Sara Berner Bengtsson Discusses Market Art Fair’s Rise as the Premier Destination for Nordic Art

Sara Berner Bengtsson Discusses Market Art Fair’s Rise as the Premier Destination for Nordic Art

With her background solidified in Art History and Finance, Sara Berner Bengtsson finds managing the Market Art Fair the perfect amalgamation of her interests and expertise. Bengtsson’s impressive career includes pivotal roles at renowned art institutions such as Christie’s and White Cube. Bengtsson also held the position of director at Galerie Forsblom in Stockholm. Now, as the Managing Director of the Stockholm Market Art Fair, Bengtsson leads this premier destination for Nordic art.

Under Bengtsson’s stewardship, the fair has become a hub for art enthusiasts and collectors, showcasing the vibrancy of Nordic expression. Bengtsson’s blend of financial acumen and artistic insight has been instrumental in elevating the fair’s status on the international art scene.

Sara Berner Bengtsson Discusses Market Art Fair’s Rise as the Premier Destination for Nordic Art
Sara Berner Bengtsson
Image courtesy of Market Art Fair

Our aim is to strengthen the Nordic art scene and the selection criteria ensures the fair is the go to place for Nordic art

Sara Berner Bengtsson

Market Art Fair represents the Nordic countries: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. Having become a trusted meeting point and marketplace at the heart of the Nordic art industry, the fair, initiated by galleries, opened its doors in 2006 and is now the leading contemporary art fair in the Nordic region.

Nestled in the heart of Sweden, Stockholm stands as the epicentre of the nation’s cultural, media, political, and economic activities. This bustling city is renowned for its prestigious academic institutions and the annual Nobel Prize ceremonies. It is also home to the Vasa Museum, Scandinavia’s most frequented museum, and boasts a metro system celebrated as the world’s longest art gallery.

The Stockholm art scene embraces an array of artistic expressions, ranging from classical to modern and contemporary. Art lovers and buyers in the city have an eclectic range of options from a variety of galleries, each offering an outstanding collection of artists and styles. Examples include Galleri Stockholm and Wetterling Gallery, both known for showcasing emerging and established Swedish talent.

Stockholm’s commitment to art seamlessly flows into its public spaces, where sculptures and installations enhance the city’s urban landscape. Neighbourhoods like Södermalm have emerged as hubs for street art, reflecting the city’s ongoing artistic growth and energy. The Market Art Fair, which opens on May 17 and runs until May 19, 2024, features 47 galleries showcasing over 100 artists at Liljevalchs and Spritmuseum, with a strong focus on Nordic artists. We spoke with Bengtsson to learn more about the Market Art Fair’s offerings and the Nordic art scene.

Hi Sara, How are you doing? Can you share your journey into the arts and more about your role as the Managing Director of Market Art Fair?

Sara Berner Bengtsson: Hi! Great, thank you. I come from a background in History of Art and Finance, so managing an art fair is a great combination. Previously, I’ve worked at White Cube and Christie’s in London, and I was the Director of Galerie Forsblom in Stockholm for several years. As Managing Director of Market Art Fair, I oversee everything from long-term strategies, contact with our investors, liaise with our venues Liljevalchs and Spritmuseum, contact with current and potential exhibitors, and marketing and press.

I have a great team working with me, which allows me to have a special focus on our collectors and VIP guests. I cannot overvalue the importance of creating a welcoming atmosphere and personal experience for collectors if you wish to have a successful fair, making it one of my most important engagements.

How does this year’s lineup of galleries and artists at the Market Art Fair reflect the current trends and developments in the Nordic art scene?

Sara Berner Bengtsson: With 47 galleries and over 100 artists exhibited, it will be a diverse selection with everything from more traditional paintings to cutting-edge performances. Something that’s been happening for a while on the international art scene, and that we can see at Market Art Fair this year, is the spotlight on older, female artists, many of them who have previously been overseen in the art market. Examples of this are presentations of 81-year-old Ursula Reuter Christiansen, 93-year-old Italian artist Isabella Ducrot and 78-year-old Gun Gordillo from Sweden.

Sara Berner Bengtsson Discusses Market Art Fair’s Rise as the Premier Destination for Nordic Art
Image courtesy of Market Art Fair
Can you share insights into the selection process for the participating galleries and artists? What criteria were used by the international selection committee?

Sara Berner Bengtsson: Unlike most other fairs, Market Art Fairs selection committee consists only of highly experienced Nordic curators and museum directors, and no (biased) gallerists or fair management. The committee is chaired by legendary museum director Lars Nittve, and the exhibitors are chosen based on the artistic quality and relevance of their presentation, with the criteria of “Nordicness”. This means that the artists will have to be Nordic by origin, residency, or working with a Nordic theme. Our aim is to strengthen the Nordic art scene and the selection criteria ensures the fair is the go to place for Nordic art.

The fair includes a mix of long-time participants and first-time galleries. How does this diversity contribute to the overall experience of the fair?

