Fairs USA

Armory brings Nordic culture to New York

Artist-run spaces and free works mix with commercial galleries in the fair’s special focus

Olafur Eliasson’s work, including the driftwood sculpture "Polar Current" (left) is on view with the Reykjavík-based i8 gallery

The contrast could hardly be more noticeable: the Nordic countries, with their tiny commercial art scene and huge state involvement in the cultural sector, are the focus at this year’s very commercial, very American Armory Show. Jacob Fabricius, the director of the Swedish non-profit institution Malmö Kunsthall, has organised the section and in addition to a number of commercial galleries, he invited a few artist-run spaces to the fair, such as Gallery D.O.R. and NoPlace. “It is a fair, but I don’t work in the commercial world and wanted to do something different, therefore I also brought smaller, non-commercial spaces”, Fabricius told The Art Newspaper. The majority of the 19 exhibitors are commercial galleries, however, including Galerie Anhava from Helsinki, Martin Asbæk, V1 and Bo Bjerggaard from Copenhagen, Niklas Belenius from Stockholm an i8 from Reykjavík.

“We previously participated in Volta, but as Fabricius’ concept sounded interesting, we are happy to be part of the Armory for the first time”, says Jesper Elg, one of the owners of V1, a young Copenhagen-based gallery. Working with artists such as Shepard Fairey, Andrew Schoultz and Anika Lori, the gallery already has a strong connection to the US art scene. “Roughly 40% of our shows are by US artists and 30% to 40% of our revenue comes from US clients. But for the Armory, we decided to show only artists from Denmark,” Elg says. The gallery is bringing works by Julie Nord, Peter Funch and Jesper Dalgaard, all artists that have lived or worked in the US. Their prices are moderate, ranging from €500 up to €10,000. “We have very good relations with US collectors and expect that the fair will be a success for us,” Elg adds.

The Reykjavík-based gallery i8, which is at the fair for the fifth time, is bringing only Icelandic artists, but two of the three are very well known in the US: the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, who had a major public art commission in New York in 2008 with his Waterfalls project, and Ragnar Kjartansson, who represented the country at the Venice Biennale in 2009 and is frequently featured in US exhibitions. “We have always done very well here [at the Armory Show] and our largest client base is in the US, it’s bigger than in Europe and Iceland together,” says Börkur Arnarson, i8’s owner. With a price tag of €125,000, Olafur Eliasson’s sculpture Polar Current is likely to be one of the most expensive pieces in the Nordic section of the fair. It consists of a three-meter long piece of driftwood with a mirror on top that imitates a sail. Three smaller works made of driftwood and glass as well are available at prices starting at €30,000. The wood, probably originally from trees in Siberia, was found in Iceland and was shipped to the artist’s Berlin studio, where he created the works.

Elastic from Malmö is a newcomer at the Armory Show. “Without the Nordic focus, we would not have come, as we have already planned [to take part in] too many fairs, but this set-up gave us an incentive,” says the gallery owner Ola Gustafsson. Unlike galleries from Denmark or Norway, he did not get any financial support from the Swedish government to participate in the New York fair. Elastic will only show Swedish artists, including Runo Lagomarsino and Maria Hedlund. “I don’t really believe in the existence of national scenes any more, but this is a good occasion to show artists from Sweden,” he says. Works offered by Elastic start at just $1,250 and go up to $14,500.

But not everything is for sale at the Armory’s Nordic focus. “Art has to do with generosity. So it was important to me to have something to offer for everyone”, says Fabricius. The Danish artists FOS, Henrik Plenge Jakobsen and Lea Porsager designed posters and other works that will be given away for free during the fair.

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