Later this month, Stockholm will unveil its first-ever photography museum. It'll spring from the shell of an early 20th-century pier building, a triumph of historic preservation in a city whose building stock dates back more than 700 years. It'll showcase the most famous photogs around (Annie Leibovitz, Joel-Peter Witkin, Lennart Nilsson), raising Stockholm's middling status in the international arts scene. And on the day that it opens—May 21, 2010—ABBA fans everywhere will shed a tear.
That's because the building was supposed to house the ABBA Museum, a spangly, bell-bottomed homage to the fourth best-selling musical act of all time. Now, there'll be in utero babies instead of catsuits, Brad Pitt, Las Vegas instead of Björn and Agnetha in 3-D. For true devotees, it'll be their own personal (you'll excuse the pun) Waterloo.
The rest of us are just glad to see a cool old building put to use. Designed by the prolific Swedish architect Ferdinand Boberg in 1910, the Stora Tullhuset was the main customs stop for trade ships pulling ashore in Stockholm, before harbor commerce started migrating outside the city in the 1970s. The building sat more or less abandoned, until the ABBA folks came sniffing around. There, they drew up plans to build a museum showing off "the latest interactive technology, which will allow visitors of all ages to ... sing and dance along with ABBA music," according to Wikipedia. It was to have "the largest ABBA shop in the world." But financial woes in the middle of construction ground the whole thing to a halt. Enter Fotografiska.
The design moves are pretty simple here. The architects kept the space airy and open, and they were smart enough to let the photos do the talking. Unfortunately, that meant boarding up the building's best asset—its oversized windows, which have postcard views of this Venice of the North—to protect the work. (Though the window coverings can open like doors for exhibits that aren't sensitive to light.)
There are some whimsical details. "All the design principles came from the photographic arts," says Torsten Nobling, a principal at AIX, one of three architecture firms that worked on the museum. So the bathrooms are designed like darkrooms (above). And the color scheme is black, white, and gray. Like black and white photographs. For a photography museum. Get it?
The marquee exhibit features 194 Leibovitz photographs that, in the words of the museum, "project a unified narrative of the artist's private life against the backdrop of her public image." Sounds grand!
Of course, for those more partial to Dancing Queen, there's always ABBAWORLD.