Seven Stockholm Influencers on the City’s Expanding Art Scene
Curious about the gap between Sweden’s abundant art community—and the international audience’s hazy awareness of it—I spoke with a handful of tastemakers firmly installed in the Stockholm scene. Despite varied interests and ages, there was a common takeaway from our conversations: The once-insular Swedish art world is more actively letting outsiders in, and encouraging its artists, curators, and collectors to go beyond Scandinavian borders.
With three years under its belt and just around 400 Instagram posts under its hashtag, Stockholm Art Week feels untapped—just like its namesake city’s tight-knit art community. Market, the 10-year-old contemporary fair that opens this Friday, headlines a week spanning three art fairs, an art book fair, numerous panels, and countless exhibitions in a largely unexposed network of museums, foundations, galleries, and alternative art spaces. Below, Jonas Dahlberg, Magdalena Malm, Erik Nordenhake, Alida Ivanov, Jan Widlund, Ciléne Andréhn, and Marina Schiptjenko—key players within the Scandinavian art scene—give a cross-sectional glimpse into a community in the throes of expansion.
Jonas Dahlberg, artist
Jonas Dahlberg, who will be featured in a solo booth at Market with Galerie Nordenhake, recently won the competition to design the 22 July Memorial, commemorating the 2011 attack on a Norwegian summer camp. His work is conceptual in scope and often architectural in scale. Having lived between Malmö, Berlin, and New York, he has found his way back to Stockholm several times. This might have to do with the northern sun that floods his Stockholm studio (which I spotted during our Skype video call), the city’s myriad experimental art spaces, or the government’s deep, generous pockets when it comes to supporting art: “The most important difference for an artist living in Sweden versus other communities are the state-funded working grants,” he told me. “A lot of artists are vying for these—and a lot of artists are getting them. This has meant that many artists in Sweden, long before the PhD programs for practical art were introduced, have been able to be a bit more research-orientated than the market—and the money that the market generates—normally allows.”
He also noted the state’s support of not-for-profit exhibition spaces modelled after the kunsthalle: “In the suburbs of Stockholm, we have a few of the best places that globally address society today, but also act almost site-specifically in relation to the community where they are placed. I am thinking of places like Marabouparken konsthall, Tensta konsthall, Botkyrka konsthall, and Konsthall C. And also Index, of course.”
Magdalena Malm, director of Public Art Agency Sweden
From an office lined with large windows that look out over Vasastan, one of Stockholm’s two main art districts (also home to Dahlberg’s studio, Galerie Nordenhake, and Andréhn-Schiptjenko), Magdalena Malm explained her mission to redefine the notion of public art in Sweden: “I would like us to think of it less as a sculpture in a square and more as any kind of contemporary art in the context of public space. Because the funding system for public art has historically been connected to buildings and thus permanency, it hasn’t followed the expansion of contemporary art into all kinds of media and expressions.”
With this sentiment, Malm has collaborated with Swedish and international artists on both permanent and performative works. She is also passionate about creating new platforms for politically driven public art and last year brought New York nonprofit Creative Time’s Summit to Stockholm: “Collaborating with Creative Time to produce the Summit was a way to bring together different perspectives on public art with a social and political focus. It was broadcasted to around 80 locations, so the conversation became part of this big, wide, wild, rich field of global public art.”
Alida Ivanov, independent curator
Alida Ivanov exuberantly wears many hats. She is co-producer of the Stockholm Art Book Fair, manager at ELASTIC Gallery (which is exhibiting at Market), and curator of an exhibition of new sound work by Theodore Trottner, which is tucked into art advisor Eva Livijn’s home. After 10 years of working between galleries, museums, and alternative spaces in Stockholm, she has little desire to leave.
With a soundtrack of installation commotion in the background (ELASTIC was preparing for a screening of a new video by Nadine Byrne), she explained: “The strength with Stockholm is that even if Sweden feels quite separate geographically, it’s close enough to the rest of Europe that it’s easy to engage with different contexts. There’s always been a curiosity about what happens outside of Stockholm and Sweden, but I definitely see a difference in accessibility and ease that didn’t really exist when I started working in 2005. At the time, if you showed an international artist at a gallery, no one would come. Now there’s more of a give and take between Sweden and the international community.”
Erik Nordenhake, co-owner of Belenius/Nordenhake
Erik Nordenhake and Niklas Belenius own Belenius/Nordenhake, a gallery founded in 2014 with a new home just across a canal from the Moderna Museet museum. At ages 26 and 32 respectively, they represent a young vanguard of artists (Ilja Karilampi, Alexander Gutke, among others), along with older pioneers of spoken word and performance art (Leif Elggren, Sten Hanson). From the gallery’s project room—during a break from preparing for their first booth at Market—Nordenhake spoke of the challenges that aspects of old-guard Swedish culture pose for a progressive art community.
“On one hand, you have incredible amounts of money here in Sweden, relative to its size, and you definitely have people who are able to buy art,” he said. “On the other hand, our culture is unlike big cities like Berlin, New York, and Paris, where art is written into the cultural DNA of the city. It’s not expected of the upper classes to collect contemporary art in the same way it might be in other countries, so that’s a cultural condition that we’re of course trying to change—and things are definitely changing.”
Jan Widlund, lawyer and collector
Jan Widlund has been buying art for some 30 years. While his collection of over 100 works represents an international sweep of artists, more than 90% was purchased within Stockholm’s city limits. He is known as a prominent lawyer and also one of the first to bring progressive contemporary art into the city’s unadorned workplace aesthetic—decking the law firm’s walls with his collection.
From a home that he shares with his wife and works by Jack Pierson, Sigmar Polke, Fia Backström, and Clay Ketter (to name just a few), he reminisced about his first years of collecting: “While my colleagues were buying shares in companies, I bought art. For a very long time, I felt quite alone and was one of the only visible collectors who visited galleries regularly. I picked about 15 galleries that I went to loyally and still frequent today.” Recently, as collectors in his hometown have become more numerous and the market more international, his focus has shifted back to artists working around him: “When I started, my eye was on the international, but during the last few years I’ve been more restricted to Swedish art. I’m changing my strategy.”
Ciléne Andréhn and Marina Schiptjenko, owners of Andréhn-Schiptjenko
After becoming fast friends in 1990, Ciléne Andréhn and Marina Schiptjenko opened their eponymous gallery in 1991. “It just seemed like a no-brainer that we would [work] together—we each borrowed €2,500 from our mothers and biked around town looking for a space,” recalled Andréhn. United by an interest in art happening outside Sweden, the pair quickly established one of the first contemporary galleries in Scandinavia with an international artist roster. “Both of us grew up in environments where the viewpoint was more global, so Sweden was feeling like a pretty boring and provincial place,” she said. “Plus, it would not have been possible to survive on the Swedish market alone when we first opened.”
Since then, Andréhn has experienced the growth of Stockholm’s art community; however, she still sees room for improvement when it comes to Sweden’s engagement with culture and patronage. “Sweden was urbanized and industrialized very late and very quickly, so politically the focus has been on creating an equal distribution of material wealth, healthcare, education, etc.—not on culture, and certainly not on professional culture, which was seen as ‘elitist.’” She added, “I of course support a focus on equality, democracy, and transparency, I just wish there were more room in our society for the non-conformist and more respect for non-material values.”