Market Art Fair is the event at the heart of Stockholm Art Week, a three-day showcase of the very best in contemporary Nordic art. With this year’s edition coming up soon at Liljevalchs Konsthall, we sat down with director Carl Sundevall to get the lowdown.
So this is the 14th edition, it started in 2006. So what is Market’s general mission statement? The curation chair Lars Nittve [Moderna Museet, Tate Modern] said it was to get a concentrated collection of contemporary art.
The basis of what we do is to show and spread Nordic art, but we also have non-nordic artists. It was founded by Nordic galleries, who wanted a premium fair, more suitable for their artists than the fairs that existed at the time. It was started as an arena for them to sell and get attention for their artists. Since then it’s evolved. There’s been a big increase in the amount of art fairs since then, it’s almost tripled in ten or fifteen years, On an international level it’s getting saturated, while Market has evolved to become the prime art event of the year in the Nordic region. We still keep our focus on the Nordic part of it. Last year we opened up for non-Nordic galleries to apply with Nordic artists. That enables us to focus even more on the Nordics. And that’s something you can really see this year, we have Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg, Swedish artists that are some of the most talked about in the world right now. They’re represented by Gio Marconi in Milan, not a local gallery. So the rule change helps us get some of the biggest Nordic international artists to come.
I guess if some of the Nordic artists get to a level where they’re very hyped, they will end up getting represented by bigger international galleries. So this is a way to get them into the fair?
Yes, exactly. Some still have some representation here, but a lot are based outside. But yes, our mission statement is to elevate Nordic art, and to work for the Nordic art scene in general.
One thing that distinguishes you from the average art fair is the sale aspect of it. I think the average price of a piece is 87,000kr, so for a lot of visitors they won’t be going there to buy, as that’s a high floor. But does the fact that you operate in that way make it possible for you to put together a collection and a curation that wouldn’t be possible for a more standard art fair?
Yes, we haven’t done it so much this year, but in earlier years, and next year too, we had and will have that kind of extra curated content. For this year we’re focusing on the core experience, both for the galleries and artists that are here, but also for the visitors. We don’t get a cut out of the gallery sales, so if someone sells for a million kronor, it doesn’t really affect our own economy in any direct kind of sense, apart from the fact that if people are constantly selling a lot [at Market], we can charge more. Any additional funding we get we use to create a more curated, exciting experience.
I imagine however that the sales aspect means that artists who might not be interested in exhibiting at other fairs might be interested in coming to Market?
Yes, but Market is in no way unique in that we sell works at the fair. I think it’s maybe more explicit just because of our name. The reason for galleries to exhibit at art fairs is to sell works, in the end. I think in the latest figures I saw, 46% of the global gallery revenues come from sales at art fairs. And of course, there are different fairs for different people. There are fairs just for professionals, and some for bigger publics. But I think what differentiates us most from other art fairs is basically the quality of the works.
So it’s more focused on a high standard of curation over volume?
Yes, exactly. So galleries apply with a presentation and an artist, or two artists, in August or September, and our selection committee looks at all the presentations and decides who’ll be part of the fair. This year we have a new committee. Before it was mostly gallery owners, the Art Basel model basically. But there’s something inherently wrong with that idea, that art galleries should be judged by other art galleries who are also their competitors. There’s always been a little talk about that amongst galleries, talk about favouritism.
There’s a little conflict of interest there?
Yes, exactly. Even if we’ve tried to keep it objective, there’s always been a suspicion. It’s also limiting of what the fair can be. Yes, it is about sales, but it’s also about giving the visitors an experience. So that is why this year, we’ve added more professionals from museums and other institutions. We have Lars Nittve as chairman, and we also have members of art institutions from Copenhagen and Helsinki, and then we have two gallery directors. So we added new ways of seeing what an art fair should be and what kind of experience people should have.
Moving onto this year’s edition specifically, can you give us a quick overview of what’s lined up for this year?
