Founded in 1964, Galleri Karlsson, was the inspired idea of Bo Karlsson. Emerging out of the jazz-flavored, Leftist Stockholm underground, Galleri Karlsson became the epicenter of the countercultural movement in Sweden.
Karlsson’s ability to gather artists together allowed for a strong and cohesive underground movement. The myriad of art events ranging from painting, photography, installations, Swedish Lettrist stylings, happenings, and jazz concerts, endeared Bo to his artists. Perhaps above his progressive views on exhibition and aesthetics, Karlsson also took a much lower cut than any other Stockholm gallery, securing his central place in the Swedish underground. Exhibited artists included: Lars Hillersberg, Lena Svedberg, Ulf Rahmberg, Carl Johan De Geer, Marie-Louise De Geer, Ture Sjolander, and it was at Galleri Karlsson that Anders Petersen first unveiled the celebrated images from the ‘Café Lehmitz’ photography series.
The gallery achieved turbulent notoriety on April 29th, 1967 when Carl Johan De Geer and his wife Marie-Louise were exhibiting a collection of silk screens.
Opening night offered a contradictory conflux of artists, radicals, politicians, media people, Swedish establishment members, and nobility, as the De Geer family comes from royal blood. The response to the radical work on display predictably varied from enthusiasm to loathing. The Master of Ceremonies of the Royal Family, present at the opening, stated: “the De Geer family had to make themselves noticed one way or another.”
Garnering the most attention at Galleri Karlsson was a triptych of striking posters with confrontational language scrawled across nationalistic images. The first poster stated “Skanda Flaggan, Vagra Vapen” (Desecrate the Flag, Refuse to Bear Arms) featuring an image of a burning Swedish flag. Written across the flag: “KUKEN” (DICK).
The second poster presented: ‘Vagra Vapen, Vagra Morda’ (Refuse to Bear Arms, Refuse to Be a Murderer). The third silk screen, with an American flag that had its stars replaced with swastikas stated: ‘USA MORDARE’ (USA MURDERERS). Per Bjurstrom, Sweden’s leading expert in fine printing, purchased copies of all three works on behalf of his then employer, the Swedish National Museum.
At sunrise the following morning, the police, assisted by a locksmith, entered the gallery and went about confiscating and destroying all available copies of the flag posters. 31 of a total 35 copies of ‘Vagra, Vopen’, 30 of 35 total copies of ‘Skanda Flaggan’, and 11 of a possible 20 copies ‘USA MORDARE’ were destroyed by authorities.
“An interesting thing about this case is freedom of speech for artists does not exist, art does fall under freedom of expression in Swedish society, to express an opinion through a work of art is the same as standing and yelling on a street corner, you can be arrested for disturbance of the peace or the desecration of a national symbol, nowadays as it was back then.” - Carl Johan De Geer, 2004
LENA SVEDBERG (1946-1972)
The astonishing visual artist, Lena Svedberg, committed suicide at the age of 26. A compulsive draftswoman, she was a romantic and debauched personality that symbolized the apex of sentiment and identity for the Stockholm underground. Svedberg avoided galleries making her work hard to obtain. Additionally, her motifs were so disturbing she became an artist that categorically “didn’t sell”, adding to her rarity.
Carl Johan De Geer’s masterful melancholic documentary (to be screened upon request) ‘I Remember Lena Svedberg’ recalls Lena Svedberg as constantly drawing, in fact she drew so often that she ran out of motifs, consequently making her the greatest political artist in Puss Magazine.
PUSS MAGAZINE (1968-1974)
Spanning a mere twenty-four issues, Puss (Kiss) was a strangely explicit and confrontationally political publication that began its run in January 1968.
Bo Karlsson, inspired by counterculture periodicals such as The Village Voice, East Village Other, and England’s Oz Magazine, commenced Bazaar in 1967. The publication folded after second issue. Yet, Bazaar had paved the way for the existence of Puss.
The editorial staff of Puss consisted of Lars Hillersberg, Lena Svedberg, Carl Johan De Geer, Leif Katz, and Ulf Rahmberg.
Unlike other underground magazines, Puss became a satire-driven art zine full of radical politics and sexual liberation. Puss dealt with the battle and confusion of the increasingly political correctness of the left, inciting rancor in both liberals and the right wing. Armed with their anti-capitalist, anti-USA stanza, they equally irritated the Swedish Stalinist and Maoist Left.
Writing reports from the United States, was Oyvind Fahlstrom, who had been working in New York City since his involvement in the mixed-media performance ‘Kisses Sweeter Than Wine’ in 1966 (produced with John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, and David Tudor). Fahlstrom provide Puss with information on the East Village and the New York Art Scene with its radical living, street theater, and underground media.
1969 saw Fahlstrom’s feature-length film completed. ‘Du Gamla Du Fria’ (the title of the Swedish national anthem) ended up providing the quintessential cinematic depiction of Swedish underground and Left-wing culture.
Puss did not reverberate strongly with the greater society of Sweden at the time. It was far too radical, too strange to fully comprehend. Yet each passing decade sees more and more people sympathizing with its groundbreaking work.