Vår Gård in Saltsjöbaden is a conference venue and training centre whose history illustrates political trends in Sweden over the past century and more.
1892. The Thiel brothers, two of Sweden’s wealthiest art patrons, buy a property by the sea in the new fashionable resort of Saltsjöbaden and build two luxurious summer mansions. They name the place Vår Gård, “Our Farmstead”.
1899. The Swedish Cooperative Union is founded.
1924. The Cooperative Union buys Vår Gård and adds a number of buildings to the property to house its new training centre and its art collection.
1932. Sweden’s first Labour government is elected.
1944. “The Rochdale Monument”, a large gate-like stone memorial by sculptor Nils Sjögren, is placed in a peripheral spot overlooking the sea at Vår Gård to mark the centennial of the founding of the world’s first co-op at Rochdale in England.
1950. Mot framtiden, “Towards the Future”, another sculpture by Sjögren, is erected in a dominant position at the entrance to the property. This heavy larger-than-life granite social-realist piece depicts a working-class couple and their children in a typical Stalinist / Maoist fashion, gazing steadily towards the horizon.
1976. Labour loses its first election since 1932.
The Cooperative Union has in recent years turned Vår Gård from a training centre into a commercial conference venue, hotel and spa. It’s a very non-co-op place these days. And somewhere along the line – ten years ago perhaps? – they decided that a brutal granite Stalin family might not be the best representatives to welcome the businesspeople who come to Vår Gård for conferences and spa workovers. So they had the piece moved out of the way. It currently sits off to one side, hidden by trees from the sea it faces, next to a parking lot with a dumpster. Towards the Future, indeed. But the dedication plaque is still on the original plinth at the entryway, suggesting confusingly that what the Cooperative Union erected there in 1950 was an ornate lamp post.
This kind of life history for a piece of sculpture is a post-modern archaeologist’s wet dream. And me? Though I admire Sjögren’s technique, I think it’s a pretty damn ugly piece of work.