Kistefos Museet, Jevnaker, Norway
As a businessman in daily life, how do you dedicate and manage your time towards your collection and the Kistefos Museum, which has operated since 1999?
I work a lot and rely on trusted and competent co-workers in both business and collecting. The daily operation of the museum is overseen by the museum director, while the development of the sculpture park is something I personally take a great deal of interest in and in which I am very involved.
Does your collection follow a specific theme or particular artists?
Very often when I get into an artist’s work, I like to collect his or her works in depth. Then and now, it is easier to collect when you start collecting an artist who is at the beginning rather than the end of his or her career. Hodgkin was one of the first artists I bought of international contemporary art, but one that I still collect and acquire to this day. Over the years as the collection has grown, there has been an increased focus on trying to acquire key works in an artist’s oeuvre, while remaining true to the principle that I need to personally connect with the work.
How has your attitude to collecting changed since you began?
My attitude towards collecting is based on an instinct to collect, which is simply part of my DNA. It started with the Norwegian painter Sohlberg in the mid 80s. His art was introduced to me through a good friend. His landscapes are captivating and mysterious. From then, it has been a continuous journey. In 1990, I made a conscious decision to focus on international contemporary art, starting with Howard Hodgkin, Albert Oehlen, Christopher Wool, Keith Haring and Martin Kippenberger. I guess you can say that as the collection has grown, I have become a more seasoned and conscious collector, but I still allow myself to be guided by the art and it’s effect on me.
Pre-Covid-19, were you traveling frequently for the purpose of following the art world?
Art Basel in Basel has been on my itinerary for the last 15 or so years. I also visit New York on a regular basis for art fairs and for meetings with the Metropolitan International Council of which I am a founding member. Other trips include the Venice Biennial, Berlin from time to time, as well as trips to visit particular exhibitions or artists.
Last year, you opened a brand-new architectural delight with inside gallery spaces on the Kistefos grounds, aptly named The Twist. Tell us about this project, what were some of the biggest challenges that you faced?
It is a sculpture, a bridge, and a gallery. The Twist is a very simple and beautiful design, while technically immensely complex to build. The fact that it is built across a river also did not make the construction process easier. When the temporary support bridge in the river was removed for the first time, the building sank so much that the entire building-structure had to be re-opened and all bolts had to be re-welded. The twist allows for a better flow in the park, and was a key element in building Kistefos to a destination, and to allow putting on larger and better exhibitions.
Your 2020-season opening just took place, on May 24. What are you exhibiting this time inside The Twist?
We were originally planning to host the exhibition Lari Pittman: Declaration of Independence that has been on display at the Hammer Museum in L.A. However, that was postponed due to COVID-19. Luckily, Kistefos was able to draw on my own collection and to base the exhibition on some of those works. The exhibition Come Out! is prompted by the unique situation in which we find ourselves, and invites the audience to reclaim public and cultural spaces.
The title of the exhibition is borrowed from one of the works; Come Out #13 (2015), by American artist Glenn Ligon, that speaks about personal freedom in all its forms.
In the lead up to this opening, were you additionally planning for a digital solution, as a Covid-back-up plan to access the exhibition? Could you imagine implementing this as a moving forward standard?
This year, a video tour of the exhibition has been created. This gives our international audience a chance to see some of the works in the exhibition. It was also intended as a back up solution in a situation where we were not allowed to open at all. Moving forward, I think the digital access to art needs to be part of our thinking, however it will never replace the physical meeting with art and the special experience that is.
What are your general feelings about this intensive digital shift of the art world? Are you a fan of online viewing rooms?
A lot of the art I acquire is based on digital photographs and catalogues, but of course I prefer to see art in the flesh! It is possible to acquire an artist whom you are already familiar with based on digital images, however acquiring art by new artists without having seen them in real is not something I would advise. I think the digital shift can only go so far. Art is and should remain physical.
Which publicly accessible private collections would you recommend visiting when travel pursues again?
I studied in Switzerland and have great respect and admiration for the Beyeler Foundation in Basel. Being a Scandinavian myself, the Louisana Museum of Modern Art is one that combines sculpture and gallery space in a unique way and which I enjoy visiting when in Denmark. Both institutions have managed to be excellent custodians of the founding collections, while also staying relevant and active in the fast changing contemporary art world.