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Meet Contemporary Scandinavian Art and its Artists

  • Scandinavian art
June 18, 2016
Alias of Ksenija Pantelić

The diverse region of Scandinavia, comprised of Denmark, Greenland, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Åland and the Faroe Islands, allows for a unique approach to art and its relationship to nature and light. Today, the Scandinavian art is gaining a substantial international recognition while a number of the Scandinavian contemporary authors are proving to be some of the most inspirational creators today. The history of the Nordic Art showcases that it was not until the 19th-century that the northern European countries developed an independent art scene of their own. During that time, the most influential artist coming from this part of the world was Edward Munch. His iconic painting The Scream depicting a figure fused with his tormented environment exemplifies the importance of the relationship to nature and the surroundings, as an important theme and concept, which influences the approach, not only to Scandinavian fine art but to applied arts as well. Following the major trends, yet at the same time showcasing extreme originality, Scandinavian art today has much to offer its local and international audiences.

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Elmgreen & Dragset – The Death of a Collector. Image via

Scandinavian Design

The history of the relationship between nature and art is one of the most fruitful ones of art history. The arrays of abstract landscape paintings and the symbolism hidden in nature and the animal world have a rich history in the traditional Nordic Folk Art, which has in return, influenced and inspired much of its modern art and design. Famous for its depictions of mythology, simplistic design and recognizable forms, Nordic Folk Art, like any Folk Art allows for its motifs to be placed on various everyday household objects, and to become part of the interior design as well. The need to have a beautiful surrounding and at the same time, a functional space is an inspiration behind something that has come to be known as Scandinavian design. Beautifully simple, clean designs, inspired by nature and the northern climate, the approach to any form of applied art, be it textile design, printed graphic design work and poster art, relies on functionality and accessibility for all. That is why, on the international design stage, Scandinavian design is one of the most influential one out there. Touching upon the tradition of craftsmanship, the thread running through Scandinavian design is the above-mentioned idea of functionality and minimalism.

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Olafur Eliasson – The Weather Project, 2003. Image via

The Reflections of Nature and Light in Scandinavian Art

The philosophical and poetic reflections on nature seem to be at the core of the artistic practice of Olafur Eliasson, one of the most prolific and most important Scandinavian artist today. This Danish-Icelandic artist is internationally known for his sculpture and large-scale installation art. Using natural elements, such as light, water, and fog combined with makeshift technical devices, his production transforms museums and public spaces of the world, into immersive environments in their own right.

“It is not just about decorating the world… but about taking responsibility. ” Olafur Eliasson

Reflecting the question concerning the relationship of human beings to their surrounding, his Green River project, lasting during 1998 – 2001, witnessed him pouring green chemicals, environmentally friendly and safe, into rivers running through downtown L.A., Stockholm, Tokyo and other cities. Possibly one of his most famous installation pieces is The Weather Project installed at the London’s Tate Modern in 2003, which filled the open space of the gallery’s Turbine Hall. Using humidifiers to create mist, as well as a circular disc made up of hundreds of monochromatic lamps radiating yellow light, Eliasson created something resembling the Sun. This concern with sunlight could easily be referenced back to the harsh conditions of the northern climate, where the light is so precious, and its capture is an important element, not only in Eliasson’s work, where his other major pieces often have a reflective surface in them but also other artists working in both fine art and applied arts fields as well.

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Left: Martin Whatson – Climber. Image via / Right: Martin Whatson – (NO) Venus De Milo. Image via

Scandinavian Street Art

As much as we can acknowledge the poetic reflections on the surroundings, importance of light and the use of the harsh northern climate, as a mise-en-scene and a maker of a mystical and slightly dark atmosphere, idea manifesting itself in the Scandinavian film, not to mention TV Series industries, there is a strong current of creators working outside of the traditional art establishment, helping to promote the Scandinavian Street Art. In the last 10 years or so, different cities in Scandinavia are playing hosts to some of the now famous street and graffiti art festivals, which showcase both international and local urban artists. One of the major festivals is Nuart, in Stavanger, the town on the West Coast of Norway. Alongside some of the international street names, such as MAISMENOS, Tilt, Fra.Biancoshock and many others, is Martin Whatson, a Norwegian stencil artist. Lover of street art and its follower since the nineties decade, after his discovery of Banksy, Whatson decided to dedicate his own artistic practice to stencil art. His unique approach to stencil art and the fusion of the now characteristic gray monochromatic images done with the stencil and decorated with vibrant graffiti colors have earned this young urban artist international recognition and his murals can be found in Oslo, Miami, Paris, and Tokyo.

Norway’s NuArt Festival Recap

Some of the Leading Scandinavian Artists Today

In the last years, the interest of the international curators has turned towards this part of the world and this shift was no surprise to anyone due to the high placement of the Scandinavian authors in some of the major art events today. Such is the Venice Biennale, where, in 2009 , a Danish and Norwegian duo, Elmgreen & Dragset left a mark, presenting the mix media piece The Collectors, staging an imagined living space of an art collector, his family, and neighbors. Famous for their sculptures, installation pieces, and performances, this duo is pushing the boundaries, not only of the discipline but also of our perception and experience of what a work of art is. Alongside this duo, Swedish artists Klara Liden, Jonas Dahlberg, Christian Andersson and Andreas Eriksson, just naming a few, are all pushing the boundaries and working across a variety of art disciplines, such as film, architecture, video, performance, sculpture and painting, providing us all with some of the most mesmerizing works today.

Editors’ Tip: Contemporary Art in Scandinavia: ARTWORLD

Highlighting the diversity and moving away from the geographical and regional preconception, the book offers profiles of over 50 world-famous Scandinavian artists and presents an array of approaches to art production. Presenting one of the most vibrant and fascinating art scenes today, the richness of the Scandinavian art is beautifully illustrated and accompanied by an introductory essay, and an appendix of re-printed essays by writers, academics, and artists working in this influential art scene.

All images used for illustrative purposes only. Featured image: Olafur Eliasson – Ice Watch, Installation in front of the Pantheon, Paris. Image via