Advice to an Aspiring Collector: Irene Sævik

Meet Irene Sævik, architect and passionate collector of monochrome and minimalist art

Image of Irene Sævik in her home in Oslo. Work by Gardar Eide Einarson to the right and in the background (left to right) by John Zurier and Irene herself

Courtesy of Irene Sævik

How did you start collecting art? Was there a particular experience or encounter that played an important role for you?

I come from a very small village. My father had a fishing boat and was mostly at sea, along the Norwegian coast. Inheriting this boat later on, and selling off my share to my siblings, provided me with some money for art.

Both my grandfather and my uncle were very creative and my interest in art grew out of this environment. But there were no discussions of art at home, and no interest in art on my ex husband's side either. I was always very interested in drawing and painting by myself, but didn’t dare to choose that direction and ended up as an architect instead. However, my longing to be surrounded by art has always followed me.

During my studies and time working as an architect, with the responsibility of my two children, there was no room to purchase artworks, and I started collecting more seriously when my children had moved out on their own. However, I used to visit the then newly opened Museum of Contemporary Art and Kunstnernes Hus in Oslo, both of which became very important for me in the 1980s and 1990s. I then became more involved in the art scene in Oslo, frequented galleries such as Standard (OSLO) and Galleri Riis, and also began visiting Frieze in London, Art Basel, Berlin Gallery Weekend, galleries in Copenhagen, Stockholm, and London, etc. In short, I went my own way, however slowly!

Interior view of Irene Sævik's home in Oslo. Artworks (from left to right) are by Michael Manning, sculpture by Jone Kvie, wind surfing board by Michael Krebber, carbonbottle by Matias Faldbakken and Yves Scherer

Courtesy of Irene Sævik

Could you take me through your first experience of purchasing an artwork?

My first serious purchase was a black painting (with both glossy and matte black elements) by Jacob Schmidt, a Norwegian painter, whom I became familiar with at an exhibition in Kunstnernes Hus sometime in the 1990s. When I later had the opportunity to acquire this large black painting, I believe it somehow set the standard for my collection. It is a very powerful piece.

What is the most recent artwork you added to your collection and why?

The most recent addition to my collection is by Anna Paterson, a young British artist, purchased at LISTE last year. As you can see, I have both well-known artists and emerging talents with uncertain futures. I am seriously considering acquiring a work by Imi Knobel, but I have recently purchased a house in Malmö, and I am currently in the midst of significant changes and adjustments.

Image of artwork by Jacob Schmidt, Irene Sævik's first serious art purchase

Courtesy of Irene Sævik

I am familiar with the distinct minimalistic style in your collection, could you elaborate on how this has emerged?

In my youth, while residing on the North West coast, before relocating to Oslo, I visited London and Oslo, specifically Tate and Høvikodden, in the 1960s. It was during these visits that I encountered a monochrome and minimalistic piece at Tate and Joseph Albers' work at Høvikodden, both of which left a profound impression on me. Later on, Michael Heizer's "Double Negative" (only encountered through a photograph in a book) and Donald Judd's works left a lasting impression on me. Perhaps these pieces exhibit strength, courage, and will and at the same time a profound stillness, emptiness, and silent energy, all of which resonate with me. The same with architecture, the process of filling it with a story, function, and dreams, followed by analysis and reduction to its essential elements, creating space within the structure, is akin to artworks. Maybe my interest in mathematics, as well as architecture, influences my choices, along with its resonance with my personality.

I therefore don’t have a strategy. But I like to curate how the works meet each other in my home.

Image of Irene Sævik in her home in Oslo together with sculpture by Éva Mag

Courtesy of Irene Sævik

Who do you listen to and go for advice? Who whispers in your ear?

I am, in fact, only listening to myself and my own meeting with the artwork. Some works in my collection are from a period when my eldest son, who passed away in 2016, was working together with artists, both as a curator and a writer, and an art critic. Through him, I met Norwegian artists of his generation. He naturally had different references than I do, a more intellectual interpretation, while I tend to rely more directly on intuition. I also like to discuss and gather information from gallerists. However, I have one valuable piece of advice from my professor, Sverre Fehn, at AHO, which I strive to follow: you have to trust your intuition.

What is a piece of advice you would give your younger self when you started collecting?

I have really regretted some pieces I didn’t buy, some of them I still dream about. I should have been more fearless and daring, and listened to Professor Fehn's advice to trust my intuition!

Interior view of Irene Sævik's home in Oslo. Artworks (left to right) are by Fredrik Værslev, Jacob Schmidt, and Gardar Eide Einarson

Courtesy of Irene Sævik

What trends do you see characterising the contemporary art scene right now and how do you relate to them?

For the moment I see more figurative art, politics and gender, more narrative art, but also a lot of young artists work with reduced and reticent themes. So the art scene is very rich. Myself, I am always looking for my own interpretation in the artwork.

The internet is playing an increasing role in today's art market - has it changed the way you collect?

I like to see artworks in person, but I also follow a lot of artists and galleries on the internet. This allows me to see what is going on, to discover new interesting works and artists. Ultimately, it doesn't change my way of collecting, or so I believe. However, it does make it easier to keep connections and engaging in dialogue with various galleries.

Artwork 'Untitled (Flat Box Hamar # 10)' by Norwegian artist Matias Faldbakken

Courtesy of Irene Sævik and STANDARD (OSLO)

"I have really regretted some pieces I didn’t buy, some of them I still dream about. I should have been more fearless and daring, and listened to Professor Fehn's advice to trust my intuition!"

Irene Sævik

Architect and art collector

Irene Sævik is an art collector and architect MNAL from Oslo School of Architecture and Design.
She was born in 1949 in Vartdal, a small village at the North West Coast of Norway and moved to Oslo in 1983 where she finished her diploma from AHO in 1990.