Ruben Östlund’s The Square

By Cassandra d’Amico-Mazza

What exactly is the nature of curating Contemporary art in an ever changing, ever hostile world? That is the main question at the heart of Ruben Östlunds Palme DOr winning, The Square (2017), a sharp and poignant satirical dark comedy about the chief curator, Christian (Claes Bang) at a prestigious Swedish Contemporary art museum. The film takes place at the X-Royal Museum in Stockholm, where Christian and his team are gearing up for the opening of their newest installation, The Square. A literal square, this installation promises to be a place of refuge– a shared space that guests step into and become equal to one another. The message of the square is in stark contrast with the events of the film itself, as Christian’s life is unravelling: he is the victim of an elaborate theft, and his relationship with an American journalist (Elizabeth Moss) becomes fleeting and painful.

Östlund is a statement about the decadence of the art world, with its over the top parties, its thousand dollar soirées, and the exclusivity of its lexicon. While the Contemporary art world in particular seems ripe for satire, it is mainly used to contrast the main crux of the film, which examines the nature of what some deem frivolous in a world where starvation, violence, and war exist. Multiple shots of the homeless outside the museum and on Stockholms streets are juxtaposed against the vast art exhibits inside the museum itself, further highlighting this contrast. Though this contrast is prevalent, the film never criticizes Contemporary art. In fact, it is the artwork itself that brings to light the power of art to disseminate ideas of equality, fairness, and peace to the masses. Even if these values can only exist in a four-by-four meter space for now.

Images courtesy of festival-cannes.com