnel have served
in UN peacekeeping operations worldwide. The long-standing
Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld in front of
the United Nations Headquarters in New York, 1 June 1953. UN Photo
United Nations Headquarters Building East View
from Queens. Photo: Bill Jacobson
Swedish support for the UN and the principles and purposes of the
UN Charter is based on the recognition that global challenges must
be met through international cooperation. This requires standards,
international agreements and institutions that cover, and are
respected by, all countries.
Within the UN framework, Sweden is actively involved in conflict
prevention, peacekeeping, peacebuilding, humanitarian operations,
international law and human rights, global sustainable development,
development cooperation, climate change and disarmament. Sweden
is also promoting reform of the UN system to enhance the ability of
the organisation to meet tomorrow’s challenges.
Sweden is one of the leading donors to the UN and one of the few
countries that, at 1 per cent of its gross national income (GNI),
exceeds by a broad margin the UN development assistance goal of
0.7 per cent of GNI. Sweden is actively working to help fulfil the UN
Millennium Development Goals and is engaged in the development
of the post-2015 agenda. Sweden is also one of the largest bilateral
humanitarian donors in the world and a key funder of several UN
bodies, including UNICEF, UNHCR, UNFPA, OCHA, UNDP and
UNRWA. By contributing financially and by being deeply involved
in the policy dialogue, Sweden aims to further increase the relevance,
efficiency and effectiveness of the UN development system.
The importance of close cooperation between the UN and
regional organisations will continue to grow. In this context, Sweden
seeks to contribute to closer ties between the UN and the EU.
Ann Edholm
Ann Edholm (born 1953) is one of the most talked-about painters in
Swedish contemporary art, exhibiting her work in both Sweden and
abroad. She is most well-known for her occasionally monumental
paintings that verge on pure abstraction and subtle Expressionism,
inspired by such artists as Barnett Newman, Caspar David Friedrich,
Matthias Grünewald and Kazimir Malevich. She has had several
solo exhibitions in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Uppsala, Nyköping,
Kristinehamn, Malmö, Berlin and London, and has participated in
group exhibitions in such places as Stockholm, New York, Bucharest,
Vilnius, Berlin, Frankfurt, Riga, Copenhagen, Amersfoort, Geneva
and Seville.
Sven Markelius
Sven Markelius (1889–1972) was one of Sweden’s most important
architects, playing a decisive role in the post-war urban planning
of Stockholm, including the creation of the model suburb of
Vällingby in the 1950s. He was one of the founding members of the
Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM) in 1928 and
participated in the Modernist housing section of the Stockholm
International Exhibition in 1930, an exhibition characterised as the
birth of Swedish Functionalism. In 1947, Markelius was nominated to
the Board of Design Consultants for the United Nations Secretariat
building in New York and was also responsible for the interior design
of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Chamber.
Marianne Richter
Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld in 1959. UN Photo.
Marianne Richter (1916–2010) was a well-known textile artist who
made a reputation for her carpets, long-pile rugs, and tapestries
decorating many Swedish homes in the 1950s and 1960s. Many
Swedish embassies throughout the world have been appointed
with her works as well. In the early 1950s, she was commissioned to
make the curtain for the ECOSOC Chamber at the United Nations
Headquarters in New York.
Facts and Figures about
Dialogos by Ann Edholm
Material: Pure wool in two qualities, felt and crepe
Size: Two pieces, each 6.95 by 14.07 metres
Produced by: HV Studio at KKV, Nacka 2012
Made by: Gun Aschan and Kirsi Mattila, under supervision of Marie-Louise Sjöblom
Project manager on behalf of the National Public Art Council Sweden: Lotta
Project manager on behalf of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Sweden: Henric
Financed by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Sweden and the National Public Art
Council Sweden
A gift from Sweden to the United Nations, 2013
Margareta Bergstrand
Senior Conservator at the Swedish National Heritage Board, Visby
Lars Byström
Chief conservator at Moderna Museet, Stockholm
Magdalena Malm
Director of the National Public Art Council Sweden. The Council is the state agency
for art in the public realm in Sweden and creates opportunities for contemporary art
to impact on public spaces through site-specific interventions and art collections.
The Council also has the mission of contributing to discussion and heightening an
awareness of the role art can play in the development of public space.
Bergstrand, Margareta, ‘United Nations – uniting professions? Restoring the UN
Building’, Multidisciplinary Conservation: a Holistic View for Historic Interiors,
ICOM-CC Interim Meeting Proceedings, Rome 2010.
Beskow, Bo, Dag Hammarskjöld – Ett porträtt, Alb. Bonniers boktryckeri,
Stockholm, 1968.
Betsky, A., Murphy, B., The U.N. Building, Thames & Hudson, London and New
York, 2005.
Dudley, G.A., A Workshop for Peace: Designing the United Nations Headquarters, The
MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, United Kingdom, 1994.
Finch, K., ‘Note on the damaging effect of flameproofing on a tapestry hanging’,
Studies in Conservation, 1969, pp. 132-135.
Hall, Thomas, Huvudstad i omvandling – Stockholms planering och utbyggnad under
700 år, Sveriges Radio, Stockholm, 1999.
Hammarskjöld, Dag (ed. Wilder Foote), Tal [Speeches], Kungl. boktryckeriet, P. A.
Norstedt & Söner, Stockholm, 1962.
Helperin, Silvia, Design – vad är det? Med fokus på H55, Kring Kärnan 33, Årsbok
2004, Kulturmagasinet, Helsingborgs museiförening, Helsingborg, 2004.
Lindroos, B., Att vara arkitekt kan vara att…, Arkitektur förlag, Stockholm, 2008.
Markelius, S., ‘ECOSOC:s rådssal i FN:s nybyggnad i New York’, Byggmästaren,
Nationalencyklopedin, ‘Marianne Richter’, Malmö, 2008.
Rudberg, Eva, Sven Markelius, arkitekt, Arkitektur förlag, Stockholm, 1989.
Tom Sandqvist
Writer and Professor of Art Theory and the History of Ideas as well as Docent in
Art History
Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Sweden (Carl Magnus Eriksson and Henric Råsbrant)
Sandqvist, Tom (ed.), Ann Edholm: Kropp och språk, rum och bild / Body and
Language, Space and Image 2001–2011, Brutus Östlings bokförlag Symposion,
Stockholm/Stehag, 2012.
Sandqvist, Tom (ed.), Ann Edholm – Måleriet en underbar sanning / Painting A
Wonderful Truth, Raster Förlag, Stockholm, 2000.
von Zweigbergk, E., Dagens Nyheter, 27 August 1952.
United Nations Archives
United Nations website
The National Public
Art Council