In 2018, friends Helena Carlberg and Anna Lukins opened the online gallery The Ode To as “a tribute to great artistry and design” with a two-fold manifesto: to democratize art and to counterweight the under representation of women within the art and design world by giving a creative platform to female artists. Neither could have seen a rising demand for gender equality or a global pandemic, but their timing couldn’t have been better.
From their office and showroom in Stockholm, the entrepreneurs have created a flourishing virtually gallery that offers affordable, one-of-a-kind or small edition artworks by emerging artists. Their mission? To inspire people to invest in handmade objects with provenance for the home, rather than mass-produced accessories. “We want to offer prints and items that not everyone else has,” says Helena. Following commercial success in Europe, the women have their sights set on the U.S. market for 2021.
Interior Design: How did it all start?
Helena Carlberg: Anna and I have been friends for about 10 years and art and creativity was always at the core of our friendship—always the friend to take to an exhibition. I was working as a social media manager for the fashion brand Theory in New York and Anna was working as a photography agent in Stockholm. As I moved back to Sweden and Anna moved to Germany, then Amsterdam, we felt brave and so we decided to take our passion and energy and turn it into a business, launching The Ode To together in 2018.
ID: You've got a broad mix of artists from Scandinavia and beyond, working with a range of media. Where do you seek out new talent and what's your criteria for choosing new artists and their work?
HC: We find lots of artists through social media such as Instagram and art schools. It has become easier with COVID-19 because many shows are now digital. We also have our own curators or "art advisors" who also work in other fields, such as interior stylists or art journalists. We think of ourselves as our customers' eyes in the art world and the art advisors help us spot even more talents. We're planning to add more advisors internationally.
Our main criteria for choosing new artists and artworks is that we always choose pieces that we would want for ourselves. Furthermore, the work should be beautiful, but not superficial and it should be of great craftsmanship so that it fills you with a sense of wonder of how someone could create it or come up with the idea. The work should also be unique and evoke emotions.
ID: Part of The Ode To's mission is to democratize art while enabling your artists to achieve success. As you grow, how do you intend to balance affordability with the rising demand for an artist's work?
HC: We're a young brand and we want to grow with our artists and help develop their artistry. When we take on an artist we devise a strategic plan based on what drives them and what they want to do. Also, by adding different price points it allows them to make different works. For example, artist Sofia Tufvasson is someone we’re working closely with her to let her develop new ideas where she can create more elaborate and expensive artworks, while also developing affordable editions.
ID: How are you supporting your artists through the challenges of COVID-19 and lockdown?
HC: The biggest problem for many has been limited access to the studio. For example, for a glass worker, it's not always easy to get access to the equipment. During the lockdown, we have reached out to more artists from all over the world. Also, in our communication, we have been sharing their personal stories so customers know what are supporting.
ID: Who are The Ode To's latest recruits and who are your rising stars?
HC: We have a new Danish ceramic artist called Maria Lenskjold, whose Himmel Eskapisme series of sculptures were inspired by the sky, as seen from her balcony during lockdown. We also have a French artist called Florence Bamberger.
In terms of rising stars, Sofia Tufvasson is one that springs to mind. She was a graphic designer, but then changed her career to become a ceramicist. She works with shadows and light and is becoming very well known in Scandinavia and abroad. Also Erika Kristofersson Bredberg. We hold digital exhibitions online at the same time as we show them in the gallery and pieces from Erika’s most popular exhibition sold out online in just six minutes!
ID: Do any pieces from the gallery make it home? Who are your favorites?
HC: I have at least 15 artworks from The Ode To, from wooden artwork by Joakim Nyström, to Erika Kristofersson Bredberg's Smiley sculpture in glass. When I opened the box I fell in love with it. Anna has the hanging version.
Anna’s favorite is Hayley McCrirrick's hand-dyed paintings. She's very good at dipping textiles, which she then frames in Scottish oak. Our new favorite is the Bodybuilding Mirror Mini by a Swedish artist called Sofia Eriksson.
ID: If you could work with any artists from the past or present, who would they be?
HC: Matisse, Louise Bourgeois, Åsa Stenerhag, Anton Alvarez, David Hockney, Emma Bernard, Alex Gardner, Simone Bodmer-Turner and more people from different parts of the world. I'd also like to work with the fashion photographer Cass Bird.
ID: What are the current standout trends you're seeing in the art world?
HC: The overall trend is that art is becoming a lot more popular. The new generation of art buyers, aged 25-45, are more interested in art than previous generations, thanks in part to social media, and actually make the majority of art purchases. Before, you had to go physically go to a gallery, which took effort. Now art is a lot more attainable. The digital generation has a new way of consumption in which they show their personality through their home and possessions. Art is a good way of expressing personality and taste. Also, customers are more daring than we thought. We are seeing quite expressive and maximalist trends and we're also seeing sculptures coming back, which hasn’t been as highly valued in art before, but they are one of our most popular categories. We’re also seeing a lot of glass. Growing up in the 90s glass was not so cool, but now we're interesting pieces from artists such as Malin Pierre.
ID: What is your advice for first-time art buyers or novice collectors?
HC: From the moment you buy your first piece of art, you're a collector. Go easy on yourself, just make sure you go with your gut and what you love rather than buying what you think you should, because art is very subjective. I think the fear of not knowing what to buy holds people back, but if you love it and think you’ll have it for a long time, then it’s the right piece for you. Also, don’t think about trends.
ID: Your Pro service program offers advice and the commissioning of unique and bespoke works handpicked by your team of art advisors. Who is the service aimed at?
HC: It's for anyone, from art novices to collectors, stylists or interior architects. Traditionally architects focused on surfaces and structures, but today many customers request a more personal experience. Not all architects have the infrastructure to connect with the artists to fit each project, so they come to us with a mood board and we suggest an artist or artwork. It can be something from the gallery, but we also commission artworks. For example, Studio Frantzén (the new sister restaurant of Stockholm's three Michelin star restaurant Frantzén) in Shanghai has commissioned a wall filled with plates by one of our artists, Sofi Gunnstedt, for its Chambre séparée (private dining room). We've also just decorated one of the restaurants within the new London concept store, Pantechnicon.