Absolut’s Impressive Art Trifecta in Stockholm

A digital art bar, two biannual awards, and a museum cataloging it all

In Stockholm this past weekend, vodka brand Absolut affirmed its decades-long commitment to the world of art. With well-known origins tied to Andy Warhol and a professional understanding that extends to the present day Absolut Art market, there’s an authenticity to this connection. Absolut actually employs a Global Art Manager, Saskia Neuman and, as much as her role requires finding new and exciting artists to collaborate with, it’s also about protecting the brand’s illustrious heritage. When visiting Sweden, it’s easy to understand this at places like the Spritmuseum, contemporary art museum. While there for the Absolut Art Award Weekend, it’s even more evident. From a neon woodland-themed art bar to two awards carrying a heavy purse, Absolut nourishes artists and those looking to see more art.

Mareld, an Absolut Art Bar

Inside the new glass and steel hotel At Six, in central Stockholm, Absolut unveiled the latest in their series of pop-up Absolut Art Bars. Known as Mareld (which translates to bioluminescence), the bar stems from the imagination of Swedish music collective Studio Barnhus and features the work of artist and illustrator Leo Hallin. Equal parts digital and tactile, it’s a lush and transfigured forest landscape and an LED-powered animation that follows the space from sunset to sunrise, populated by mythical beasts. Studio Barnhus’ Alex Boman, Petter Nordkvist and Kornel Kovacs invoke the richness of Sweden’s folklore—and saturate the entire space in otherworldliness. As custom cocktails were poured, the space glowed with real-world intensity and dream-like psychedelia. “World-building is what we try to do, all the time,” the Barnhus members explain. Here, it’s more than a musical journey but a physical space.

Site-specific Absolut Art Bars have been appearing around the world since 2012. From Olafur Eliasson’s “Little Sun” bar at Coachella to Mickalene Thomas’ “Better Days” at Art Basel in Switzerland and Seth Troxler’s Ibiza experience last year, they’ve offered a diverse platform for artist collaboration. The last to accompany an Absolut Art Award weekend was Ilja Karilampi’s “President Room” in 2015, but nothing quite compares to the multimedia onslaught that is this year’s end result. Of course, with a music collective behind it, Mareld included a stage set-up and Studio Barnhus members entertained guests at the opening.

Absolut Art Awards

In 2009, Absolut set the Absolut Art Awards in motion to commemorate 30 years of artist collaborations. A biannual prize distributed to one artist and one art writer, it aims to propel both winners to new creative heights. This year, the international jury included Director of Moderna Museet Daniel Birnbaum, Director and Curator of the Swiss Institute Simon Castets, Director and Chief Curator of Kunsthalle Basel Elena Filipovic, Director of Chisenhale Gallery Polly Staple and Artforum Editor-at-Large Jack Bankowsky. A team of ten art world leaders were selected to nominate potential candidates and the jury judged based on a project proposal provided by the nominees. Winners were celebrated this weekend at a gala dinner just beside Mareld, the Absolut Art Bar.

The 2017 prize for Art Work, which comes complete with a €20,000 stipend and a €100,000 project budget, went to German artist Anne Imhof. The artist, presently captivating the world with her S+M-tinged performance piece in the German Pavillon at the Venice Biennale, has proposed a new piece set in the salt desert of Death Valley, CA. The act and its musical score will ultimately culminate as a film, but in the meantime it marks a shift for Imhof, away from a gallery space and into the outdoors.

As for the prize for Art Writing (which comes with a €20,000 stipend and a €25,000 production budget), it went to Huey Copeland, Dean for Academic Affairs in the Graduate School and Associate Professor of Art History at Northwestern University. An academic, art historian and contributing editor at Artforum, Copeland proposed a collection of essays under the title of “Touched by the Mother.” It aims to address contemporary American culture and critically important artworks through the eyes of a black gay man. Much like Imhof’s idea, there’s a vibrant push forward from a necessary voice—bound by the cohesive space a book format offers a writer. It’s worth noting that Copeland brought his mother to Stockholm as his guest while collecting the award.


Absolut’s commitment to the arts doesn’t just pop up in Sweden once every other year. In fact, Stockholm houses the Spritmuseum and the Absolut Art Collection. An 18th-century naval building, the museum opened to the public in 2012 with a concentration on the history and culture of alcohol in Sweden, tasting rooms included. There are 850 works from 600 different artists all pertaining to Absolut on site—from Warhol’s original painting in 1985 to those that they’ve commissioned up to 2004. The bottle—or an allusion toward the bottle—is present in all of these works, even on boots designed by Tom Ford. This is the point here, though, to demonstrate the elasticity of iconography. With authenticity as a through line, the Absolut Art Collection demonstrates just how much the brand has given to the art world (financially) and how artists have turned the bottle into elements of their work.

Spritmuseum images courtesy of Absolut, all other images by Roberto Chamorro