Hedge fund manager Nicolai Tangen doesn’t just oversee the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund, the largest publicly held financial fund in the world. He’s also the owner of the Tangen Collection, the largest-ever collection of Nordic modernist artwork.
With 5,000 works from more than 300 artists, the Tangen Collection will soon be on view to the public when its new home, a former abandoned grain silo in Kristiansand, Norway, opens as the “Kunstsilo” arts institution later this year. In addition to housing Tangen’s works and the permanent collection of Norwegian museum Sorlandets Kunstmuseum, the three-story gallery and cultural space will host lectures, concerts and workshops. The converted grain silo will also exhibit copies of artwork in addition to originals. “Is it less beautiful to look at? No, it’s not,” Tangen told the Guardian. “So it’s just about the mindset you have.”
Who is Nicolai Tangen?
Tangen, 56, studied at the Norwegian School of Economics and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania after completing military service. Originally from Kristiansand, he later moved to London and worked at investment bank Cazenove and hedge fund Egerton Capital before opening his own fund, AKO Capital, in 2005. By 2020, he was in charge of Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund with more than $1.3 trillion in assets under management, as CEO of Norges Bank Investment Management.
But the Norwegian investor has also long had an interest in art. At age 36, he took a career break to earn a master’s degree in art history at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, where he primarily focused on a three print series by artist Rolf Nesch. He bought his first piece of art, the modernist Johannes “Johs” Rian’s Artist’s Studio, in the 1990s and began to gather constructive and abstract art before his collection expanded to include surrealist and expressionist works.
The Tangen Collection contains artwork from both well-known artists and those “who have been passed over by history,” according to Kunstsilo’s website. Rian, Gunnar S. Gundersen, Zdenka Rusova, Per Kleiva and Reidar Aluie are just a few of the Norwegian artists whose work is in Tangen’s collection, which also includes notable pieces like Kleiva’s The American Anxiety and Marianne Heske’s sculpture Gjerdeloa.
In 2016, Tangen transferred his entire art collection to the AKO Foundation, the charitable arm of his hedge fund. Later that year, it was agreed that the Sorlandets Kunstmuseum would have perpetual right of disposal over the Tangen Collection upon the opening of Kunstsilo. The center’s conversion from a 1936 grain silo has been a years-long progress that initially sparked backlash when local taxpayers learned they would be paying for a portion of the 600 million Norwegian Krone ($55 million) price tag. “I thought I was doing something nice,” Tangen told Norwegian Broadcasting at the time. “I never thought it would cause so much uproar.”
Through his AKO Foundation, formed in 2013, Tangen has also established himself as a prominent philanthropist. The foundation has made around £200 million ($253 million) in charitable grants thus far, focusing on schools, arts institutions and environmental organizations, giving numerous donations to arts institutions including the Courtauld Institute of Art, the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum and Oslo’s National Museum. One of Tangen’s most significant gifts happened in 2018, when he gave $25 million to the University of Pennsylvania, which has since named a new campus building after the collector.
Tangen aims to give away his fortune, estimated at £550 million ($695 million), before he dies. He and his wife Katja are signees of the Giving Pledge, a campaign launched by Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates that urges the wealthy to give away a significant portion of their wealth. “Our focus is on education and the arts, and our belief in the change that both of these can make to the lives of others is a big motivational factor,” said the former couple in their 2019 pledge letter.