How Copenhagen’s Chart Fair helped transform Scandinavia’s conservative contemporary art scene
Chart art fair (August 26-28) launched its first edition ten years ago in Copenhagen with the aim of bringing serious collectors to the Nordic countries: where money and public funding for culture are plentiful but the The contemporary art market was, at that time, relatively conservative. “Over the past decade, we have positioned ourselves as the premier entry point into Northern Europe and guided a transformation in the regional appetite for young artists,” says fair director Nanna Hjortenberg. She ran Chart, which is now Northern Europe’s biggest shopping event, for half its life, and is considering how to take it to its next chapter.
The answer, it seems, is to build success in a measured, yet lasting way. “We’re not trying to be a big fair brand or to grow quickly. It wouldn’t work for our geography or our business model,” says Hjortenberg. Held annually at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, with a hanging salon that looks more like a salon than a commercial hall, Chart positions itself as a kind of “anti-fair fair” – if there could have such a thing. Its funding model is unusual, but not unheard of, for an art fair, being partially funded by the City of Copenhagen, as well as a number of private foundations. This means that stand prices – which range from €7,400 to €12,000 – are cheaper than at many other fairs, which encourages galleries to “take risks and show cutting-edge work”, says Hjortenberg. . “Some galleries don’t sell well in the first year, and that should be fine. They are here for the long game. The size of the venue also limits the number of participants, which for its 2022 edition is 38.
Nonetheless, Chart remains an all-business event with a bottom line, and the future of a regional fair without a major backer hangs increasingly in the balance. “As long as we continue to serve our original purpose – to strengthen relationships between Nordic galleries and ensure regional dialogues – we will have a reason to continue”, says Hjortenberg.
Founded by five Danish galleries, Chart has always maintained that it should serve all Scandinavian countries, and for good reason. “Norway has huge institutional buying power due to its oil, Sweden has the biggest private collectors, Denmark has an appreciation for aesthetics and a vibrant gallery scene; together we want to harness these qualities in a concentrated mass,” says Hjortenberg.
Collectors and visitors are broadly regional: from Nordic countries, Western and Central Europe, says Hjortenberg, with a growing number of North American institutional collectors, including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York. . But there is no concerted effort by the fair’s management to attract collectors from further afield, such as East Asia. “We think it’s best not to try to bring the whole world to Copenhagen for just one weekend, not least for environmental reasons.”
This year, Chart will stage its response to Frieze Sculpture. The 19th-century Tivoli Gardens, the third-oldest amusement park in the world, will host a number of sculptures from August through October by artists including New York-based Austin Lee. This will be the first time the historic park has been filled with commissioned artwork.
In another first, the fair programming will also extend to neighboring Malmö. The plan mimics that of Art Basel, whose impending move to Paris is set to partner with a number of the city’s major institutions, suggesting that fairs are increasingly turning their sights to cultural experiences on the scale of the city, rather than being limited to commercial events. “We hold our fair at the end of summer, when Scandinavia is warm and the art world is ready to go back to school,” says Hjortenberg. “The opening of Chart should mean it’s time for the industry to get back to business.”