Not enough women in the Swedish national collection, says director

Lars Nittve has asked the Swedish government for $6.8m to spend on female artists

Stockholm. The director of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Lars Nittve, has asked the Swedish government for 50m Swedish crowns ($6.8m) to buy work by female artists. The museum, which houses 250,000 20th-century works, has around nine times as many pieces by men as by women in its collection, according to Mr Nittve. “No one can claim that this mirrors the distribution of artistic talent in the world—or Sweden,” he says.

He told the Swedish daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter that “with this money I want to buy works by female artists, primarily from the first half of the 20th century.” He hopes to have the extra funds in place for the museum’s 50th anniversary in 2008. The museum’s annual budget is 3.4m crowns ($470,000).

With names like Paula Modersohn-Becker, Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, Dora Maar and Louise Bourgeois on his shopping list, even if Mr Nittve gets the funding he’s asking for, it’s doubtful whether he’ll be able to afford enough art to line a single corridor. In 2000, a Frida Kahlo self-portrait sold for over $5m at Sotheby’s in New York, while Calla Lilies (1928) by Georgia O’Keeffe went for over $6m a year later at Christie’s New York. However Mr Nittve says he also wants to acquire works by less well-known and therefore cheaper artists such as the turn-of-the-century Russian artist Ljubov Popova.

The Swedish government has not yet responded to Mr Nittve’s request, but he says that private donors have already come forward to support the museum. Barbro Osher, the Swedish-born wife of Bernard Osher, who sold the auction house Butterfield & Butterfield to online auction giant Ebay in 1999, has promised $1m for the acquisition of art by women.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 170 June 2006