Pontus Hultén is lying on the floor and talking on the phone. In the foreground is a car covered with plastic

Pontus Hultén in the exhibition The Machine at MoMA in New York, 1968 Photo: Ad Petersen © Ad Petersen

Utopias and Visions

On the legacy of Pontus Hultén and his time

18.11 2022


How do the visions of mythical museum-man Pontus Hultén live on in today’s art institutions? Welcome to a symposium on Pontus Hultén, his time, and his deed. Listen to former collaborators, curators, researchers, writers and artists examine Hultén’s legacy and the contexts in which he worked.

In the summer of 1971, an art exhibition was held on the old shooting range behind what had once been a Swedish Navy prison on Skeppsholmen island in Stockholm. The exhibition “Utopias and Visions 1871–1981” drew from a number of utopian scenarios, starting with the Paris Commune in 1871. In addition to an eclectic mix of materials relating to everyday life during the short duration of the commune, the exhibition also presented the architect Buckminster Fuller’s “World Game”, and discussed issues concerning the nature of future communications.

The exhibition is remembered in part for the construction of a geodesic dome, where the artist Moki Cherry and the jazz musician Don Cherry, lived throughout the summer. It was here that they performed music, created set designs and costumes, and staged happenings together with the public.

“Utopias and Visions” was one of the many initiatives and projects conceived by Pontus Hultén during his time as a curator and later as the director of Moderna Museet in Stockholm. All of these demonstrate his fundamental view of art as an integral part of the society in which it exists as well as his firm belief in the creative freedom of artists. The mission of the museum was to create a space for every form of artistic expression.

The symposium will consist of lectures and discussions. Over the course of the day, former colleagues, curators, researchers, writers and artists will examine the legacy that Pontus Hultén has left, as well as the legendary 1960s as a whole, from a multitude of viewpoints. How have Hultén’s visions been upheld by today’s art institutions? How can his curatorial achievements best be described? And what expectations do we have on the future modern art museum?

From the exhibition “Utopias and Visions 1871–1981”
Utopias and Visions 1871–1981, 1971 Photo: Erik Cornelius/Moderna Museet
Concert in the geodesic dome
Utopias and Visions 1871–1981, 1971 Photo: Erik Cornelius/Moderna Museet


Recent decades have seen an increase of research in fields such as exhibition history and the role of the curator. One consequence of this is the continuous stream of requests from researchers in Sweden and elsewhere for access to the Moderna Museet archives and collection.

Initially research focused on the legendary formative years of Hultén’s curatorial practices, but interest has now entered a new phase, with several exhaustive studies and dissertations providing in-depth analyses of his later activities and his extensive network of contacts. One of the most recent publications which have cast light onto this renowned museum curator is journalist and author Claes Britton’s book “Pontus Hultén. Den moderna konstens anförare. En biografi” published by Albert Bonniers Förlag in 2022.

Moderna Museet has managed the project Pontus Hultén and Moderna Museet – research and learning, based on an art collection, an archive and a library. This project has resulted in a number of symposiums, programmes and two publications: “Pontus Hultén and Moderna Museet. The Formative Years” (2017), and “Pontus Hultén and Moderna Museet. From Stockholm To Paris” (2022).

Pontus Hultén

Pontus Hultén (1924–2006) worked with Moderna Museet from 1958 to 1973. His international network of contacts enabled him to build a unique collection of modern art during his time as the director of the museum. With exhibitions such as “Movement in Art” (1961), “She – A cathedral” (1966) and “Andy Warhol” (1968); as well as an experimental programme of activities, ranging from performance art to film and contemporary music, Hultén cemented the museum’s reputation as a trailblazer, pioneering what a modern art museum can be.

When he was appointed as the director of the National Museum of Modern Art at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, he took his experiences from Moderna Museet with him, and he remained there until 1981. Later on he enjoyed tenures of varying lengths in different senior positions at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Palazzo Grassi in Venice, the Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland in Bonn, and the Museum Jean Tinguely in Basel.

In parallel with his museum positions, he was commissioned to design and assume responsibility for the graduate school education at Institut des hautes études en arts plastiques (IHEAP) in Paris, which operated from 1988 to 1995. From 1997 Hultén worked on the planning of Vandalorum, a museum for art and design in Värnamo, Sweden, where he also curated the exhibition “The True History of the Vandals” in 2001.

In 2005 Hultén donated his collection of art and literature, as well as his own personal archive, that contains letters, notes, photographs and other material, to Moderna Museet.

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