Since the start in 1958, the Museum has been known for its close relationship to artists – Marcel Duchamp, for instance, signed several of his works in Stockholm towards the end of his life, and Andy Warhol had his first solo museum exhibition in Europe at Moderna Museet in 1968.
Thanks to focused collecting initiatives, the Museum has successfully increased the breadth and depth of its collection. Back in 1963, The Museum of Our Wishes was launched, transforming the Museum instantly into a leading European art institution; the government contributed SEK 5 million, for the acquisition of iconic works by Giacomo Balla, Francis Picabia, Kurt Schwitters, Giorgio de Chirico and many others. A few decades ago, the exercise was repeated, but this time spotlighting women artists only – works by Louise Bourgeois, Dorothea Tanning, Judy Chicago, Susan Hiller and others were added to the collection.
The Moderna Museet collection now comprises some 6,000 paintings, sculptures and installations, 25,000 watercolours, drawings and prints, 400 art videos and films, and 100,000 photographs (from the birth of photography to today). Swedish and Nordic art naturally have a prominent place in the collection, since Moderna Museet is the central national museum for 20th and 21st century Swedish art. Moderna Museet has the largest body of works by Öyvind Fahlström, Vera Nilsson, Siri Derkert, Dick Bengtsson and many other Swedish artists.
A large art collection is the best possible starting point for visual and intellectual experiments. Moderna Museet, as an open and living museum, is constantly rewriting the standard history of modernism by frequently rehanging its collection in radical new ways. Since 2009, the Museum has two locations, Stockholm and Malmö, where innovative selections of works from the collection have been featured regularly since the opening. A few of the iconic works, such as Henri Mattisse’s Moroccan Landscape (Acanthus), Robert Rauchenberg’s Monogram, and Eva Hesse’s sculpture Untitled, are nearly always available, but if you want to find out what is on show before you visit, you can find the latest information here.
Read more about the collection and its history in The History Book, which was produced as part of a research project in connection with the Museum’s 50th anniversary in 2008.
Moderna Museet’s international collection of paintings, sculptures and installations has grown gradually through purchases and generous donations, from the early 1900s to today. The Museum of Our Wishes and the more recent drive to address the gender imbalance (see above) have contributed greatly towards making Moderna Museet one of the leading art museums. This position was further enhanced by the donation made in connection with the exhibition New York Collection 1973, when some 30 works by artists such as Ellsworth Kelly, Claes Oldenburg and Lee Bontecou suddenly reoriented the Museum from its focus on French art into a veritable Mecca for American pop art.
The early 20th century art scene was dominated by Paris, which is reflected in the remarkable collection of cubism, dada and surrealism, represented by artists such as Georges Braque, Juan Gris, Francis Picabia and René Magritte. Donations by art collectors, including Rolf de Maré and Gerard Bonnier, have been crucial, adding works by Juan Miró, Constantin Brancusi, Yves Klein and others to the collection. Key works by these and other artists are often lent to other museum exhibitions all over the world.
The Russian avant-garde has a special position in Moderna Museet. Alexandra Ekster, Vladimir Tatlin, Kazimir Malevich and Alexander Rodchenko are a few of the artists who are represented. The Museum’s collection of German-speaking artists spans from Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s most important model portrait and a complete series of Paul Klee’s calligraphy-like paintings, to Gerhard Richter’s famous Bach Suite and Rosemarie Trockel’s multifaceted objects.
As a selection criteria, geography is not a particularly useful starting point when sourcing art, even if museums often categorised their collections according to nationality in the previous century. In an era when we no longer see a dominating centre for art, it is natural for Moderna Museet to review its own history in the light of new knowledge in the wake of globalisation. Important acquisitions have therefore been made in recent years of Doris Salcedo, Yinka Shonibare, Mona Hatoum, Ai Wei Wei and others. The international emphasis has successively shifted from Paris and New York and now encompasses the whole world.
Swedish and Nordic Art
The Swedish section of the Moderna Museet collection currently comprises some 4,000 works, while other Nordic artists account for some 400 works. Moderna Museet has the world’s finest collection of art from our region, with a unique breadth and depth. It includes the most famous works of popular artists such as Ivan Aguéli, Vera Nilsson, Sven Erixson, Nils Dardel, Siri Derkert and Sigrid Hjertén, along with the major body of works by Öyvind Fahlström and key works by other important artists, including Björn Lövin and Marie-Louise Ekman.
The resources for acquisitions of Swedish-Nordic art have varied. In the early 1900s, funds were earmarked for “purchasing works by Swedish artists”. Other works have come to the Museum thanks to targeted cultural policy undertakings, such as Konstnärshjälpen (an artist help fund) which bought art in 1922-26 with the proceeds from a lottery and substantial donations. One especially valuable addition was the collection of 150 works by Scandinavian artists donated to the Museum in 1958 by Föreningen för nutida konst (now the Friends of Moderna Museet).
