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5500 works of art

Tangen collection
PICTURE ART / Is it through its diversity that the world emerges? The game of life takes place behind some masks, which some wear, others take off. The works in the Tangen collection were made by Nordic artists throughout the 1900th century, with a main emphasis from 1930 to 1960. And who is Tangen, besides being an asset manager? One should not forget that he wrote a thesis on Rolf Nesch (at the Courtauld Institute in London).


If you had 30 years and no financial restrictions, it may well be that you would collect art during this period. But what would you buy? The Tangen collection provides one of many answers.

The approximately 5500 works in the collection were created by Nordic artists throughout the 1900th century, with a main emphasis from 1930–1960. The material in the collection is too large for us to give an introduction, but a lavish book publication from Orfeus Publishing makes a good attempt to visually present highlights from the collection, accompanied by a few fragments of text, almost in the form of greetings.

The exception is Hilde Sandvik's interview with the collector, which could have benefited from a larger space. Why? Because it is of interest to read what intentions lie behind creating a collection, primarily with purchases on the second-hand market.

The image material is arranged in groups that are taken from general art history, but beyond this there are no art historical explanations. We can expect the professional approach to the collection to come in a series of publications in connection with the exhibitions in Kunstsilo in Kristiansand. First in this series is the opening exhibition, Nordic passions, with around 700 paintings, curated by Åsmund Thorkildsen (see subcase).

Gösta Adrian-Nilsson: Schnällzug, 1915. Oil on Canvas, 40 X 65 Cm. Photo: Øystein Thorvaldsen/Orfeus

Human birds

Due to its retrospective character, the collection remains more or less current – the artworks will suffice in and out of fashion. The time in which we meet them is right now. What the images would mean to the people of the future, or what they meant to the people of the past, has little bearing on the time in which we find ourselves.

An artistry that was of great importance in its time, in terms of both form and content, can be found at Henrik Sørensen, where there are four works in the Tangen collection – including The human birds from 1916. The work was commissioned by the Swedish art collector Conrad M. Pineus and was in his collection, where artists from the Scandinavian countries hung side by side on the walls of his villa Darjeeling in Gothenburg.

The painting shows two undressed figures, holding hands, placed inside what I think must be a pine forest, with a rocky outcrop and water in the background. The whole thing is bathed in an anemic, dystopian atmosphere. We see them holding close together, in fear of something outside themselves. The eyes go in different directions, as if they are on guard, in the same way that the birds do not let any movement escape their watchful gaze. During a visit to the forest, there are many animals that we don't see, that have seen us. For the human birds, the sensory apparatus is hard-working. Sørensen's view of art made it impossible for one to turn away from the world around them. During this time, he lived as a newlywed in Gothenburg, cut off from a Europe where war reigned. The human birds stay close together, but birds thrive best in flocks. There are only two left. The parallel to our time – with unrest on all sides – is obvious. The two human birds have taken refuge in the dark forest, safe from danger. But the forest offers no security. If we look more closely at the trees, they seem hard and cold, as a contrast to what a vulnerable person would want.

The human birds can be read not only as an artistic reaction to war, but also seen as a gesture towards our time, where the solutions seem far less tangible.

Has man been more of a bird than when Daedalus cast wings for Icarus to escape captivity in King Minos's labyrinth? Understood through the framework of this Greek myth will The human birds could be read not only as an artistic reaction to war, from an artistry that had a particular commitment to the cause of peace, but is also seen as a gesture towards our time, where the solutions seem far less tangible than what must have been the case a hundred years ago.

Else Hagen: Roles Assigned, 1949-51. Oil on canvas, 160 X 198 Cm. Photo: Øystein Thorvaldsen/Orfeus

Even so, the private use of violence has also escalated; the media is filled with murder, gang crime and abuse. It can basically look dark. The human birds can stand as a picture of the last vulnerable stronghold one can build up: closeness to each other.

At the last adjustment of the defense budget, that possibility was not discussed, as far as I know. And on another note: There have been around 600 million fewer birds in Europe since 1980 – correspondingly, we are under 750 million people here in Europe. The human birds is a painting that has possibilities for different points of view than what was the case in 1916.


