ven Hany Karlsson, now in
his 82nd year, is a legend of
the Swedish construction
industry. As founder of
building group Folkhem, his
name is synonymous with dedication
to craftsmanship and practical-yet-
Yet,while building a career that's
impressive by anybody's standards, for
more than 35 years Sven Harry was quietly
amassing one of the finest collections of
19th Century ordic Art globally.
In true Scandinavian style, the pragmatic
and socially conscious entrepreneur
decided it was time to share his particular
passion with his country.An ordinary man
may have settled for an extra line in his will
leaving the collection to the state.
Not so Sven Harry. The charismatic
and sprightly octogenarian, who has
the energy and looks of a man 20 years
younger, has never been one to do things
by the book.
SPOTLIGHT ON••• Sweden
Sven Harry's, Konstmuseum rises
from the ground amid the somewhat
incongruous surroundings of Vasaparken
(VasaPark) in Stockholm - a city which,
until fairly recently, was off the map
for most Gulf travellers, but is now
served by direct flights from Emirates
and Qatar Airways.
The edifice is clad in gleaming brass,
the same used to mint Sweden's Ten
Kronor coins. A casual observer might be
tempted to see the building as a glittering
monument to free enterprise, or a latter
day Nero's Golden Palace. Indeed, such
accusations were levelled at Sven Harry
when the building was unveiled in
March 2011.The very concept appeared
to fly in the face of Swedish sensibilities.
After ail, this is a land that holds dear
the notion of the collective being of far
greater importance than any inclividual.
Some of the more reactionary elements
in the Swedish media went so far as to
question what right one man had to build ~
MARCH 2014 37
SPOTLIGHT ON••• Sweden
and enjoyed his collection and
beautiful home in peace.
Sven Harry has, in a sense,
struggled all his life and while
doing so constantly risen to
and created new personal
challenges. It would appear that
his is a restless soul, perhaps
made even more so by a difficult
upbringing and fractious
relationship with his father, the
late Harry F.Karlsson, also a
successful builder and property
developer. Indeed, Karlsson Snr.
.~~ •••••• was an avid art collector too and,
despite a lack of closeness with
his son, appears to have inspired
an ingrained and intuitive...._-..•..•.""""
----'~~---------"""""" love of art. From an early age
Sven Harry recalls being mesmerised
by paintings that hung on the walls of
the farnily home in Lund in the south of
Sweden. This was no family idyll however.
When he was eight years old, Karlsson's
parents divorced and the young boy
stayed with his father. On top of that,
Sven Harry struggled with severe dyslexia
at a time when the condition was little, if
at all, understood. He is as ever pragmatic
when discussing the matter stating,
"the great thing about being dyslexic is,
according to the experts, that you develop
other senses. I developed the aesthetic
side. Beauty has always interested me."
His father took him to art exhibitions and
churches so he became used to seeing art.
However he feelsabout it with the benefit
of hindsight, understanding dyslexiaback
in the 1930sand 1940swas at best limited.
Karlsson's formal academic schooling ended
at a tender age in favour of learning the
practical skillsof the building trade.
what seemed to be a self-aggrandising
monument to himself in the centre of the
Such accusations could not be further
from the truth. "It was time to give
something back,"Karlsson says without a
trace of irony.His superb private collection,
which he feared when he was gone/would
end up gathering dust in the basement of
some state museum", contains, amongst
others, works byAugust Strindberg, Lena
Cronqvist, Dan Wolgers and
Emst [osephson and is reputedly worth
hundreds of millions of Swedish Kronor.
The magnificent award-winning building
was entirely funded by Karlsson himself,
partly through the sale of his beloved
family home, the 18th Century Herrgard
(Manor House) Ekholmsniis on the idyllic
island of Lidingo outside Stockholm. The
property was rumoured to have fetched
upwards of 65 million Kroner, (around
$10 million).The final cost of building the
museum was 150 million Kroner, more
than $23 million.That's some gift back to
your fellow citizens.
Far from being a monument to avarice
the building, according to Karlsson, is
not only,"a work of art in its own right,"
but also most importantly," a silent
demonstration against greed."
Karlsson laughs off suggestions that he
should have saved his money, stayed pu t,
33 MARCH 2014
Platform for budding artists
The museum's concept was carefully
designed to be entirely self-financing
once up and running. The space includes
commercial premises, 18 residential
apartments, and a restaurant. All rental
income is ploughed back into the Sven
Harry Foundation, The foundation's remit
is to encourage up and coming Swedish
artists and designers and awards annual
bursaries to successful candidates. Sven
Harry's Konstmuseum is spread over six
floors and hosts numerous temporary
exhibitions often featuring new talent a
well as more established artists.
The building was designed by award
winning Wmgardhs Architects, the
glimmering facade the brainchild of
Anna Hoglund. The exterior acts like a
magnet and draws in the curious visitor.
It is in itself a work of art and, according
to Museum Director Elsebeth Welander-
Bergren, in the early days,"many just
came to see the building because it's so
special." Many unique elements captivati
such as beautifully designed yet functio
exhibition spaces, high ceilings, glass wal
that create an abundance of naturalligh
and a small cinema in the basement. Th
crowning glory however lies skywards.
On the roof a precise replica of Sven
Harry's beloved Ekholmsniis hides behind
a low-key facade.Everydetail has been
captured and here you'll find his collectio
of art exhibitedjust as it was in his private
home. According to Welander-Bergren the
museum is many things by both design an
necessity however/it is the replica of Sven
Harry's home and the intimate atmosphen
that creates which makes a visit utterly
unique and a very special experience."
She's right, for in the ordinary setting o
a home Sven Harry singularly achieves
over-riding goal of, de-mystifying art and
de-constructing the notion of high cul ,
By inviting the visitor into his house to
see his paintings Sven Harry Karlsson
demonstrates that art is for everybody.
When asked what makes a good piece 1
art Sven Harry has a simple answer/Soul
On the roofterrace homage is paid to
another Swedish obsession,that ofthe
of childhood.Lena Cronqvist'sbronze
statues of childrenplayingare perhaps an
acknowledgement of SvenHarry's own
troubled upbringing and lost childhood
years. ot long ago SvenHarry Karlssonwa
asked how he'd liketo be remembered. He
modestly replied'As a good builder."Add to
that master craftsmanand art lover.•