Article Tangen-collection

Did you know this about the Tangen Collection? Here are ten questions and answers

December 4, 2023
Abstract modernist art

You may have some questions regarding the Tangen Collection and how it is managed. Beate Mjaaland, Director of the AKO Art Foundation, answers some of them here.

1. Who is Nicolai Tangen?

Mjåland: Nicolai Tangen comes from Kristiansand and is the CEO of Norges Bank Investment Management. The company manages, among other things, the Government Pension Fund Global, which is also known as the Norwegian Oil Fund. In addition, he is also a trained art historian with a strong passion for art.

2. What does the Tangen Collection consist of?

Mjåland: The Tangen Collection is the largest and most comprehensive private collection of Nordic art, ranging from the early modernists in the 1920s to around 1990. The photography section also includes contemporary photographs. The collection consists of over 5,000 works and is continuously being expanded. It contains paintings, prints, sculptures, photographs, videos, conceptual art, drawings and textiles.

A person with a knife in their throat
Per Kleiva. Den amerikanske angsten, 1971. Kunstsilo/The Tangen Collection © Per Kleiva / BONO

3. What’s unique about the Tangen Collection?

Mjåland: The collection itself is unique. No other museum collection anywhere in the world has its focus centered on the Nordic modernists. Nicolai Tangen doesn’t necessarily go for works or artists that are the biggest and most well-known; he selects artists that he finds interesting and wants to study more closely. It is also unusual for a museum collection to be in a state of continuous development.

4. Why is the Tangen Collection located in Kunstsilo?

Mjåland: Nicolai wanted to donate his collection to his hometown. It was decided in 2016 to give the collection to the AKO Art Foundation, which then signed an agreement with Sørlandets Kunstmuseum for perpetual right of disposal in Kunstsilo.

Floral motif
Rita Kernn-Larsen, Skitse til Valmuen, udatert. Kunstsilo/The Tangen Collection © Rita Kernn-Larsen / BONO

5. When was this collection started?

Mjåland: In the mid-1990s Tangen bought his first work, which was the painting “Kunstnerens atelier” (The Artist’s Studio) by Norwegian modernist Johannes Rian. In other words, this collection, which has been described as one of the world’s deepest, most wide-ranging, and important collections of Nordic modernist art, has been built up over the course of 25 years.

6. Which artists stand out in the Tangen Collection?

Mjåland: For Norwegian artists, it’s worth mentioning Gunnar S. Gundersen, Zdenka Rusova, Per Kleiva, Reidar Aulie, Johs. Rian, Mette Tronvoll, Anna-Eva Bergman, Rolf Nesch, Marianne Heske, Bjørn Ransve and Ryszard Warsinski.

The Finnish section is very strong and contains masterpieces by the pioneers in Finnish modernism, such as Sam Vanni, Birger Carlstedt, Lars-Gunnar Nordström and Ernst Mether-Borgström. We also have a wonderful collection of Finnish photographic art, including Elina Brotherus’ series “Seabound” from Norway’s South Coast. Olle Bærtling, Otto Carlsund, Agnes Cleve, Ola Billgren and Sigrid Hjertén are some of the Swedish artists represented. The Danish artists are represented by, for example, Albert Mertz, Asger Jorn, Rita Kernn-Larsen, Vilhelm Bjerke-Petersen and Per Kirkeby.

What they all have in common is their high level of artistry – a definite requirement for being included in this collection.

Man on pier entangled in thread
Reidar Aulie. Serpentiner II, 1941. Kunstsilo/The Tangen Collection © Reidar Aulie / BONO

7. Which works stand out?

Mjåland: There are many amazing pieces in this collection. Per Kleiva’s Den amerikanske angsten (The American Angst) is a powerful and striking painting. Synnøve Anker Aurdal’s textile Solen (The Sun) is a lyrical work that’s close to nature, while Otto G. Carlsund’s Rapid is a fantastic example of international concretism. Serpentiner (Streamers) is a good example of Reidar Aulie’s socially engaged art, while Asger Jorn’s Den avskyelige snømann (The Abominable Snowman) is an example of the Cobra painters’ semi-figurative expressionism. And, of course, Marianne Heske’s sculpture Gjerdeløa (The Gjerde Hay Barn) has been discussed a great deal in the media.

8. What is Nordic modern art?

Mjåland: That is hard to define, since modernism covers a great many things. ‘Modern art’ means that it is different from what came before it in the past; it is something new. However, there are many different branches within it. In Norway, the modernist period can be seen in connection with the development of the welfare state after 1945. Art contributed to building a democratic country, since many artists chose to express themselves through prints. Prints were something people could afford to buy, even after the war. Another important branch of modernism is constructivism, which might be viewed as part of the rebuilding of society after the Second World War. Both branches are well represented in the Tangen Collection.

Nicolai’s interest began with abstract, geometrical language. As he learnt more, he also gained an interest in surrealism and expressionism, and this is reflected in the collection. There is also fine figurative art within modernism such as, for example, represented by Else Hagen and Ola Billgren.

The Gjerdeløa exhibition in the museum
Marianne Heske, Prosjekt Gjerdeløa, 1980. Kunstsilo/The Tangen Collection © Marianne Heske / BONO

9. Will the Tangen Collection be used to exchange works with other museums?

Mjåland: Exhibitions in cooperation with other institutions are becoming more and more common, and there is no doubt that this collection offers Kunstsilo some very exciting opportunities. If we lend works to other institutions, we might also be able to borrow some, and indeed you can swap entire exhibitions for a while. It just depends on the institution we will be partnering with.

10. In what ways are you working to expand the collection?

Mjåland: We are working with consultants in various countries in our search for new works. We are actively looking for ‘forgotten’ artists, and we like to dig down deep in this area. Unlike most museums, we do not have a fixed budget; it is up to the foundation how much we can spend. We buy at auctions, from galleries or privately, and Nicolai Tangen is the one who always has the last word. As an art historian and collector with 25 years of experience, he is very knowledgeable and discerning.

Beate Mjaaland, director of the AKO Art Foundation.
Beate Mjaaland, director of the AKO Art Foundation.


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