From white walls to a wholehearted embrace of art and a solid collection

It was never in the cards that Martin Nielsen was to become a passionate art collector with several hundred pieces and a fiery lust for the creation of experiences in art for as many people as possible. Meet a man who dares to let go and let the art hit him hard enough to take his breath away.


Name: Martin Nielsen
Location: Aalborg, Denmark
Number of artworks in collection: 500+
Started collecting in year: 1994

What was your motivation, when you started to collect art?
My entry into the art scene was highly untraditional. My childhood was not particularly influenced by art, and I was not particularly drawn towards art in my early life either. I was around 25-26 years old when I visited an art museum for the first time, and I did not really sprout an interest in art until I moved into a house with great white walls, where normal poster art could not ‘live’. That was the beginning, which resulted in the purchase of my first pieces, and from then on one piece led to another. To me, art collecting is a form of high-level gambling mania – you breath through it, and it gives a quality of life, which does not only benefit me, but also my family. They have embraced my passion, and they take great pleasure in the art every day.

Do you remember buying your first piece? If yes, describe the experience.
I clearly remember the acquisition of my first piece; it was sort of a crazy experience. It was two pieces by Erik Bille Christiansen, which I purchased through Kent Wolfsen (owner of Galleri Wolfsen, Aalborg, Denmark), whom I have known for many years. I walked into the gallery one day just before closing time, we small-talked for a while, and the only thing he did not try to do was to sell me some of the art. He knew me and knew that I have never had an interest in art, but during our talk, I spotted two pieces by Erik Bille Christiansen, and there was something about them, which captured my attention and was able to hold it. I got curious about the artist and what made him create this art, and on the way out, I realised that those pieces needed a place in our new house. It was wholly unfurnished, but within fifteen minutes, I had bought two pieces for an empty room and from that day and forwards, art was a part of my life. When I talk about it today, I still get goosebumps. That purchase really was an eye-opener for me and gave me a sense of what effect art can have on people.

Is there a unifying principle or a cohesive theme in your collection?
The unifying principle in my collection is that there is not a unifying principle. I have both a large private collection and a medium sized collection through my business. In company related matters I will occasionally make more investor-minded purchases, but I have never purchased something that did not make my heart race. A regular clue for me is a bodily feeling that the piece makes a difference for me – not for my wallet. My opinion is that you should not purchase artworks as investments, but rather because that you cannot keep yourself from purchasing it. The idea that your pieces may one day increase in value should not be your main reason for purchasing them. To me, art collecting is something where I surrender myself to something irrational, something that cannot be measured or weighed, something that must be felt and experienced.

Do not get lulled into one specific genre, instead be open-minded, and do not expect to be able to make something of every single type of art. Allow yourself to be moved by the art – whether it is beautiful, ugly, minimalistic or colourful – just take it in.

Is it important for you to meet the artist who created the piece?
I do a lot of purchasing internationally, and because of that, I rarely have the opportunity to meet the artist. Once, I was spellbound by a giant sculpture by an American artist in Soho during a visit to New York, and I felt like I would not be able to breathe probably again, if I did not bring that piece home with me. It was a sensuous experience that really took hold of me! I bought it without meeting him, but luckily our paths would cross in the not so distant future. Every meeting with one of the artists behind one of the pieces I own definitely adds an extra dimension to the piece for me. I was one of the first people to purchase a piece by Tal R, and I was thrilled when I met him for the first time and experienced this dedicated artist and warm human being. On the other side, I have met artists, who turned out to be rude and unpleasant, and that actually made me loose interest in buying any more of their pieces, so meeting the artist behind a piece may have tremendous effects on my experience of their artistic universe. Art is, after all, a product of a person’s own lifeworld.

What is your number one advice to new collectors?
My number one advice is to experience the art. Visit museums, galleries, and fairs; see as much as you can. Experience both the expensive art from the world’s most prominent artists in grand museums and dive deep into the art from the unknown and unestablished artists in smaller exhibition sites. Do not get lulled into one specific genre, instead be open-minded, and do not expect to be able to make something of every single type of art. Allow yourself to be moved by the art – whether it is beautiful, ugly, minimalistic or colourful – just take it in. Finally, buy art using your heart. Always let your heart be your guide!

Tom Burr

From the 17th to the 19th March 2017, the art fair NORTH will be opening its doors for the second time. This will take place in the old distillery in Aalborg, which you – by virtue of your position as both a man of ideas and the owner of the building – have participated in transforming to a new meeting place for art. What is your motivation for entering a project like NORTH?
Where there is room in the heart there is room in the house, and my hope is to create an amazing framework where this will be possible. The old distillery is a place with character, and it is centrally located, so there is easy access for everyone. I want to help create an open art scene, one that is open to everyone. Last year greatly exceeded my expectations – there was a line from early morning – and this year, things will be even crazier. It will truly be huge!

What do you personally look most forward to seeing during NORTH?
I have been a collector for some years now, and there is a tendency that, as a collector – whether that passion is watches, wine, or other collectibles – you will constantly aim higher. It must be crazier and crazier, and it takes more for you to be moved. When that is said and done, I can be emotionally touched by witnessing someone else having an encounter with art. Basically, I am a supporter of the idea that art should be accessible to everyone, and during the fair this year, I will be looking forward to seeing people being moved by the art and being drawn towards new artistic universes, which they feel like exploring further. Art has the capability to move us unlike anything else, and this is what I want as many people as possible to experience and have access to – and that is exactly what NORTH is an invitation to: encounter the art that speaks to your heart!

Nicola Samori
Andreas Golder