Elevating Collectible Nordic Design to the Global Stage

Nanna Hjortenberg has leveraged Copenhagen’s creative strongholds to propel the annual CHART fair into a can’t-miss destination for collectible design and blue-chip art.

Form by Alejandro Urrutia. Photography by David Stjernholm

The influence of Scandinavia’s mid-century masters is near-universal. To say they were revolutionary is an understatement—their use of warm, thoughtful materials and traditional craftsmanship continues to imbue spaces around the world with ease and comfort. But much has changed since the ides of mid-century. The Nordic region’s unmistakable design heritage has evolved considerably, giving rise to an entirely new generation of boundary-pushing artists and designers intent on eschewing convention and pushing materials into unexpected territory. 

These agents of change, including such emerging and established designers as Sigve Knutson, Sabine Marcelis, and Maria Bruun, will soon descend on CHART, a three-day celebration of Nordic art and design that will take over two historic venues in the heart of Copenhagen. Programming runs the gamut from pop-up pavilions and panel discussions to an international museum presentation by Mexico City’s Museo Tamayo, which reveals an installation by Portuguese artist Alexandre Estrela. “In recent years, we’ve seen an extensive development within creative fields from a younger and increasingly cross-disciplinary generation,” says CHART director Nanna Hjortenberg. “We want to stimulate this development by bringing together these different players.” Surface chats with Hjortenberg in advance of the fair to get the low-down. 

Red Open White Heart by Maria Koshenkova. Photography by Kurt Rodahl Hoppe, courtesy of Sirin Gallery

First thing’s first: How did you become director of CHART?

I’ve worked across architecture, design, and art for many years. After I studied art history, I began working at architecture studios and at the Danish Architecture Centre, where I became Head of Exhibitions. I’ve produced shows such as “World Architecture: Zaha Hadid” in 2013, the late architect’s only solo exhibition in Denmark, which focused on her entire practice: architecture, technology, design, and art. I’m currently collaborating with SANAA on an exhibition about their architectural practice but also touches upon their furniture designs and artistic approach. CHART is essentially a return to my art history roots while channeling my encounters with design and architecture, which are CHART’s three main pillars. 

What sparked your passion for art?

That’s hard to say. My parents took me on marathon museum visits throughout Italy and France, and I’ve always been drawn to visuals. I appreciate aesthetics in everyday life, and I draw inspiration from the crossovers of artistic disciplines: areas where design, architecture, and art overlap, merge, and mutually inspire and challenge each other.  

What initiatives have you brought to CHART?

I began as director four months before last year’s edition, so it felt like a baptism of fire. This year, however, I’ve reevaluated our entire program and am slowly setting the course for the next few years. 

We’re introducing multiple new initiatives this year. One is a collaboration on a show with Museo Tamayo—our first with an international institution. There’s currently a strong exchange between the art spheres in Mexico and across the Nordic, and I wanted CHART to further foster this relationship. Museo Tamayo will present an installation by Portuguese artist Alexander Estrela, who’s exhibiting for the first time in the Nordic region.

Assorted works by Sigve Knutson. Photography by Øystein Thorvaldsen

How does CHART differ from other annual art fairs?

We present a large public program that features exhibitions, talks, performances, artist films, and concerts alongside the two fairs—a contemporary showcase of leading Nordic galleries, and a fair dedicated to contemporary regional collectible design. We cater to two very different groups: dedicated professionals such as collectors, curators, museums, and gallerists, and a large general audience that ranges from young creatives to families.

This also shows in the fairs, where galleries exhibit collective presentations throughout the rooms in museums, rather than in individual booths. Developing collegial relations between galleries and creating a unified entry point to the Nordic gallery scene has been one of our core values from the start. 

CHART also seeks to combine genres and break barriers between categories. We exhibit art along with design, architecture, and all the disciplines in between. We have three initiatives for young talents: a curated art exhibition, a design exhibition, and an open-pavilion competition for newly graduated architects, all of which aims to support the next generation of Nordic creatives. 

Did you have any growing pains?

We’re still struggling with growing pains, which can take a while to settle into. Humorously enough—or perhaps ironically—our biggest challenge is also our strength. Standing on two legs with the commercial fairs being one and the public program being the other, we channel the strength of a market-driven event and a central ambition to service the general public. Making those two sides complement each other is tough, but also where our activities can leave the largest impact. 

Easy Chair by Fredrik Paulsen. Photography by Viktor Sjödin, courtesy of Etage Projects
Passive Aggressive (Who Do You Think You Are) by Kiyoshi Yamamoto. Photography courtesy of Ram Galleri

How are you addressing the growth?

Our visitors increased by 50 percent last year, which surprised everyone. This year, we’re focusing on two main components. The first is elevating our program’s quality, which includes inviting Museo Tamayo to collaborate. The second is creating a more coherent program, where visitors can truly immerse themselves within the content. For example, our talks program will focus solely on artists who are presenting works or performances. This way, our audience can experience the work, learn about a new practice, and even meet the artist. We actively encourage in-depth discussions rather than simply sharing new perspectives. 

What are CHART’s long-term goals?

We aim to further stimulate the contemporary Nordic art and design spheres both locally and internationally. More international visitors are coming to Copenhagen for CHART, which is great. More locals, too, are engaging with our program. Our goal is to maintain this forward momentum while increasing our overall quality. There are so many massive art fairs. We simply want to maintain an accessible size and focus where visitors actually have time to see and experience it, which leaves a lasting impression.

How would you describe Denmark’s emerging art and design spheres?

A multitude of practices with a playful approach. We see many emerging artists and designers work across mediums and genres, from performance and fine art pieces to design objects. It’s underscored by an experimental approach that is reflected in our program. 

Same Same But Different by Gitte Bjorn. Photography by Ole Akhøj, courtesy of Koppe Contemporary Objects

How does CHART give back to Copenhagen’s creative communities?

For some artists, CHART is their first presentation after graduating. They’re being shown in front of gallerists, curators, journalists, and collectors from around the world. In hindsight, CHART has been a significant stepping stone for their careers. CHART is also one of the few places where the entire cultural ecosystem meets on a level plane: gallerists, artists, designers, architects, collectors, patrons, and professionals all attend, generating a fruitful dynamic that bolsters the local community.  

What’s the best part of your job?

Working with extremely dedicated and passionate people, from gallerists to artists and my own very hard-working team, even with all the craziness it involves. 

CHART will run from Aug. 30–Sept. 1 at two venues in Copenhagen: Charlottenborg Palace, Nyhavn, 2 1051, and Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art, Oslo Pl. 1, 2100.

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