Today, the Museum’s collection of Nordic art grows by various means. Contemporary art is bought from galleries or directly from the artists. In addition, the Museum is endeavouring constantly to add nuance to Swedish art history, for instance by acquiring more works by Swedish women artists for the early part of the collection.
Moderna Museet’s collection of moving images comprises some 400 works in the form of films and videos. Most of these works were acquired after 1980, when the film series “The Pleasure Dome”, featuring American experimental film from 1939-1979, was shown at the Museum. The works were selected by filmmaker Jonas Mekas in collaboration with Claes Söderqvist, and works by several influential avant-garde filmmakers, including Stan Brakhage, Robert Breer and Owen Land were purchased in connection with the series.
Early on, however, films were screened as a vital element in establishing Moderna Museet on Skeppsholmen as an innovative, interdisciplinary institution. In 1955, Pontus Hultén started an association for experimental film at the Eriksbergsbiografen cinema, and its 500 members were transferred to Moderna Museet when he became its director. The opening exhibition of Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” in the drill hall in 1958 was followed by the avant-garde film festival “Apropos Eggeling”, featuring Viking Eggeling’s “Diagonal Symphony” (1922), today an acknowledged art film classic.
Other important events were the exhibitions Movement in Art (1961), Niki de Saint Phalle’s and Jean Tinguely’s SHE (1966), and Andy Warhol (1968), all of which included film in various ways in the exhibition concept. This early focus on film and film-related activities was further enhanced by Pontus Hultén’s friendship with New York-based Billy Klüver. Today, old and contemporary works are acquired to expand the collection beyond its current emphases, which include American 1960s and ’70s film and Nordic video art from the 1990s. Moderna Museet has also commissioned works from several artists engaged in moving images, including Yinka Shonibare for “Un Ballo in Maschera” in the exhibition Fashination (2004), and Marysia Lewandowska and Neil Cummings in their project for the Museum’s 50th anniversary (2008).
Moderna Museet’s photography collection comprises some 100,000 works from the 1840s to today. The collection began with the purchase of Helmut Gernsheim’s Duplicate Collection and Helmer Bäckström’s photographic history collection in the mid-1960s.
The collection covers all the early photographic techniques, but consists mainly of black-and-white, so-called gelatin silver photographs by Swedish and international photographers. Since the early 1990s, more and more artists are producing photo-based art, and this has led to an increase in the collection of colour photography and digital images. The collection consists mainly of positive prints made or approved by the photographers themselves. But a small number of photographers, including Anna Riwkin-Brick, have also donated their entire oeuvres, including negatives. Moreover, Fotografiska Föreningen, Svenska Turisttrafikförbundet and Pressfotografernas klubb and a few other organisations have given the Museum their image archives, containing thousands of prints.
Photography is continuously shown as part of the Museum’s collection presentation and as separate photo exhibitions. In 2011, the Museum launched its project Another Story. Photography from the Moderna Museet Collection, where the entire collection gallery at Moderna Museet in Stockholm was gradually hung exclusively with photographs, until the presentation finally showed the history of photography from 1840 to today.
Drawings and Prints
Moderna Museet has some 12,000 drawings, 15,000 prints, 5,000 posters and 20 or so artist’s books in its collection. In addition, a number of plates and wood blocks are on the Museum’s inventory list and are treated as archive material. Most of the items were transferred to Moderna Museet from the Nationalmuseum in 1998, so that works by modern and contemporary artists would all be in one institution.
Acquisitions consist mainly of works by Swedish artists incorporated in the collection prior to 2000, including Siri Derkert, Axel Fridell, Karl Isaksson, Vera Nilsson, Torsten Renqvist and Lennart Rodhe. They are represented with a large number of works, which means that their oeuvre can be studied in detail. A few of the more recognised Western artist in the collection of drawings and prints are Jean Fautrier, Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso and Robert Rauschenberg.
Thanks to Pontus Hultén’s donation to Moderna Museet in 2005, the collection gained a large number of drawings and prints by Niki de Saint Phalle and other artists. Another major donation was King Gustaf VI Adolf’s collection of drawings, which was bequeathed to the Swedish government (the Nationalmuseum) in 1974. It consists of a representative selection of 20th-century graphic art. Drawings and prints are shown mainly to visitors who want to study them at the Pontus Hultén Study Gallery. To book a visit, please contact the collection registrar.
Did you know?
The Collection covers paintings, sculptures, installations, films, videos, drawings and prints by Swedish and international artists from the 20th and 21st centuries, and photography from the 1840s until today.
The Moderna Museet collection now comprises some 5,000 paintings, sculptures and installations, 25,000 watercolours, drawings and prints, 400 art videos and films, and 100,000 photographs!
The collection also includes the artist Einar Hylander’s appartment at Narvavägen 29 in Stockholm.
The sculptures outside the museum on Skeppsholmen are also a part of the Moderna Museet collection.