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Peter Geschwind 1966–2021

Peter Geschwind has passed away after a short illness. An exceptional artist, a notable educator, a highly esteemed colleague and a very dear friend has left us in great sorrow. 

One of his early works that immediately comes to mind is a fanciful little sculpture of a lower body, turned upside-down and clad in jeans and sneakers. From the trousers runs a cord with a switch which, when flipped on, causes the body to spin round and round. Here is so much of what will become Peter Geschwind’s artistic hallmark. A deliberately low-tech absurdism in which everyday objects are reused, redefined and charged with new meanings. And often bursting with pointed popular cultural comments for those who get it—yet teeming with a directness available to all.

Employing an impressive variety of materials, techniques and expressions, his works are consistently informed by a mildly mad and disarming humor that carries dark tones. Works with a DYI aesthetic and a conviction that most everything can be forged together, electrified and turned into impossible contraptions. Works that run counter to our ingrained sense of reality and open up a whole new world of endless possibilities. 

That world was Peter Geschwind’s very own: peculiar, captivating and artistically unique. But his door stood ever wide open—painted in all the colors of the rainbow like the kitchen cabinets of his studio in a reclaimed brewery—warmly welcoming us to step inside, friends, colleagues, coworkers and students alike. In that space, where everything gleamed alluringly with Peter’s sense of humor, imagination, curiosity and love of the world and art, we felt enchanted and lingered awhile. Like a magician or eccentric and versatile inventor, he gave life and meaning to things seemingly trifling and lifeless, and to which we are often blind. A bag filled with junk suddenly jumps to life; chairs are illuminated into an illusionist film sequence; a washing machine and a ketchup bottle soundtrack a rhythmic film loop. His art often brooded over a melancholic middle ground, the no man’s land of everyday existence untouched by airs and acclaim, the back alleys of gaming culture, the iconography of junk food, and the teenager in jeans and sneakers occupying the crevice between child and man.

Peter Geschwind was one of the more seminal artists in the recalibration of artistic expression and form that defined the early 1990s, when he featured in important exhibitions in Sweden and abroad. This dynamic, artistically revolutionary decade was recently summed up in the resplendent exhibition Generation at Borås Art Museum. This is where Peter Geschwind exhibited his work Soda Stream, a hypnotic perpetual motion machine pumping green soda through a jumble of plastic hoses. The starkly DIY attitude and self-organization of the times came in Peter Geschwind’s art to be articulated by the artist group, working from the artist and curator-run gallery Ynglingagatan 1. A game-changing venue for art in 1990s Stockholm, it helped formulate an active, open artistic attitude based on contemporary interest in art as social relations and with a disarming approach that arose in the cross-fire with the popular culture of the time. 

Here you can also see the contours of the opening of the artist’s role that Peter Geschwind subscribed to. The boundaries between artist, producer and educator would be dynamic, and not set in stone, and new artistic constellations and alliances were born from this flux. Much of his work was in collaboration with his wife and artistic partner Gunilla Klingberg, most recently a breathtakingly monumental sculpture of traffic signs, in a kind of maniacal implosion of contradictory signifiers and messages, in a parking garage in Linköping.

Between 2008‒2018, Peter Geschwind was Professor of Art, specializing in Sculpture, at the Royal Institute of Art. In many ways, an art academy was the perfect arena for his creative and artistic temperament. A place of opportunity where he could gather students, colleagues and guests in a ludic learning that was tangibly based on the creation of art in the workshop and studio. His unwavering belief in art as a safe zone and refuge, and in the artist as a person free to frame and define oneself, rubbed off as a resolute counterforce on an increasingly ossified and bureaucratized educational system. As an educator, he was boundlessly appreciated: curious, open to student’s vitality and individual expression, and with a strong conviction that an art academy must be a place for free experimentation and a refuge from the demands of the art world. 

Peter Geschwind was also acting rector in 2016–2017, a truly stormy time when the art academy was among other things damaged by a large-scale fire. During this time, Peter Geschwind was a mainstay, available around the clock, constantly attending to problems that others would find impossible, constantly on hand to assist and comfort, while also breaking new paths for the Institute.

Despite his many imposing and time-consuming assignments as a professor, rector and vice-rector, he was invariably productive as an artist with new works and exhibitions. A productivity he sustained during his last years with large public works, such as the sculpture group Arbete och Fritid in Ulvhälls Skulpturpark, an enigmatically dysfunctional outdoor gym that quietly ridicules our current creed of bodily perfection and efficiency. In the planning stage is also a large exhibition at Bonniers Konsthall, to open in the spring of 2023. 

Many of his later works dealt with illusion and visual tricks. One of these was, through its simple means, at once captivating and spooky: his wonderous work Poltergeist – Cheez Doodles, where he seemingly made a cheese puff bag magically hover above a podium. For me, this floating bag, which now graces my office at the Royal Institute, packs a far-reaching message—at once utterly ordinary, yet impossible—from Peter Geschwind to us all: in the world of art, everything is, and shall be, possible.

Sara Arrhenius, Vice-Chancellor

A condolence book will be available in the entrance to the Royal Institute of Art from 23 November, along with a portrait of Peter Geschwind.