Artipelag, Astrup Fearnley and co: why once-rare private museums are on the increase in Scandinavia

Private spaces show that tall poppies can grow in a Nordic climate


Privately funded art museums and exhibition spaces have been few and far between across Scandinavia—until now. Four major projects are due to open this year, including Artipelag in Sweden and the new Astrup Fearnley museum in Oslo, plus spaces in Finland and Copenhagen. And next year, the Norwegian collector, Petter Olsen, plans to open a private Munch Museum in Oslo (see below). What has caused this trend?

Nordic countries, in particular Sweden, do have a “wealthy one percent” but for a long time they have been reluctant to show their wealth. “Conspicuous consumption”, the term coined by American-Norwegian sociologist Thorstein Veblen, hardly existed. Like very expensive cars in the streets, private art museums were conspicuously absent. They simply did not fit in with Scandinavia’s egalitarian ethos. But the trend of opening up private museums has nevertheless spilled over from culturally close countries such as Germany. “After Bonniers [the exhibition hall, in Stockholm] opened and was well received without severe criticism, others also dared to follow and opened privately funded art venues,” says the art consultant Emily Norton, of Norton Cederström.

David Neuman, the director of Magasin 3, Sweden’s first—and for a long time only—private art venue, says: “We have grown up in Sweden believing that the state will provide us with education, culture and medical [treatment]. [Now we] realise the state cannot provide everything for everyone any more, and that has changed the whole cultural climate.”

There is nothing understated about the Sven-Harrys Konstmuseum in Stockholm, which opened last March. The founder, Sven-Harry Karlsson, owner of construction company Folkhem, not only named the museum after himself, but also painted its exterior gold. The museum’s programme is very mixed. Swedish artist, Karin Broos, recently showed photorealistic paintings there. The entrepreneur has just enlarged the space by opening up the top floor, where he has rebuilt the interior of his 18th-century manor house outside Stockholm.

In June, Björn and Lillemor Jakobson, founders of a multi-million-dollar baby products firm, expect to welcome the first visitors to their 9,000 sq. m exhibition hall called Artipelag, on the island of Värmdö in the Stockholm archipelago. Unlike Karlsson, the Jakobsons prefer understatement, commissioning an “unremarkable” building that appears to be “growing as mushrooms do, underneath trees”, according to Björn Jakobson. The founders hope 100,000 visitors a year will come to Artipelag, to see a programme of three exhibitions. Björn Jakobson stresses that he and his wife do not really have a collection of their own. “What we want to show is interesting art in the natural environment.”

The first show, “Platsens Själ” (the soul of the place), will include works by artists such as Giovanni Battista Piranesi and Vilhelm Hammershøi. A solo show by German photographer Candida Höfer and a group show of Swedish artists including Miriam Bäckström and Andreas Eriksson are also planned.

“Even if we don’t get any visitors at all, Artipelag would not go bankrupt,” says Björn Jakobson, declining to disclose how much money he is investing. “Our children are financially secure, so why should I take the money to the grave?”

Oslo’s Astrup Fearnley Museet for Moderne Kunst, which opened in 1993, is moving into its new Renzo Piano-designed home on the harbour in the autumn. The museum has access to the shipping magnate Hans Rasmus Astrup’s 1,500-strong collection of works by artists including Anselm Kiefer, Cindy Sherman and Damien Hirst. The new building will have 4,000 sq. m of space, three times that of its old home, allowing it to show more of the collection. A sculpture park with works by artists including Anish Kapoor and Louise Bourgeois is also planned.

Other privately funded projects include the London-based collector Anita Zabludowicz’s gallery on the island of Sarvisalo in Finland, and the Foundation Faurschou, established by the Copenhagen dealer duo Luise and Jens Faurschou, both due to open this year. Meanwhile, the heir to a brewery fortune, Christian Ringnes, has got planning permission to create the Ekeberg sculpture park in Oslo.

Though rarer than in other parts of Europe, privately funded museums and spaces do already exist in Scandinavia, notably Magasin 3, founded by Robert Weil in 1987 and funded by his investment company Proventus. David Neuman, the director since it opened, says that it aims to continue the early spirit of Stockholm’s Moderna Museet. It funds major works, some of which it acquires, and undertakes risky and demanding projects, says Neuman.

The Bonniers Konsthall, opened in Stockholm in 2006, is funded by the Bonnier publishing group and owned by the Bonnier family. Jeanette Bonnier is responsible for the company’s engagement with the visual arts, establishing a foundation as a memorial to her only daughter, who died in a car accident aged 20. The foundation also gives grants to young Swedish artists.

The Bonnier family owns extensive collections, but “showing a private collection is not as interesting as showing what is happening now”, Jeanette Bonnier says. The gallery has an annual exhibition of works by recipients of grants from the foundation, while other artists to have had shows in the 2,000 sq. m venue recently include Ida Ekblad and Gardar Eide Einarsson (both from Norway), and the Swedish artist Ylva Ogland. “Once a year we combine an exhibition with a commission of a larger piece and through that we slowly build up our own collection,” says the director of the gallery, Sara Arrhenius.