With Special Responsibility for Art Criticism

‘Being an editor requires an internal drive. It’s about working for something that’s bigger than yourself’, says Mariann Enge. She is Kunstkritikk’s new editor-in-chief.

Mariann Enge is Kunstkritikk’s new editor-in-chief. Photo: Kristian Skylstad.

“The objective is for Kunstkritikk to be a journal which people interested in art and culture feel they quite simply have to follow because it always offers exciting, interesting, important, and horizon-expanding texts,” said Mariann Enge. She has just been named editor-in-chief of Kunstkritikk, making her the first woman appointed to the chair. As yet, her appointment is a fixed-term four-year position.

Enge is a trained literary scholar. Between 2002 and 2008 she reviewed poetry for the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten and worked as a writer and editor for various Nordic online journals for literature. She has worked at Kunstkritikk since 2009, first as acting editor for a period of six months. From the autumn of 2009, Enge was Kunstkritikk’s editorial secretary before once again becoming acting editor in February this year following the departure of former editor, Jonas Ekeberg.

Bente Riise, chair of the Kunstkritikk Foundation, emphasised Enge’s experience with the journal. “When we announced the vacancy, we had a long list of things we were looking for, ranging from art historical expertise to editorial experience, knowledge of management and administration, and the ability to manage finances and day-to-day operations. Mariann is a literary scholar by training, but she has worked with art criticism for a long time. She knows all the ins and outs of running Kunstkritikk, and she has been acting editor several times,” said Riise.

Enge believes that Kunstkritikk has a special responsibility for cultivating and developing art criticism, and for ensuring that contemporary art benefits from high-quality critical reception. “As the daily newspapers are cutting back on reviews, criticism, and art journalism, the efforts to maintain a public conversation about art become increasingly urgent. We live in a time of crisis, a time of turmoil and change, and I believe that Kunstkritikk can play an important role by focusing on how these crises affect art and the field of art in general,” she said.

She also highlights the journal’s Nordic and international editions, pointing out that this gives Kunstkritikk a unique position with significant potential. “Interest in our international English-language edition is growing steadily, so securing future funding of Kunstkritikk International is an important priority for us. I believe that collaboration and dialogue across borders is more important than ever, both in general and in the art field. Most of the challenges we now face locally are also global challenges,” Enge said.

Asked what makes her a good editor, she responded that it is first and foremost her genuine commitment to art and art criticism, both in themselves and as seen from a wider social perspective. “Being an editor requires an inner drive, and it’s about working for something that’s bigger than yourself. I have almost twenty years of experience with editorial work, and having followed the Nordic contemporary art field closely for over ten years I have a large network and close ties to the art scene which are valuable,” said Enge. “I also believe that I have a good nose for this – which may sound vague. But being an editor is often about trusting your instinct and daring to try things out. I am committed to giving writers room to develop their own critical projects. At Kunstkritikk, all texts undergo a thorough editorial process, and this quality assurance is crucial. But it is also important that the texts don’t become too uniform.”

On the topic of decolonisation and the need to increase diversity in art criticism, Enge admitted Kunstkritikk has a significant responsibility: “We have to work for a greater diversity among our own writers, and that is something we have had a certain focus on for a while now, but I see this as a long-term task. It’s not just about letting people in, but also about outreach and active recruitment. At the same time, of course, we must be aware of the editorial choices we make – which artists, exhibitions, and projects we choose to pay attention to. Also, I think we have a responsibility to drive the discussions on decolonisation and representation onwards and to keep an eye on the art institutions.”

She continued, “an important element in Kunstkritikk’s efforts to increase diversity must also be to work for better working conditions for critics. As artist Niilas Helander pointed out in a commentary in Kunstkritikk earlier this year, decolonisation is also about class issues and about changing the material conditions under which we live. If we are to be able to recruit broadly, we must make it easier for people to make a living from writing criticism.”

Kunstkritikk was launched in 2003 on the basis of a three-year project grant from Arts Council Norway. During the first two years, Jon-Ove Steihaug served as editor-in-chief, while Ketil Nergaard was editor of discussion pieces and letters to the editor. Nergaard then took over as editor-in-chief until January 2009. Mariann Enge was acting editor during the interim period between Nergaard and Ekeberg in the spring of 2009. Ekeberg was appointed editor-in-chief for two periods, from 2009 to 2013 and from 2015 to January 2020. Erlend Hammer was acting editor in spring 2012, when Ekeberg was on leave. Ingvild Krogvig was acting editor in 2014.

“The process of finding Ekeberg’s successor has taken time,” said Riise, “and we have engaged in many deliberations, weighing pros and cons. We have also talked to potential candidates beyond those who actually applied for the position. Then came the corona pandemic, which delayed us even more. It is unfortunate that it has taken so long, but now we have finally reached a conclusion.”

Kunstkritikk will also announce a new vacancy for an editorial position which will closely follow the Norwegian art field. Instead of searching for a new editorial secretary, the magazine will opt for an organisation with two full-time editors in Oslo – the editor-in-chief and a Norwegian editor – in addition to the Swedish and Danish editors.