Between Construction and Collapse: Rickhard Exhibition Spans Five Decades

Photo: Christian Øen
Photo: Christian Øen

The Astrup Fearnley Museet unveiled its highly anticipated winter exhibition devoted to the late Norwegian painter Leonard Rickhard (1945-2024) this past weekend. Spanning over 50 years of the artist’s prolific career, “Between Construction and Collapse” offers an unparalleled opportunity to experience the full range of Rickhard’s meditative, psychologically complex body of work.

The exhibition, curated by Astrup Fearnley director Solveig Øvstebø, comprises over 80 paintings, including several early renderings of Rickhard’s most iconic motifs like deserted barracks, birch forests, and railway carriages. It also features new large-scale works completed just before the artist’s death on Jan. 7 at age 78, including monumental site-specific painting that is his most ambitious to date.

As the title suggests, an undercurrent of gravity runs through Rickhard’s oeuvre, as he returned again and again to images rooted in memories of his Norwegian childhood in the aftermath of World War II. His paintings give visual form to collective and personal anxieties left unspoken, inviting slowed, contemplative looking rather than offering neat conclusions.

“Rickhard presents us with painstakingly constructed images that do not provide simple answers; instead, they invite us to slow down our encounters with them,” Øvstebø said. “In this way, his paintings form a counterweight to the media-saturated image culture in which we are immersed.”

Photo: Christian Øen
Photo: Christian Øen

The exhibition is organized around Rickhard’s practice of revisiting a set of recurring motifs across decades, underscoring his lifelong commitment to the discipline of painting.

“There is an insistent quality to his dedication to the exploration of painting’s infinite possibilities,” Øvstebø said. “In an era of fleeting, ephemeral images, Rickhard insists that some images deserve sustained attention. They deserve to be returned to and explored yet again.”

The show moves through sequences of galleries, each spotlighting an iconic Rickhard motif, like “the bird cabinet,” “the night painter,” or “the model table.” This non-linear layout illuminates how he worked in parallel with these visual themes throughout his career rather than in a linear progression.

“Although many of his motifs belong to a fixed point in history, the images are also remarkably timeless, isolated from the hallmarks of any given time,” Øvstebø said. “This is in part what gives Rickhard’s paintings their rich and complex character—even when subject to repeated encounters in new exhibitions.”

The museum is also releasing an extensive monograph on Rickhard, co-edited by Øvstebø and art historian Steinar Sekkingstad, with contributions from international art critics. This catalogue promises to be an indispensable resource on an artist who, even after his passing, remains a touchstone of contemporary Norwegian painting.

Rickhard’s legacy will live on through the psychologically evocative visual worlds he meticulously constructed over a prolific six-decade career. “Between Construction and Collapse” is a must-see for appreciating the full evolution of his meditative, memory-infused art.

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