The exhibition At Arm’s Length. Hundred years of Nordic art consists exclusively of works from the Tangen Collection and can be enjoyed at the Artipelag Museum just outside Stockholm between 11 March and 1 October.
The Museum is situated in an idyllic setting in Värmdö in the Stockholm archipelago. In the natural surroundings around the building, there is a collection of about 20 sculptures. Per Kirkeby’s work is amongst the ones featured there.
The idea behind the exhibition is to present a mentality that’s been common amongst Nordic artists throughout history as well as how the artists operated and were influenced while living abroad in European metropolises.
“Since the Tangen Collection contains a wide breadth of works spanning from the beginning of the 20th century and to the present day, we have tried to take a look at the connections that existed between artists in the Nordic countries during the various eras,” says Bo Nilsson, Curator and Museum Director at the Artipelag Museum.
Most of the works in the Tangen Collection have of recent times been in storage awaiting Kunstsilo’s completion in Kristiansand. Therefore, several works at the Artipelag Museum are being shown for the first time.
“I think this exhibition has turned out to be incredibly exciting,” says Beate Mjaaland, Director of the AKO Art Foundation, which owns the Tangen Collection. “It is also educational since the Artipelag has chosen to focus on the connections between the Nordic artists in the Tangen Collection.”
She explains that in the beginning of the 20th century Nordic art academies did not offer many opportunities to explore the new artistic movements taking place in Europe. Consequently, many Nordic artists chose to study at free art schools in Copenhagen, Paris, or Berlin.
“They explored new artistic trends as well as bohemian life there. They made both professional and personal connections amongst themselves in the way of becoming colleagues, friends, and partners. They also formed relationships with other European artists, but as the title of the exhibition alludes to, they initially kept themselves at arm’s length from them. Eventually, the Nordic modernists became integrated into the avant-garde milieu and, later, in the artistic communities in New York as well. I think that the choice of artists and works in this exhibition shows this development in a remarkable way. And now, an arm’s length distance no longer exists between the Nordic and global modernists,” says Mjaaland.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Henri Matisse, who eventually would go on to become one of the century’s most influential artists, started an academy for foreign artists. One part of the exhibition takes this as its starting point.
“In total, 40 Nordic artists studied under Matisse. For the most part they consisted of Norwegians and Swedes, and they worked side by side,” says Nilsson.
Among the Norwegian artists were Henrik Sørensen, Axel Revold, Charlotte Wankel and Per Krohg. The Swedes included Sigrid Hjertén, Leander Engström, Isaac Grünewald and Einar Jolin.
“What we have taken a special interest in is the fact that the Swedish artists followed Matisse’s artistry very closely while the Norwegians were more interested in Paul Cézanne, who was Matisse’s main inspiration. When they returned to Norway, they were influenced mostly by Cézanne,” he says.
As curator, he has also focused on the period after the First World War when Scandinavians again began to travel to Europe. They especially went to Paris where Fernand Léger’s art school became one of importance for Nordic artists.
“Léger was eclectic, and he instructed everyone to have their own approach. He also thought art should reflect society. He created many public works and was closely connected to several of the great architects of that time. He thought that art wasn’t for the wealthy. Instead, the mission of art was to change society. The Swedish artists also took note of that,” says Nilsson.
The exhibition also includes a section that covers surrealism and a room featuring, among others, Reidar Aulie and Sven “X-et” Erixson, who were very close friends.
“Especially during difficult, complicated times, Nordic artists grew very close to one another. Another thing that happened during this period was that many of them developed their political activism in connection to the war. Aulie, for example, was quite naïve in his artistic expression before this time. However, from 1940 and on his work became more political,” says Nilsson.
One section of the exhibition details three different aspects of the artistic milieu in Paris after World War II while another one portrays ‘the global city’.
“This means that during the 1960s, 70s and 80s, and up to today, Paris no longer plays as major of a role in the art world as it once did. Artists now take their cues from different cultural milieus,” he explains.
The final part of the exhibition features the photo series Seabound, which the Finnish artist Elina Brotherus made in Southern Norway on a commission from the AKO Art Foundation.
“We concluded the exhibition there in order to continue a line that runs further on ahead to Kunstsilo,” says Nilsson.
In total there are 150 works in the exhibition divided up amongst about fifty artists.
“The Tangen Collection is quite rich and exciting. Its assembly has been based on a feeling for art and consequently it has a distinctive character about it. Also, it is wonderful that Kunstsilo doesn’t only focus on national art but extends itself into Nordic art as well. That’s unique,” says Nilsson.
“What would you like the public to take away from experiencing this exhibition?” I ask.
“First and foremost, that it contains outstanding works along with the understanding that art is not something that autonomously follows its own laws and rules. Art is based on society and society is changeable. That means that art is also changeable, and art reflects the society that it comes from,” he says.
The AKO Art Foundation’s purpose is to make the Tangen Collection accessible to the public and for them this exhibition is an important first step in Sweden.
“We started this journey in Finland in 2021 with the exhibition The New Beauty and we are of course very much looking forward to the next stop on it which will be Kunstsilo’s opening exhibition in 2024 in which the entirety of it will be filled with fantastic works from the Tangen Collection,” says Beate Mjaaland.
She also says that work is being done to get quality materials ready for presenting the Tangen Collection internationally.
“In the meantime, we are regularly receiving inquiries about making loans of various sizes to museums outside of Norway. In addition, we have invited several museum leaders to the exhibition at the Artipelag Museum. We have regular contact with museums abroad and are working strategically and purposely to promote Nordic modernist and contemporary art in the world. We also hope and believe that exhibitions like this one will open some doors for us and lead to increased interest in the collection from the public as well as other museums.”