Market Art Fair Returns After One-Year Hiatus

‘If I were forced to name an upside of the pandemic, it has been that it gave us time to reflect on and re-evaluate what we do’, says Sara Berner Bengtsson, new Managing Director of the Nordic art fair.

Sara Berner Bengtsson, Managing Director and CEO of Market Art Fair, & Josephine Van De Walle, Artistic Director. Photo: Kerstin Westeson.

Stockholm’s Market Art Fair is returning in 2021, after a break in 2020, which was a year of external and internal turbulence. Late last year, then director and CEO Saskia Neuman stepped down after just under a year in the position. The new managing director and CEO is Sara Berner Bengtsson, who was previously director of Galerie Forsblom, the Finnish gallery that chose to close its branch in Stockholm during the pandemic. Another reshuffle on the staff side is that Josephine Van De Walle, who previously worked in the role of fair manager, will be stepping in as the artistic director.

During an online press conference on 15 April, Berner Bengtsson announced that in a time when few art fairs are taking place physically, thirty-five galleries will participate in this year’s edition of Market, which will be held from 17 to 19 September. This is exactly the same amount of participating galleries as in 2019. Several young galleries have been added, such as the Malmö gallery OBRA, Golsa and VI, VII from Oslo, as well as the Berlin-based photography gallery Dorothée Nilsson Gallery. In addition, the Stockholm galleries Belenius and Elastic Gallery return, which had previously over a few years organised their own mini-fair, Monopol.

Examples of galleries that participated in previous years, but are missing from this year’s list include Standard (Oslo) as well as the Stockholm galleries Anna Bohman Gallery and Bohman-Knäpper. Neither i8 Gallery nor Hverfisgallerí from Reykjavik, both of which participated in 2019, are on this year’s list, which means that no Icelandic galleries will be taking part. The international turnout is low, and along with Dorothée Nilsson, the Knight Webb Gallery in London is the only non-Nordic gallery participating in Market 2021.

As in previous years, Market will take place over three days at Liljevalchs konsthall in Stockholm, and this year also in the building’s new extension Liljevalchs +, a 2,400 square metre addition designed by the architectural firm Wingårdhs that will also house a bookstore and new exhibition spaces with improved security.

The participating galleries have been chosen by a selection committee comprising chairman Lars Nittve; Pilvi Kalhama, museum director at EMMA Art Museum in Espoo, Finland; Marianne Torp, chief curator of contemporary art at the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen; and Magnus af Petersens, former director of Bonniers Konsthall and freelance curator. During the press conference, Nittve said that as part of an attempt to redefine the role of the fair, Market chose to review the composition of the selection committee, which, like Art Basel, now consists of more curators and museum people than gallery owners.

Criticism that global art fairs have grown too large and unsustainable has been raised for many years, and according to Berner Bengtsson, Market has a new direction that emphasises sustainability, which is partly a response to the climate threat but also a survival strategy at a time when art fairs are no longer the obvious centre of the art world. According to Berner Bengtsson: 

If I were forced to name an upside of the pandemic, it has been that it gave us a year and a half to reflect and re-evaluate our role. We might not have taken that time in other circumstances. Art fairs have come under criticism for a long time, that they are too many, too big and unsustainable and I think that in the future people will be more selective in which fairs they travel to. My concern for this year was that it would be difficult to find galleries that wanted to participate. 

Berner Bengtsson, who wants to use the fair as an arena to discuss both sustainability and other societal issues, describes this year’s Market as an expanded fair that will include a curated section for large-scale installations, sculptures, and performance. The participating artists and curator are yet to be announced. There will also be more emphasis on events both before and after the fair. This began earlier this week with a series of digital talks held in conjunction with Stockholm Art Week. ‘Market Talks: Artists First’, will give the audience the opportunity to get to know some of the Nordic artists that will be shown at Market in September. The talks kicked off on Monday with Swedish painter Jim Thorell in conversation with art critic Jenny Danielsson. Talks with Ragna Bley, A K Dolven, Nicolai Howalt, and Anna Retulainen will follow during the week.

Market Art Fair at Liljevalchs Konsthall 2019. Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger.