Arterritory.com had the pleasure to meet Jeanette Bonnier, a member of the Bonnier family who owns Scandinavia’s biggest media concern The Bonnier Group and who has been supporting culture and art for more than two centuries. In 1985, in memory of her daughter Maria, Jeanette founded Maria Bonnier Dahlin Foundation, the first foundation to offer grants to emerging Swedish artists, and since 2006 she runs the Bonniers Konsthall, a contemporary art space that has become one of the most important art institutions in Sweden and Scandinavia.
Our interview takes place at Jeanette Bonnier’s office, which is located in the multi-storey building and has the name “Bonnierhuset” stretching vertically along its side. It feels very intimidating yet thrilling to be standing by the entrance of this historical corporation. All these mixed feelings, however, disappear when stepping inside the vast foyer and being instantly surrounded by art… many paintings, sculptures and installations have found their home here. But I do not have the opportunity to appreciate these treasures in detail as the security guard quickly ushers me into a lift and I am taken somewhere above the ground level to meet my host. I enter Jeanette’s office, which feels very welcoming and, I must admit, creative.
It seems that Bonniers Konsthall is always searching for the new and the exciting in contemporary art world.Has this concept changed since it opened in 2006?
No, I can’t say that it has. We are still keeping with the idea to show contemporary. Most of our exhibitions are based on a thought - an intellectual idea. We have worked together with a theatre to see how theatre and art work together, and how literature and art work together. It has always been within the similar lines. Of course sometimes we do include older artists within these exhibitions because it fits the theme but I would say that 80% of our exhibitions are based on the contemporary art. Lately we have also started to collaborate with other institutions. And some of our exhibitions have started to travel. That has happened in the last two or three years.
I read that you also collaborate with the artists that you exhibit.
Yes, we do the funding for special pieces of work. You can see Singaporean artist’s, Ming Wong, video from the outside. He did this piece based on Ingrid Bergman, on one of her movies and we collaborated with him. And when we had the exhibition by Tomás Saraceno, where he made an enormous spider web, we collaborated with him too. We also purchased it. We do buy some of the pieces that are exhibited but that doesn’t mean that we buy from everyone that we show. It would be impossible to ask. But every now and then we pick out some pieces that are later purchased. We build up a collection this way.
I understand that it was not your intention to become a museum. But why not, if you already have a collection?
We are not a museum. There is a big difference because a museum has to have a collection and they have to buy. They have to own. Museum has to show the public a long range of art history. We don’t have to do that. And we don’t sell. You can say that this is strictly an exhibition hall. Sooner or later of course we will make a show of what we have collected. Absolutely! But we have been doing this just for a few years and we have to wait until it becomes something bigger.
Due to the culture budget cuts, many of the museums cannot afford to buy new pieces of art consistently. Although Bonniers Konsthall is not a museum, it does have some of the functions that museums at the moment are lacking. I find that very interesting.
Yes, you can look upon it that way. Sure. Because we work with contemporary people we are not forced to buy pieces for a lot of money. A museum, for an example, that has missed an artwork, has to go out and buy it for an enormous amount of money. So they are always asking people to fund them. We are very current and we pick up artists very early. We also buy artworks from the artists that we give our grant to. That is included in the grant. And if after a while we think that they have developed, we buy from them again. Most of the artists, that have received our grant, have done very well. Galleries pick them up very early. At the end of each year we also exhibit these artists in our exhibition hall. Even before this Konsthall existed I had to show these young artists somewhere because I wanted them to be out and to be seen… so every year I rented a booth at art fairs.
As an independent person?
Yes, as an independent person. And if anyone came along and wanted to buy their work I told them to contact the artist. At that time most of these artists didn’t work with any galleries.
So it wasn’t for your profit?
No. Not at all.
That’s very innovative. I hadn’t heard of such an experience.
(Laughs) That’s how it was in the beginning. But I don’t have to do that anymore because now I have my own space to show them in.
How do you choose which artist receives the grant?
I have a board of people. This board exists of David Neuman from Magasin 3, artist Dan Wolgers and Lars Nittve, who was the head of Moderna Museet, he used to be on this board. But every year we invite two independent people from the art scene – a gallery owner or a museum person, or someone else. We receive about 300 applications every year, which are narrowed down to about 30 for the board to discuss.
Is this a long process till you get to the final result?
We have been doing this for some time and we have gotten very skilled at this (laughs). It takes us two days with four-hour sittings each day. Eight hours in total… or close to that. It doesn’t take that long.
At the moment only Swedish artists can apply for this grant. Are you planning to expand into other regions?
It’s a good question. I haven’t thought of that but maybe in the future I will look into it. But I think that it would be extremely difficult to do.
Why do you think so?
I think that it would take a lot of work. It would also acquire a larger time frame, as it would take longer to apply. But I don’t know. I am Swedish, my daughter was Swedish and as it is today we have a lot of artists here in Sweden. And right now, as you already mentioned, the economic situation is very hard and I don’t think that it’s going to get easier any time soon. Although, comparing to other places, here in Sweden we shouldn’t complain. But for the artists it’s not easy. So why shouldn’t I concentrate on this.
How would you describe the art scene here in Sweden or Scandinavia?
Right now and for a longer period of time the art scene here in Sweden has been very good. Now and then I go to New York and, although the population in New York is as much as in the whole of Sweden, I can’t say that art is so much better there. I don’t think so. Of course there are galleries like the Gagosian that show Damien Hirst and so on, but I don’t find that very interesting. It doesn’t interest me.