Per B Sundberg’s Kitschy, Dark, Twisted Fantasy
The sculptor and master glassworker Per B Sundberg has been situated within a group of Swedish designers making particularly un-Swedish art: twisted, dark, and kitschy, his work stands in opposition to the simplicity and minimalism most often associated with his home country. But “craft has been far from art,” the artist has said, “and so much good stuff has not been done.”
Sundberg spent much of his career learning a meticulous and labor-intensive set of crafts only to subvert such training with crass humor and a refashioning of the process itself. For almost a decade he worked at Orrefors Glassworks, a prestigious maker of high-quality glassware, founded at the turn of the 19th century in a small Swedish village. It was there that he developed a process through which glassworks could be imprinted with commercial decals in a manner similar to earthenware. Yet much of the art that he has shown has aimed to upend the traditional design concepts that he had mastered. Sundberg is known for taking domestically useful and functional objects—vases, table lamps—and mutating them into to be unusable forms.
Sundberg’s anti-taste sculptures often integrate readymade objects, such as figurines picked up in thrift shops, with the artist’s own constructions. The combination of animals and humans—as well as sex organs and fungi—has remained central to his sculptures, which paint eerie and often shocking dystopian tableaux. In recent works he pays particular attention to skulls, working with earth tones and glazes to tint earthenwares in visceral, bodily colors evocative of earth, sperm, blood, or plastics.
The legacy of Sundberg’s career has been to change the expectation of what glass and earthenwares look like and what a master can do with his skill. In Sundberg’s latest works, he finds beauty in the collision between formal, recognizable crafts and off-putting symbols of death and decay.