The Norwegian Art Prize Dating Back 150 Years


Vibeke Tandberg’s winning entry Candypool 2017, Lorck Schive Kunstpris 2017.

The Lorck Schive Art prize is a £133,000 bi-annual award, given to three finalists and a winner, from the Lorck Schive trust.

When it comes to getting attention for its Norwegian artistic output, Trondheim, Johan Börjesson concedes, is not Oslo. But, slowly, a shift is happening thanks to, as Börjesson, director of the Trondheim Kunstmuseum, puts it, “a new prize from very old money”.

Indeed, the Lorck Schive Art Prize, which was awarded last week to Norwegian artist Vibeke Tandberg, is unusual in more ways than hailing from Norway’s third city. It happens to be one of the world’s oldest art prizes, the product of a trust established in 1878 by local landowners Christian Lorck Schive and his wife Marine Wille. A lesson in the smart, philanthropic distribution of assets, for generations whenever the youngest of any children in the family reached 25, one-fifth of the annual income was assigned to the city, with the remaining shares awarded annually to any promising young Norwegian artists, mostly painters and sculptors. This continued for many, many decades. It was only a few years ago that what had become a cumbersome system was overhauled, shifting from multiple small bursaries to one major, £133,000, bi-annual award, given to three finalists and a winner; these days the money comes from the ground rent generated by some 90 prime location leasehold properties held by the trust. In a nice touch, all occupants of these homes are invited to the opening of the award exhibition — it’s their money, after all, that ultimately funds the prize. But there is another distinction too. Unusually for a national art prize, it’s free of corporate sponsorship.

“That came to a head when the nominated winner of the Statoil-sponsored art prize [Statoil being a Stavanger-based Norwegian multi-national petroleum company] refused it because of the connection to oil money,” Börjesson explains. “That has pushed the Lorck Schive prize into the public eye because there’s no agenda of brand-building underpinning it. It has the sole aim of awarding artists, and nothing else. Within the art world the idea that prizes should be self-funded is increasingly important,” Börjesson adds. “There’s a lot of wealth being developed in Norway now, and a lot of it comes from oil and salmon farming. Yet there’s also a high level of environmental awareness here, especially in art circles, so there’s a growing realisation that art prizes really need to be independent now.”

Could Lorck Schive provide a template for the future of art prizes internationally? Certainly, its new thinking goes beyond the money. The board that chooses the finalists comprises other artists, not curators and critics, who can only anonymously submit their nominations to the long list; each artist must be under 50, contemporary in practice and active in Norway. All finalists produce new work for the Kunstmuseum, while the winner, chosen by an international jury (but, somewhat democratically, only half way through the exhibition period) takes home around £50,000. “The fact there is such a major prize is proving important to the Norwegian art scene,” says Börjesson, who notes how it has raised its profile with events such as the Venice Biennale. “It has the feel and quality of, say, the UK’s Turner Prize, and now gains the same kind of media coverage.”

Likewise, the artists themselves. Winning the 2015 prize has helped propel Vanessa Baird and her large-scale pastel drawings into the limelight. This November also sees her biggest solo exhibition to date, at the Kunstnernes Hus in Oslo. The same case might also be made for this year’s finalists: sculptor Knut Henrik Henriksen, whose works play with the idea of architectural mistakes; conceptual artist Mattias Härenstam, whose work often draws comparisons with the mordant humour of David Lynch; Lars Laumann, who works in film, textiles and installations; and this year’s winner Vibeke Tandberg, who offers photography and a film project called Candypool, 2017, consisting of a dismantled pooltable, plaster friezes and plaster sculptures, addressing issues such as recycling and conditions for artistic production.

“The fact is that Norway is on the periphery of Europe, so it’s good for an award of international standing such as this to remind people that there is, in fact, a vibrant art scene here in Norway,” says Börjesson, “and that there is important work being done.”

The exhibition of the winning entry and short-listed artists is now on display at the Trondheim Kunstmuseum, Museene 1, Sor-Trondelag, Trondheim, Norway.

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