Sara Berner Bengtsson: This is one of the great effects of our selection process. Fairs that have the same participants every year tend to be a bit static, and it can be difficult for new artists and galleries to break into the scene. With an equal opportunity for all applicants to get in, the fair encourages smaller and non-established galleries to apply and for returning major galleries to always bring their best presentations. Even if you are a long-time collector, you can still make new discoveries, and the dynamic between the exhibitors tends to be great.

Sara Berner Bengtsson Discusses Market Art Fair’s Rise as the Premier Destination for Nordic Art
Image courtesy of Market Art Fair
Could you elaborate on the Market Debut section, which focuses on young galleries and emerging talents? How has it evolved since last year?

Sara Berner Bengtsson: Returning for its second year, Market Debut focuses on up-and-coming talent making waves on the Nordic art scene today. This year marks a shift as the section primarily focuses on young artists, represented by both emerging and established galleries, with the eight featured galleries showcasing a dynamic mix of up-and-coming talents in the Nordic art scene.

With artists like Ursula Reuter Christiansen and Olav Christopher Jensen showcasing their work, what role do experienced artists play at the fair?

Sara Berner Bengtsson: This is something that attracts international and high-profile collectors to the fair, as well as the general public, due to the recognition of household names. Many Nordic artists have international representation with major galleries but at Market Art Fair you will get a much more personal opportunity to interact, as they are, so to say, on their “home ground”. This creates an intimate and exclusive setting for collectors, making it a preferable choice for experiencing Nordic art.

Carl Kostyál
Image courtesy of Market Art Fair
The fair has a notable focus on craft-based art and experimental approaches. What inspired this focus, and how is it reflected in this year’s presentations?

Sara Berner Bengtsson: There is a great craft tradition in the Nordic countries, which reflects in many artists’ works at the fair. Exhibited artists are selected based on the quality of their presentations, regardless of media, allowing for a wide array of expressions. The division between fine art and crafts is something I believe to be outdated and also discriminating towards practices traditionally performed by women and marginalised groups.

How do the talks and conversations scheduled for the fair aim to complement and enhance the artistic experience for visitors?

Sara Berner Bengtsson: The talks program is carefully curated to reflect the most significant trends shaping this year’s fair. Textile art takes centre stage with an array of talented artists, prompting us to dedicate a session solely to their remarkable work in weaving and textiles.

Sara Berner Bengtsson Discusses Market Art Fair’s Rise as the Premier Destination for Nordic Art
Image courtesy of Market Art Fair

Sustainability lies at the heart of our fair’s mission, and we’re constantly exploring new avenues to strive towards eco-friendly practices. As part of this commitment, one of our talks will delve into the innovative approaches of artists who repurpose materials in their practice. It’s not just about showcasing art; it’s about inspiring change and embracing creativity in harmony with our environment.

More info about the talks programme will be released closer to the fair.

Sara Berner Bengtsson Discusses Market Art Fair’s Rise as the Premier Destination for Nordic Art
Market Art Fair 2023. Photo credit Jean Lapin
Image courtesy of Market Art Fair
Market Art Fair has several collaborations, including with SEB and BMW. How do these partnerships support the development of the Nordic art scene?

Sara Berner Bengtsson: Our partners are integral to the fair’s success, and we always aim to include them as much as possible in our mission. Having SEB with us as a Lead partner for a three-year period is an opportunity to create lasting relationships between their customers and our network, to create waves and positive synergies on the art scene. Together with BMW, we move the artworks from the fair out in the city for all to enjoy, with BMW cars striped with the winning artwork from the BMW Art Commission.

Can you discuss the challenges and rewards of organizing such a diverse and comprehensive art fair, especially in the current global context?

Sara Berner Bengtsson: It is important to find what sets us apart from other fairs and work on these strengths instead of trying to be Art Basel. Our focus is the Nordic art scene, and we are constantly aiming towards being the go-to place for Nordic art. With everything accessible online at all times, it is also important to create something more than just a generic fair. Being a smaller event and organisation, we have the possibility to have personal relationships with our galleries and collectors, which is just as rewarding for us as it makes for a unique and memorable fair for our guests.

Sara Berner Bengtsson Discusses Market Art Fair’s Rise as the Premier Destination for Nordic Art
Image courtesy of Market Art Fair
Lastly, what can visitors expect in terms of unique experiences or highlights at this year’s Market Art Fair that set it apart from previous years?

Sara Berner Bengtsson: All visitors should take time to explore the galleries at Market Debut at Spritmuseum. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned art fair enthusiast, I highly recommend joining one of our curated guided tours. These tours cater to a variety of interests, whether you’re looking to acquire your first piece of art, discover emerging Nordic painters, or simply get an overview of this year’s highlights. They provide a unique opportunity to delve deeper into contemporary art while exploring this edition of Market Art Fair.

©2024 Sara Berner Bengtsson, Market Art Fair

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