Among the oldest artists in the collection we find Swedish Agnes Cleve, Norwegian Ludvig Karsten and Finnish Sigrid Schauman, all born in the 1870s. Also, Danish JF Willumsen, born in 1863 – the same year as Edvard Munch (who is otherwise not represented in the collection). I do not highlight these four names because the collection in some way has its starting point in them, but because an image is formed of a collection that extends beyond national borders, as the artists themselves also seemed to do. Beyond such external factors, there is probably little that binds exactly these four together.

Of the oldest, it was enough Agnes Cleve, who with her husband, the painter John Jon-And, came closest to the real progressive European art of the 1910s and 20s. Kandinsky could also appear in their home. The avant-garde works from the 1910s in the Tangen collection remind of where forward the Swedes were, compared to the slightly more domestic Norwegian tradition of painters who made themselves known at the same time, many with backgrounds from studies with Henri Matisse. They challenged conventions of form and colour, but to a far lesser extent did the paintings modernity as a motive.

Gösta Adrian-Nilsson: Sailors In Gothenburg, 1919. Oil On Canvas, 100 X 74 Cm.
Photo: Øystein Thorvaldsen/Orfeus

There are of course exceptions, such as Per Krohg, Alfred Hagn and Julie de Holmberg Krohn, who are represented with good works in the collection, but when compared to their Swedish contemporaries Gösta Adrian-Nilsson, Sigrid Hjertén, Isaac Grünewald and the already mentioned Jon-And and Cleve, we see that Norwegian art must have been less expansive in the period up to and around the First World War. It is conceivable that Norwegian art had a national bond, which limited the freshest elements of modernism. Nevertheless, it is exciting to see a pan-Nordic fel-less cabinet performing across the pages.

Gösta Adrian-Nilsson

As a particularly fresh assessment of modernism is Gösta Adrian-Nilsson, which is represented by eleven works in the collection. His Quick pull, first exhibited in 1915, embodies the efficient tactfulness of the great world, while Sailors in Gothenburg, from 1919, gives us rich colours, cubic elements and a city that one cannot quite understand, just like in reality. The purely futuristic depictions she represented stand as examples of paintings that burst out of their time, and become a form of retrofuturism for our time.

Else Hagens The roles distributed

"It is certainly not trend art in the general sense of the word Else Hagen representing. In addition, she is far too keenly occupied with her painterly means of expression, she is expansive, dynamic in her striving forward. But she has an eye for people, something that is often sorely missed in the younger generation of painters," wrote the signature RW in Friheten 10/11-1954. There are eleven works by Else Hagen in the collection, including The roles distributed, which was shown at the Autumn Exhibition in 1951, and Authority, which was shown at the same exhibition the previous year. The latter graced the cover of MODERN TIMES's predecessor Orientering 1 May 1960, during Finn Gustavsen's editorship. The illustration was accompanied by a text written by an artist with clear feminist sympathies:

"Sister, sister, you have no choice, – get ready. Help him, our scared and hardened brother, for far too long he has had the birthright in society. If the earth is murdered, you cannot go scot-free this time, because you are a woman. – You are no longer that, you are human, and as a human you are involved and responsible for life."

The many female figures in The roles distributed shows the human role-play, presented as a jumble of episodes

How so feminismn out in Hagen's time? The 1950s were the years when sons of Norway bought cars, and the group of young people who arrived in the years after the world war ate blings mother had spread at the kitchen counter, where she liked to stay most of the time. In any case, such social ideas had solid support during this time. The stay-at-home father and out-of-work mother was a clear break from the norm when Anne-Cath. Vestly published the first book about Aurora, in 1966. Hagen was among the cultural workers of the left, who took a more progressive stance, although visual art can be a more difficult language to understand than letters. The many female figures in The roles distributed shows the human role-play, presented as a jumble of episodes, in the same way as we see in contemporary artists such as Kai Fjell and Arne Ekeland. The picture is reminiscent of reality, where there is never a single story that unfolds alone. It is through its diversity that the world emerges. The game of life takes place behind some masks, which some wear, others take off. Who will play their part with convincing empathy and precision, and who will have to appear as themselves, we can never fully know. The moment that unfolds on the canvas thus contributes to an experience of unease.

