Man standing in the exhibition hall surrounded by works of art.

Pontus Hultén in the exhibition Önskemuseet, Moderna Museet, 1963 Photo: Anders Engman

Pontus Hultén and Moderna Museet

Research and learning based on an art collection, an archive and a collection of books.

Pontus Hultén (1924–2006) and his activities have attracted a markedly increased interest in recent years. Research in the fields of exhibition history and curatorial practices is growing internationally. Moderna Museet is receiving more and more requests from scholars in Sweden and abroad regarding Pontus Hultén and the first ten years of the Museum’s history.

The purpose of the project

Since September 2015, we have engaged in the research project Pontus Hultén and Moderna Museet – research and learning based on an art collection, an archive and a library. The objective of the project is to perform an inventory and to process material in the Museum’s archives and collection with links to Pontus Hultén, and to explore the legacy of the legendary 1960s and its implications for the Museum today. By letting researchers analyse this material, we can deepen and expand our understanding of the period. The project is a continuation of the long-term initiative for research on Moderna Museet’s collection and history, and to present the results to the Museum’s large audience in exhibitions, catalogues, articles, symposiums and various events.

Pontus Hultén standing in front of a window.
Pontus Hultén in Paris, 1954 Photo: Lennart Olson © Hallands Konstmuseum
Black and white photograph of Pontus Hultén and Claes Oldenburg holding two tubes from a large vacuum cleaner.
Pontus Hultén and Claes Oldenburg at Moderna Museet, 1966 Photo: Hans Hammarskiöld

Who was Pontus Hultén?

Pontus Hultén was the director of Moderna Museet from 1958 to 1973. During his time at the Museum, he built the collection and the Museum’s international reputation, with exhibitions such as Movement in Art (1961), 4 Americans (1962), The Museum of Our Wishes (1963-64), and Andy Warhol (1968). In his will in 2005, he bequeathed his art collection (some 800 works), his library (some 7,000 volumes), and his archive to Moderna Museet.

The research project

The research project Pontus Hultén and Moderna Museet – research and learning based on an art collection, an archive and a library was launched in autumn 2015.

The project’s first book Pontus Hultén and Moderna Museet. The Formative Years (2017) was published in connection with the symposium Lose Yourself! in February 2017, at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. With a preface by Daniel Birnbaum and an introduction, it focuses on the years from 1956 to the mid-1960s, presenting five new articles on the exhibitions Inner and Outer Space (1965-66) and Movement in Art (1961), the avant-garde film festival Apropos Eggeling (1958), Pontus Hultén’s close friendship and collaborations with the artists Sam Francis and Claes Oldenburg, and the pedagogical activities in the Museum’s early years in connection with three exhibitions. In addition to the five articles, the book includes a previously unpublished text by Pontus Hultén himself from 1962, outlining his ideas on how a modern art museum should be run.

Pontus Hultén and Moderna Museet. From Stockholm to Paris (2022) is the second book and the concluding part of a research project spanning several years. It deals with the later part of Pontus Hultén’s period at Moderna Museet, from the mid-1960s to 1973, when he left Stockholm for Paris. It also looks at a few of the projects he worked on after Moderna Museet, which are richly represented in Pontus Hultén’s archive.

The long introduction highlights the exhibitions Andy Warhol (1968), Bernd and Hilla Becher (1970), the presentations of Joseph Beuys and Günter Uecker (1971), and Utopias and Visiolns 1871–1981 (1971). The ensuing chapters discuss the exhibitions She – A Cathedral (1966) at Moderna Museet in Stockholm and The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age, which Pontus Hultén produced in 1968 for the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The contents of Pontus Hultén’s library is analysed, focusing on some primary sources of inspiration that influenced his career from the start.

The final piece is about the art school, or institute of higher studies in visual art, Institut des hautes études en arts pastiques (IHEAP) in Paris, which existed from 1988 to 1995. An interview with Pontus Hultén from 1971 from the French art magazine Opus International is also included, in which he reflects on the museum of the future.

Niki de Saint Phalle paints the outside of Hon - a cathedral with a brush.
From the exhibition She – A Cathedral, Moderna Museet, 1966 Photo: Hans Hammarskiöld / Moderna Museet © Niki de Saint Phalle, Jean Tinguely, Per Olof Ultvedt / Bildupphovsrätt 2017

The project group

The project is financed by the Swedish Arts Council’s funding for research on Central Museums. The research team includes in-house researchers Annika Gunnarsson (curator of prints and drawings), Ylva Hillström (curator, learning), and Anna Tellgren (curator of photography and research manager). The external researcher Anna Lundström, Stockholm University, works part-time on the project, and her assignment includes heading the process of assembling material from the archive for presentations in the Study Gallery.

Published 22 April 2016 · Updated 16 November 2022