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Art lovers, experience art heaven in Scandinavia

On the eve of the Stockholm Festival, one of the biggest design fairs in the world, we take you to heaven in Scandinavia

brunch Updated: Jul 24, 2017 15:39 IST
Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi
Sweden,Scandinavia,art
Take a stroll on the beautiful Swedish beaches.(Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi)

In 2011, I visited Stockholm the first time; photographs of my father’s life with cancer were to be exhibited at the Galleri Kontrast. One evening, after hanging my show, I walked by an exhibition of illustrations by Stina Wirsén, one of Sweden’s most cherished artists and bestselling children’s book writers. I was in a spin over one work: a small, surly boy, arms akimbo, staring defiantly at the world like a heartbroken tyrant. Grumpy, like one of Lemony Snicket’s characters, or a Dickensian orphanage bully. I bought the work and it travelled to Mumbai. On a subsequent trip, my gallerist, Mia Klintewall, introduced me to Stina Wirsén. I acquired more works and Wirsén’s nuanced, complex, elegant pieces cemented my love of Sweden. I travel there twice a year; this piece is drawn from various journeys.

Stina Wirsén is one of Sweden’s most cherished artists and a bestselling children’s book writer. (Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi)

All for art

One year I was a guest of Sanjoo Malhotra, the charming go-to guru of all things Indian in Sweden. As founder of India Unlimited, he curates key events in India and Sweden related to food, art, cinema, design and business. Malhotra’s past guests have included Naseeruddin Shah, Amitabh Kant and Pranab Mukherjee. As Malhotra’s invitee for India Unlimited, founded in collaboration with the Indian Embassy, I was billed in an event with Tarun Tahiliani. Malhotra hosted our talk at top-ticket design space Svenskt Tenn, salon for the niftiest, classic design textiles and utterly refined with pricey objects that can set you back by a mortgage payment.

If the arts sizzle your sabzi, grab the scene this August when the Stockholm Festival hosts India as guest of honour

Tahiliani, the great couturier (with a spry, blazing, Wildean wit) spoke about the shattering loss of his father, traced the dysfunctional rise of modern Indian fashion, and praised the compelling contributions of his sister, Tina, to their business. Afterwards, Tahiliani and I took off for Fotografiska, Sweden’s most impressive photography museum (artists include Annie Leibovitz, Irving Penn). Arriving post dinner, and frightfully late, the museum was shut. So I rang museum director, the visionary Jan Broman, to hazard if he might open up the shows for us. Not only did Broman indulge my reckless request but he also graciously took us through the galleries himself. We recalled an unsettlingly lovely show of Andy Warhol images in drag that Broman had exhibited here (and which had reminded me in earnest of Cindy Sherman’s retrospective at MOMA). Alongside Fotografiska, I recommend Moderna Museet, the Museum of Modern Art, which has a variegated if overcrowded programme, and the small but spectacular dance museum, Dansmuseet.

Siddharth with couturier Tarun Tahiliani at the top- ticket design space Svenskt Tenn.

If the arts sizzle your sabzi, grab the scene this August when the Stockholm Festival – one of the largest in the world – hosts India as guest of honour. Last year, Malhotra had brought the director of the Stockholm Festival, Claes Karlsson, to my Mumbai home, where the tall, sturdy Swede outlined his exciting programme before guests like Atul and Anju Dodiya, Reena and Jitish Kallat, and Sooni Taraporevala. Zakir Hussain, for instance, will be performing in Stockholm, as will Kathak star Shivani Sethia. There will be a stand-up comic act by Papa CJ, an Indian film festival (but please, spare me the Bollywood), and yoga on the promenade (Mr Modi will beam as I slip smoothly into my All Day Bitch Pose). Since Malhotra is a huge champion of our food, there will be Indian street food, which I imagine will be like Linking Road’s tummy-tearing paani puri stalls sans the gratis gastro.

An exhibit at the Dansmuseet, a dance museum in Stockholm. (Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi)

I’d attended the Stockholm Festival last year. At one event, they sprayed thousands of white feathers into the sky. As they came cascading over the cool night, we slipped into a dream-like state; it felt like playing bit part roles in a giant performance piece.

The Brunch Insider’s view
  • Among the top places to visit is the Kungliga Slottet, the world’s largest royal castle, still used for its original purpose. (Source: Lonely Planet)
  • Clarion Collection Tapto ranks among the top hotels offering good value for money. (Source: TripAdvisor)
  • Coffee lovers can head to Cafe Foam, a contemporary café. (Source: Conde Nast Traveller)

A fabulous Swedish day

Deep fried baby herring with mayonnaise and grilled celeriac with bleak roe are among the offerings at Oaxen Krog & Slip restaurant. (Oaxen Krog & Slip)

Speaking of food, few countries enjoy so sterling a rep for their cuisine as reinvented Swedish modern. My friends Agneta Green and her husband Magnus Ek run the finest restaurant in town – Oaxen Krog & Slip (their Michelin stars are well-deserved and reservations are advised). Green has curated a small, smart selection of little hotels under the umbrella of The Hotel Collector’s Guide, on point referrals of boutique properties across Sweden. While in Stockholm, I hugely recommend Green’s personal handsome house boat, which she operates as a B&B: it’s so dangerously close to Oaxen you’re unable to rest from the tantalising scents wafting from Ek’s celebrated kitchen.

Now, back to artist Wirsen, who suggested an insider’s roll call for a Fabulous Swedish Day for Brunch readers. According to her, a top start is lunch at Gondolen in Slussen, followed by a walk in Sofo, the hipster area at Södermalm, to rifle through its vintage boutiques, design stores and deck bars. The Swedes have a fabulous, effective water transport system and Wirsén suggests hopping on a boat from Strandvägen near the Grand Hotel (a property I love, go for an evening drink and feel like a rake) to explore the archipelago. Dinner is always dandy at Oaxen or Bakfickan, a restaurant behind the Swedish Opera house in the center.

A property from the Hotel Collector’s Guide founded by Agneta Green. (Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi)

In Sweden, my most overwhelming awareness is of liberating, empowering equality: the country energetically works to make every citizen a pleased participant and enabling agent of change, its public system follows through without missing a beat, and its policies on climate change and education are revolutionary. Even as a traveller, there’s a sense that when taxes are fairly paid, and political corruption is in check, a country and its constituents thrive.

But these are grander reasons to visit. Go, because like me, you too will fall in love with the beautiful Swedish landscape, its art, its people, its food… and you too will return, as I have.

The writer is a bestselling author who contributes to top international publications. He has an eye for design and is honorary director of an arts foundation in Goa, where he curated Dayanita Singh, Roger Ballen and William Dalrymple’s visual arts debut.

Author of the bestseller, The Last Song of Dusk, Shanghvi is a contributor to publications here and abroad. He lives in Goa, where he serves as honorary director of an arts foundation.

From HT Brunch, July 23, 2017

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First Published: Jul 22, 2017 22:53 IST