Eyewitness Anker Aurdals The sun

A separate chapter in the book about the Tangen collection has been entitled "Symbol. Form", and here some fruitful juxtapositions are made by artists. IN Visual apprentice Anker Aurdal#s The sun (1968) is something reminiscent of the sun, made of woven copper threads, and it adds a materiality to the work that would not be possible apart from expanding the artisanal repertoire. The large shape creates a play of reflections that pits the two shapes against each other, so our eyes are prevented from locking onto the subject. It is a motif that plays with the play of light, something that a reproduction will be able to bring to a far lesser extent than the experience of the original work.

Some parallels can be drawn to Sørensen's The human birds what concerns the experience of a chaotic and difficult world. If the two lonely figures have withdrawn from society, because it has simply become too complex, too unclear, and for a moment they choose a variant of Henry David Thoreau Life in the forests (Walden, 1854), also becomes The sun to understand a moment set to zero, whereby everything becomes new, on an almost religious level.

The unpredictable power that the sun represents meets us as a symbol in this work and gives us a basis for our entire existence.


With Nicolai Tangen and the exhibition in Art silo it also paints a picture of a changing art collecting climate. There are still the traditional mesens, which support around a small number of artists through frequent purchases, which eventually become an independent collection of importance. Business collections from the 1900th century also exist, although it may seem as if the need for visual art within the business world is somewhat in decline. The combination of home offices or open office landscapes, more digital meetings with collaboration partners and changed architectural solutions, where there are large open glass surfaces all over, have pushed the many stable walls a little to one side. A change in mentality in employer responsibility has also come to light.

The collection has features of the lover's impulsiveness.

What is today's solution? A broad collection, put together with almost scientific precision. There is a bit of most things to be found in the Tangen collection. Some advice was given early in the process Steinar Gjessing, known from, among other things, his work with the Canica collection, Storebrand and the Museum of Contemporary Art, but at the same time the collection has features of the Liebhaber's impulsiveness. Although Tangen will always be associated with its strength as capitalmanager, one should not forget that he has written a thesis on Rolf Nesch at the Courtauld Institute in London.
The combination of capital and interest thus has a kinship with Pineus' in Gothenburg, the interest in being part of a traditional patriarchal attitude, akin to what we saw happened in Norsk Elektrik Kabelfabrikk, can be found in AKO Kunststiftelse. But today's solution is different: It must be spectacular, almost modeled after the Florentine Medici family.
This is a large collection – the world's largest of its kind – which has been made available in a substantial museum in Kristiansand, Art silo. Tangen has gathered together many loose pieces of our common history. The 1900th century was a long and interesting century in art, characterized by frequent changes. A book like this emphasizes in a convincing way how important Tangen collection may turn out to be in the art historical narrative of the 1900th century.



A question of balance

BOOK: Thorkildsen's exhibition shows breadth and depth with a basis in the Tangen collection, which in its diversity also brings some reflections on a break that existed, and which today is history.

It is Åsmund Thorkildsen who has curated the first exhibition in Kunstsilo in Kristiansand, where around 600 works from the collection are shown under the title Nordic passions.

Heske, Gjerdeløa: Photo: Even Askildsen/Kunstsilo

Through a smaller publication, a narrower selection of highlights from the exhibition is presented, accompanied by texts that argue for the divisions of 1900th-century modernism made in the exhibition. In Thorkildsen's words will be Marianne Heske#s Gjerdeløa (1980) almost to a program explanation for a unifying interest the artists in the exhibition have, with their longing outward towards a larger world, and a way back. The road to the Pompidou Center in Paris may seem impossible for a dilapidated north-west house, but it didn't just make it. It has also returned, this time as a permanent feature in an art historical canon.

A future optimism that no longer has its validity.

Thorkildsen's exhibition shows breadth and depth based on the Tangen collection, which in its diversity also brings some reflections on a break that existed, and which today is history. Likewise, an optimism for the future that no longer has its validity, and an eternal growth that will be replaced by painstaking collection. When the modern is history, we are in a new situation. Thorkildsen points to a breach that must have occurred during the 1960s, there degrowth points towards a tendency that prevails in our time: a desire for balance.

Sverre Følstad
Sverre Følstad
Almost art registrar I MODERN TIMES.

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