An Insider’s Guide to the Stockholm Art Scene
Swedes are of course known the world over for their talent and passion for great design. (IKEA, anyone?) But the Swedes’ passion for and contributions to modern and contemporary art are often not as broadly recognized, unless you are lucky enough to spend some time in the stellar art institutions that have in the last few decades turned Stockholm into one of the world’s art capitals.
“From a contemporary art perspective, Stockholm as a region is so great because we have so many wonderful institutions to exhibit work, both private and state funded, for a city of our size,” says Saskia Neuman, who works as the unofficial ambassador for Stockholm-based liquor company Absolut's extensive art programs all over the world.
“I think for Swedes, art and design and craft—woodwork, furniture, textile, lighting, ceramics, glass, architecture—very much inform one another,” she adds. “There is not always crossover, but it’s a symbiosis; you can’t have one without the others.”
Neuman has valid points of comparison, having lived in art capitals like New York, Berlin, London (working for Serpentine Galleries’ Hans Ulrich Obrist) and Venice, where she helped coordinate the main exhibition for the Venice Biennale in 2009 under Artistic Director Daniel Birnbaum, the Swede who now heads one of Scandinavia’s top modern and contemporary art museums, Moderna Museet. She returned to Stockholm in 2013 to oversee art projects for Absolut, including its coveted Absolut Art Award.
“The gallery scene is good, but compact, while the institutional scene for modern and contemporary is impressive,” she explains. “Because of Sweden’s neutral stance during the second world war, while the rest of Europe was rebuilding, Sweden was spared that, so we instead invested heavily in culture and cultural institutions.”
“Cultural bodies that help artists and fund artists directly” are important, she added, because the cost of living is high in Stockholm.
Additionally, “a lot of artists are getting educations abroad,” says Magnus af Petersens, who became director of Stockholm’s Bonniers Konstall after serving as curator-at-large for London’s Whitechapel Gallery and as head of exhibitions and collections at Stockholm’s modern art museum and curator for the Nordic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2011. That international experience for artists is important because “they are getting cultural exchanges and are not so isolated.”
To maximize an art-filled visit to Stockholm, here are two time-savers: First, the sizable art institutions have much better cafés and even top-notch restaurants that are far better and a more vibrant scene than the standard offerings in American museums, including alcoholic beverages and often a great view. So you may want to take lunch, have a drink, and even consider dinner on site.
Also, if you’re shopping, the wares on offer at museum shops are a cut above the logo mugs and tote bags you find on offer at many U.S. museums. Here, the museum shops offer clever and thoughtfully created design objects, both costume and fine jewelry, paper goods, ceramics, and other crafts from Scandinavian artisans, as well an ultra contemporary selections of art books.
Here is where to go: