Collecting / People

“When it comes to contemporary art most people don’t have good taste” – Erling Kagge

Many people know Erling Kagge as one of the greatest adventurers of our time, but not everyone knows about his passion for collecting contemporary art. Read an interview and discover more.

Erlin Kagae

Kristina Kulakova: How did you come to collecting?
Erling Kagge: I’ve been into art since I was a little kid. My parents didn’t collect, and my brothers don’t collect, but somehow I was really interested in art from early on – in general I was very curious about everything. Twelve years ago I started to earn some good money and I had some time, so I began to travel around the world, to search for good art and buy it.

KK: Did you study art?
EK: I have a degree in Law and Philosophy; I think one doesn’t need an art degree in order to collect. I’ve developed some kind of taste through traveling, talking to people, and years of seeing.

KK: What is important for a good taste?
EK: Being close to good gallerists helps. Most important are galleries and gallerists you can trust, who show you the kind of art you like.

KK: What are your favorite galleries?
EK: There are several: Neu in Berlin, Standard in Oslo, Regen Projects in LA, Presenhuber in Zurich and several others.

KK: Are you impulsive when it comes to buying an artwork?
EK: Usually I make the decision whether to buy or not to buy right away. Sometimes I need time to think or some advice, but normally I make up my mind very quick.

KK: What was the first piece you bought?
EK: I bought a lithograph by a Norwegian artist when I was 20 years old, and I still have it because I am not fond of selling in general. And I understand why I bought it 30 years ago. I was lovesick.

KK: So you never sold an artwork that you bought?
EK: I am not found of selling. I like to collect. Sometimes however a part of the world gets crazy. I once bought a nurse painting by Richard Prince for USD 50 000 and four years later people were begging to buy it for several millions. I liked the work, but it was just too much money for me. Selling it allowed me to buy more works.

KK: Have you ever said I’ve made a mistake in buying this artwork? I don’t want to have this any longer?
EK: I never regret buying an artwork. But there were many pieces I should have bought, which I didn’t. I am however not good at regretting.

KK: Which artists do you collect?
EK: I focus on artists from Scandinavia, the US, and the German-speaking countries. I like Sergej Jensen because he has it all. His lineage includes Sigmar Polke, Kurt Schwitters, Blinky Palermo, and Robert Ryman. I was too late to begin collecting Franz West. Prices hiked too early, and I am not a rich man. But I have kept on collecting artists who have been influenced by his body of work, such as Matias Faldbakken, Gardar Einarsson, and Oscar Tuazon. Others I bought include Jan Christensen, Wolfgang Tillmans, Kirsten Pieroth, Klara Liden, Trisha Donelly, and Raymond Pettibon.

KK: What about Eastern Europe?
EK: I find Eastern Europe fascinating. I was born in ’63 and then had to wait for several decades before actually learning about what was happening in that part of the world. If you go to Romania you see that they did great things, they knew what was going on in the world, and they were influenced by the great international artists and made fantastic art. But unfortunately it was not seen in the West. But it’s changing, you know. It’s important to be humbled.

KK: What does collecting mean to you?
EK: For me collecting contemporary art is about exploration and trying to understand what is going on. I also collected Russian icons, which is a particular dimension in my life, but it is a different story. I am not exhibiting them for time being, but I used to; they are in a warehouse at the moment. One thing they have in common with contemporary art: They are kind of difficult to understand, and I like things to be complicated, I like things to be difficult.

KK: What is your advice to young collectors?
EK: Everyone will give you the same advice: see as much art as possible, read magazines and books, and try to make up your mind rather sooner than later. I think it took me a bit too long. You should explore and research, but you should also just start buying because the best way to learn how to collect is to start collecting. Then hang what you bought in your home or office and educate your own taste, which is very important. When it comes to contemporary art most people don’t have good taste.

Erling Kagge (1963) is Norway’s most acclaimed living polar explorer and one of the greatest adventurers of our time. Erling Kagge was the first person to surmount the “three poles” — North, South, and the summit of Mt. Everest. For the past 15 years he has been setting new standards in exploration, living up to his motto: “If you can dream it, you can do it.” Skiing to the Earth’s extremities, sailing the oceans, climbing mountains, and reaching beyond himself have been Erling Kagge’s goals since childhood — ambitions inspired by his boyhood heroes, fellow Norwegians Roald Amundsen and Thor Heyerdahl, as well as Albert Schweitzer. Kagge had already sailed across the Atlantic twice, around Cape Horn, and to Antarctica and back by the time he received a law degree from the University of Oslo in 1989. He had also begun training for his record-breaking expeditions. In 1990 he became the first man — together with Børge Ousland — to reach the North Pole unsupported. Three years later he was the first to reach the South Pole, walking alone and unsupported for 50 days — an exploit featured on the cover of Time magazine. For two years during this period Kagge worked as a lawyer for industrial giant Norsk Hydro. In 1996, after a year’s sabbatical reading philosophy at Cambridge University, he founded what is today one of Scandinavia’s most profitable publishing houses. In addition to running his business and collecting contemporary art and Russian icons, Kagge lectures frequently to geographical societies and business organizations. His three books on his polar expeditions have sold more than 60,000 copies. Source:

One thought on ““When it comes to contemporary art most people don’t have good taste” – Erling Kagge

  1. This was a very interesting article. Like Erling, I am an explorer as well. As a 44 year meditator … I explore inner space. I am a third generation Norwegian living in Houston Texas. My grandmother was born north of Oslo.

    What caught my eye … and caused me to respond to your article is Erling’s interest in philosophy. At St. Thomas University, in Houston, I majored in Art History and Studio Painting with a minor in Philosophy. I have shown in different museums in America and have international collectors of my work. My sensibilities are more European since I am not a fan of irony and sarcasm which is what a lot of American contemporary art is like. If you would like to see just how far into my personal exploration of abstraction has gone please go to my new unfinished website.

    I would love to communicate with Erling if he wishes.

    My Email is:

    Thank You for your article and time
    Ron Hartgrove


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