What we can learn from the Nordic CHART art fair

CHART 2023. Photo ©Niklas Adrian Vindelev

CHART comes with a clear focus: to present and represent the Nordic creative scene. And as such, it manages to find a unique proposition among the many art fairs that spring up annually in almost every major city. Founded a decade ago by five leading Copenhagen galleries, this annual three-day event in August offers a window into the region’s contemporary art and design scene and has become a must on the arts calendar.

This August saw 37 established and younger galleries exhibit at Kunsthal Charlottenborg, the official exhibition gallery of the Royal Danish Academy of Art, where the courtyard staged an architectural competition by five young practices to coincide with Copenhagen’s selection as UNESCO’s World Capital of Architecture for 2023.

Meanwhile, for the second year running, the fair presented a sculptural show in the city’s iconic 180-year-old Tivoli Gardens amusement park featuring 16 site-specific works — a healthy mix of established artists such as FOS, Jonathan Meese, Sylvie Fleury and emerging ones. And the show was supported by a bespoke exhibition dedicated to collecting art, a lively program of talks, performances, films and music across Copenhagen aimed at engaging a wider audience.

CHART director, Julie Quottrup Silbermann, spoke to us about the event, and how it sits within the Nordic art and design landscape.

Yours is a unique fair among art fairs in that it is focused on a single region. What are your aims and ambitions?

CHART is built on the aspiration to create a strong arts community throughout the Nordic region and to offer a single-entry point to this community for international audiences. We want to promote an idea of the Nordic art scene as a space with a strong emphasis on high-quality curated presentations and a collegial rather than competitive atmosphere — with galleries sharing resources, information and collectors with one another.

How do you ensure the fair retains its unique Nordic character among the many international art fairs?

We continue to invite only galleries from the Nordic countries. Our layout differs from the typical fair architecture by not having these long aisles and traditional booths. We let the architecture of Kunsthal Charlottenborg define our layout, and it gives CHART the feeling of being one large, curated contemporary art exhibition.

One of the fair’s highlights has to be the Tivoli program. What do you hope to achieve with this unique exhibition?

It continues our mission of being an agent of positive change, challenging the traditional art fair format and bringing contemporary art to new audiences. In the process, we aimed to present a broad range of media — the show presents traditional sculpture, site-specific installation, neon works, and surprising pieces in unexpected places. It feels like a treasure hunt when walking around in the magical garden.

CHART 2023. Photo ©Niklas Adrian Vindelev

What does CHART Architecture bring to the programme?

Besides art, architecture has also been one of our key focuses for the past nine editions of CHART. Continuing our interest in encouraging innovation amongst new practitioners, we announced an architecture competition in the early spring for newly graduated or emerging architectural firms. Architects were asked to submit innovative constructions to the theme New European Bauhaus and its three principles of aesthetics, sustainability and inclusion. All records were broken, with more than 60 submissions. The jury selected the installation Off-The-Shelf (by young architecture firm Plan Noll) for our first prize award, as it lived up to all the principles and, furthermore, integrated universal design.

What do you hope to achieve through the exhibition dedicated to collecting art?

It’s about curating a selling exhibition featuring works by some of the region’s most well-established artists and new talents, as well as providing greater transparency at every stage of the purchasing process. In doing so, we hope to encourage first-time buyers to start their collecting journey with stand-out works at a more affordable price point. After working for many years at galleries and as an art advisor, I could really feel a growing interest in how you start an art collection.

What are the challenges and opportunities for first-time collectors?

The key challenge is the lack of transparency about how much artworks cost, and what best practices are to follow when purchasing art. With this initiative, we wanted to clarify both of these points so that first-time collectors can focus on finding works that they love. By visiting an art fair, you will be presented with many different media and expressions and simultaneously have the opportunity to speak to all the gallerists and let them introduce you to their artists. In that sense, one of the key opportunities for first-time collectors is to engage with artworks that speak to their preferences and values.

What are the challenges with making art events more inclusive and inviting wider audiences to participate? And do you see the live events helping expand its reach beyond typical art enthusiasts?

We want to broaden the audience for art and art experiences and to help reduce the framing of contemporary art as something elitist. CHART in Tivoli is a good example of one of our strategies to encourage meetings between art and new audiences in unexpected settings. Our performance program in the public square at Kongens Nytorv has been another way of bringing art out into the public sphere. There are a lot of opportunities to broaden the conversation around contemporary art and what art can do.

These are topical debates: what art can do, the responsibility of art to be active, for the artist to give a sense of agency. What are your thoughts on this?

Many artists provide our communities with joy, interaction, and inspiration, but they also give thoughtful critique to our society and highly discussed themes in the art world — pushing us to engage thoughtfully and make steps toward social progress.

Interview by Nargess Banks. CHART 2023 (August 24 – 27) was exhibited at Charlottenborg, Copenhagen. Chart in Tivoli is on until September 24, 2023.
Images: Scenes from CHART 2023 at at Charlottenborg ©Niklas Adrian Vindelev, CHART

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CHART 2023. Photo ©Niklas Adrian Vindelev
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