Otto G. Carlsund. Rapid, 1930. AKO Art Foundation/The Tangen Collection

The Tangen Collection – ten questions and answers

Tangen-samlingen | The Tangen Collection 02.08.2021

You may have some questions regarding the Tangen Collection and how it is managed. Beate Mjaaland, director of the AKO Art Foundation, answers some of them here.

1. Who is Nicolai Tangen?

“Nicolai Tangen comes from Kristiansand and is the CEO of Norges Bank Investment Management, which manages e.g. the Government Pension Fund Global – aka the Norwegian Oil Fund. Nicolai Tangen is also a trained art historian with a passionate love for art.”

2. What does the Tangen Collection consist of?

“The Tangen Collection is the largest and most comprehensive private collection of Nordic art, ranging from the early modernists in the 1920s to around 1990. The photography section also includes contemporary photographs. The collection consists of over 4000 works and is continually being expanded. It contains paintings, prints, sculptures, photographs, videos, conceptual art, drawings and textiles.”

Per Kleiva. Den amerikanske angsten/the american angst, 1971. Oil on canvas. AKO Kunstsilo/Tangen-samlingen
Per Kleiva. Den amerikanske angsten, 1971. AKO Kunststiftelse/Tangen-samlingen.

3. What’s unique about the Tangen Collection?

“The collection itself is unique. No other museum collection anywhere in the world has the Nordic modernists as its main focus. Nicolai Tangen doesn’t necessarily go for what is biggest and best known; he selects artists that he finds interesting and wants to study in more detail. It is also unusual for a museum collection to be in constant development.”

4. Why is the Tangen Collection located in Kunstsilo?

“Nicolai wanted to donate his collection to his hometown. It was decided in 2016 to include the collection in the AKO Foundation, which then signed an agreement with Sørlandets Kunstmuseum on perpetual right of disposal in Kunstsilo.”

Kernn-Larsen, Rita Tittel Skitse til Valmuen (
Rita Kernn-Larsen, Skitse til Valmuen, udatert. AKO Kunststiftelse/Tangen-samlingen.

5. When was this collection started?

“The first work Tangen bought, was the painting “Kunstnerens atelier” (The artist’s studio) by the Norwegian modernist Johannes Rian, in the mid-1990s. In other words, this collection, which has been described as one of the world’s deepest, most wide-ranging and important collections of Nordic   modernist art, has been built up in the course of 25 years.”

6. Which artists stand out in the Tangen Collection?

“Of Norwegian artists one might mention Gunnar S. Gundersen, Zdenka Rusova, Per Kleiva, Reidar Aulie, Johs. Rian, Mette Tronvoll, Anna-Eva Bergman, Rolf Nesch, Marianne Heske, Bjørn Ransve and Ryszard Warsinski.

The Finnish section is very strong and contains masterpieces by the pioneers in Finnish modernism, such as Sam Vanni, Birger Carlstedt, Lars-Gunnar Nordström and Ernst Mether-Borgström. We also have a wonderful collection of Finnish photographic art, including Elina Brotherus’ series “Seabound” from Norway’s South Coast. Olle Bærtling, Otto Carlsund, Agnes Cleve, Ola Billgren and Sigrid Hjertén are some of the Swedish artists represented. The Danish artists are represented by e.g. Albert Mertz, Asger Jorn, Rita Kernn-Larsen, Vilhelm Bjerke-Petersen and Per Kirkeby.

What they all have in common is their high artistic quality – a definite requirement for being included in this collection.”

Aulie, Reidar Tittel Serpentiner II (NOB: anvendt)
Reidar Aulie. Serpentiner II, 1941. AKO Kunststiftelse/Tangen-samlingen

7. Which works stand out?

“There are many amazing pieces in this collection. Per Kleiva’s “Den amerikanske angsten” (The American Angst) is a powerful and striking painting. Synnøve Anker Aurdal’s textile “Solen” (the Sun) is a lyrical work close to nature, while Otto G. Carlsund’s “Rapid” is a fantastic example of international concretism. “Serpentiner” (Streamers) is a good example of Reidar Aulie’s socially engaged art, while Asger Jorn’s “Den avskyelige snømann” (the Abominable Snowman) is an example of the Cobra painters’ semi-figurative expressionism.  And of course, Marianne Heske’s sculpture “Gjerdeløa” (The Gjerde hay barn) has been much discussed in the media.”

8. What is Nordic modern art?

“That is hard to define, since modernism covers a great many things. ‘Modern art’ means that it is different from what used to be, something new; but there are many different branches. In Norway, the modernist period can be seen in connection with the development of the welfare state after 1945. Art contributed to building the democratic Norway, since many artists chose to express themselves through prints. Prints were something people could afford to buy, even after the war. Another important branch of modernism is constructivism, which might be viewed as part of the rebuilding after the Second World War. Both branches are well represented in the Tangen Collection.

Nicolai’s interest began with abstract, geometrical language. As he learnt more, he also gained an interest in surrealism and expressionism, and this is reflected in the collection. There is also fine figurative art within modernism, e.g. represented by Else Hagen and Ola Billgren.”

Marianne Heske. Prosjekt Gjerdeløa, 1980.

9. Will the Tangen Collection be used to exchange works with other museums? 

“Exhibitions in cooperation with other institutions are becoming more and more common, and there is no doubt that this collection gives Kunstsilo some very exciting opportunities. If we lend out, we might also be able to borrow, and indeed one can swap entire exhibitions for a while – it just depends on the institution we will be partnering with.”

10. In what ways are you working to expand the collection?

“We are working with consultants in various countries in our search for new works. We are actively looking for ‘forgotten’ artists, and we like to go deep. Unlike most museums, we do not have a fixed budget; it is up to the foundation how much we spend. We buy at auctions, from galleries or privately, and it is always Nicolai Tangen who has the last word. As an art historian and collector for 25 years he is very knowledgeable and discerning.”

Beate Mjaaland, director of the AKO Art Foundation.

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