What’s great this year is that we have a better line-up than ever. I think if you want to talk about the top names, artist-wise, we have Nathalie and Hans of course. They have a new video work amongst other things, which they will present. The exhibition last spring at Moderna Museet was really talked about, and what they do is really bewildering for the art world in general. Nathalie uses an animation technique and style that didn’t have a high status amongst the art world, and she uses that in a way really got people to see animation in a new way. We also have Ólafur Elíasson [i8 Gallery]. On a personal note, I’m really happy we have him, because he’s basically the world’s biggest artist when it comes to environmental issues, that’s a core part of his work. Even outside of his environmental work, he’s one of the top ten/fifteen artists in the world. We also have Per Kirkeby [Galleri Bo Bjerggaard] who sadly passed away in May, and he was a father figure for a lot of artists today. A real contemporary master who was an inspiration for Andreas Eriksson and others. And we have some younger and new artists. A favourite of mine, as I know her from way back, is Malin Gabriella Nordin [Gallery Steinsland Berliner]. I’ve known her for fifteen years and it’s great to see how she evolved with her art. When she was a student she did ceramic sculptures, and since then she worked a lot with painting, but now she’s doing some ceramic sculptures again and they’re really nice.
What kind of qualities do you look for in the art and the artists you select for the fair? What would you say is a defining quality that the pieces selected share?
It’s not really for me to answer, as I’m not part of the selection committee and I don’t try and affect their decision. But I can say that the Nordic part is of course very important. And I would also say that when you have such a multitude of galleries, it’s important to have a mix. You have world-renowned and up-and-coming artists. Since we have such a high general level of quality, it means that people from outside the art world can come here. I’m not from the art world myself, and when I was younger and tried to develop my understanding of art, I sometime went to shows with very new artists, and it can be quite hard to understand it, or assess it as art. People can be uncomfortable in that environment. With Market, the quality is so high that even a novice can come here, and intuitively understand that it’s art and be able to appreciate it.
So it’s more accessible to the regular person? Not as niche and eccentric as some art worlds can be? I recall that you said in the press release that you wanted to appeal to people who like art, but don’t have the time to go to every and read all the art papers and have that level of interest.
Yes, and it’s a great opportunity to see what’s up right now in the Nordic art world. Unfortunately, I do think a lot of people shy away from a fair like Market, just because it is high end. But actually the fact that it is high-end is what makes it easy to go there and experience it […] you can go there, you can be anonymous and you can see these artworks. If you don’t want to talk to the artist or gallery directors you don’t have to. It’s more of an exhibition like you see at a museum, you can feel secure in that it’s a high quality of curation and you can go there for your own experience.
The fair is pitched towards contemporary art, and how important is it that it represents that? Should the works represent trends that are current? Is there an attempt to make sure the work is recognisably modern?
That’s a great question, actually. I think what we try to do is to be really open to new ways of expressing art. We have a lot of sculpture and paintings, but we also have video works and so on. And on Friday afternoon we also have a talk block with the Swedish gaming industry, talking about the relationship between gaming and creativity. We try to be here and now in a sense, and present art that’s interesting to these times.
Outside of the fair itself, what’s happening with talks and events this year?
We have the talk with the video game industry of course. But that’s closed VIP event. We have been looking at the talks programme a lot, but the problem is we have a space problem. Liljevalchs is a great venue, but it is limited when it comes to sub-areas, you might say.
There are few side rooms?
Yes, and we have been in discussions with venues close by, wondering if we can have a second venue and what we can do there. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out in the end, so we haven’t gotten so much in terms of extra activities this year. Luckily, there’s Stockholm Art Week, with a lot of other institutions and galleries that have great programme. We have a lot of international visitors, and we try and give them an idea of what’s going on. Stockholm Art Week isn’t just Market Art Fair, even though it’s built around is. There are also all these other great things happening.
To wrap it up then, what kind of experience would you hope the visitors to the fair go away having had? What would the impression you would hope they would get from the fair be?
I think for people who are quite new to art, and who go to maybe a couple of exhibitions a year, I would love them to leave and feel like they have a greater understanding and are more comfortable with art in general. That they have elevated their sense of what art can be. When it comes to more art-experienced people, what I would want them to have when they leave the fair is that they feel they have experienced what there is right now when it comes to art. That after having gone to Market, you wouldn’t have to go to another art show for another three months, because you would have experienced the whole of the here and now.
Market Art Fair, Apr 12-14, Liljevalchs
Lead photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger