Interview with Berndt Arell, Director General at the Nationalmuseum

Interview  /  BehindTheScenes   Collecting   Museum
Published: 17.02.2016
Berndt Arell, Director General of Nationalmuseum Stockholm. Photo: Sanna Sjöswärd Berndt Arell, Director General of Nationalmuseum Stockholm. Photo: Sanna Sjöswärd
Anna Jansson
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Berndt Arell has been the director general of Nationalmuseum since 2012. He previously held chief executive positions at the Kiasma contemporary art museum in Helsinki, the Arts Council of Finland, and the Swedish Cultural Foundation in Finland. Mr Arell’s main areas of professional interest are Byzantine icons and late 19th-century European art. His research has focused on the various players in the art world - artists, dealers, and collectors - and their relationships and interactions. As director general of Nationalmuseum, he has been a driving force in promoting contemporary design. Last year, 2015, saw the opening of Nationalmuseum Design, the first museum venue in Stockholm dedicated to design in all its forms, from older applied art to the modern age and cutting-edge contemporary design.
Berndt, how did your great commitment within the field of contemporary art jewellery come about?
Inger Wästberg got in touch with me a little over a year ago, to discuss contemporary art jewellery, in terms of the Swedish and the international scene – and especially the position and the responsibility of Nationalmuseum. Through these conversations, our common principles became apparent, and we arrived at a joint strategy to give visibility to this art form in particular. This also coincided with the 30th anniversary of an epochal international jewellery exhibition, curated by Paul Derrez, shown at Kulturhuset in Stockholm. Since Nationalmuseum Design is currently housed in the same building, we decided to look into the possibilities of creating a follow-up exhibition on contemporary terms. We were interested in finding a non-Swedish curator, as they had done in the exhibition thirty years ago. Inger, who knows the field very well, suggested a few persons that we met with during Schmuck 2015 in Munich, and the choice we made was Dr. Ellen Maurer Zilioli.
This all opened my eyes to a whole new world. I used to think I had a good idea of what was going on in the contemporary art and design fields, but here I was confronted with a genre that was off my radar. How come contemporary art jewellery is so overlooked in Sweden?

Yes, why is that?
Obviously, there’s a gender aspect: the field is dominated by women on both the artist and the collector side. The close association of art jewellery with the physical, material world may also be a factor, in the same way as fashion has often been accorded a lower status. However, art jewellery is so much more than just a genre. It’s very much an art form in its own right and can’t simply be classified as art, craft, design, or decoration. It’s completely independent and deserves to take its rightful place. An independent place

What is the thinking behind the Art Jewellery 2016 initiative in Stockholm?
We had this common notion of trying to create something in Stockholm that was like the concept in Munich, meaning a number of independent events and exhibitions, arranged simultaneously with the main exhibition. A great number of colleagues showed interest, and Inger Wästberg’s personal commitment, extensive expert knowledge and network facilitated the organization of multiple events in such a short time. When the entire city is filled with jewellery it makes a statement: Look, this is important! There are now more than 20 venues exhibiting contemporary art jewellery in Stockholm this spring, primarily over the weekend of March 11–13.

What is Nationalmuseum’s role in all this?
Besides handling the execution of the project, we stand as the proud producers and provide the operational and much needed machinery behind it. We’re also staging an exhibition of our own, Open Space – Mind Maps Positions in Contemporary Jewellery, curated by Dr. Ellen Maurer Zilioli, a leading authority in the field. She has selected about 160 pieces by 30 artists of international standing. Arnoldsche is publishing a catalogue with the same title to coincide with the exhibition, but it’s also an independent work that has taken on a life of its own. Our exhibition and the catalogue present a cross-section of this exciting genre in an international context, with other venues across Stockholm rounding out the picture with exhibits of Swedish work.

Tell us about Nationalmuseum’s collection of contemporary art jewellery.
We’ve expanded our contemporary art jewellery collection in recent years. A key acquisition was Helena Sandström’s eggshell necklace, which we purchased in 1999. We make a constant effort to be self-critical, and to reassess both our historical and our more recent actions. When it comes to contemporary art jewellery, we can’t really claim to have been in the vanguard - until now.

About the author

Interview made by Anna Jansson, PR Officer Nationalmuseum Stockholm.