Spring Sonata – Denmark 2014

This spring the Danish art scene presents Cory Arcangel, Hilma af Klint, Kerry James Marshall, an exhibition about conceptual art as a concept, and a re-staging of Palle Nielsen’s The Model from 1968.

Kerry James Marshall, Better Homes Better Gardens, 1994. Denver Art Museum, Special Fund.
Kerry James Marshall, Better Homes Better Gardens, 1994. Denver Art Museum, Special Fund.

As the animated conversations about Lars von Trier’s 4.5 hour Nymphomaniac – a film that has divided devotees into those who believe that the master has done it again and those who sigh pointedly at how the great auteur of our time has now finally lost his grip on things – are slowing dying out, the Danish art scene is preparing to let a new year unfurl itself as the harsh winter slowly relinquishes its grip.

ARoS’ new director Erlend Høyersten unfurled his leaves long ago. He acceded to the position at the turn of the year and has already made quite a splash with an interview to the Danish newspaper Jyllandsposten, where he described his ambitions for placing ARoS amongst the top 20 of the world’s best museums. “I know exactly what to do to achieve greater success,” said Høyersten, who kept his cards close to his chest but nevertheless announced that he is competitive by nature, unafraid to accept a challenge or of declaring that he “wants to take the scalp of Louisiana”.  The question is whether the museum’s 2014 schedule (on which Høyersten’s influence would have been limited) – consisting of solo exhibitions featuring artists such as Wes Lang, Cardiff & Miller, and Michael Kvium – is quite up to the task. The schedule also includes an exhibition featuring Jesper Just to be built on the “ruins” of the Tal R exhibition currently on at ARoS – not unlike Pierre Hyughes’ recent, and already legendary, retrospective at the Pompidou, which was indeed created on the ruins left behind by the previous exhibition featuring Mike Kelley. A new trend, perhaps?

By contrast, the exhibition schedule of the Overgaden venue in Copenhagen is the first to be entirely conceived by the “new” director Merete Jankowski, who took over leadership in 2012. The main emphasis is placed on young, perfectly capable Danish artists (such as Troels Sandegård, Astrid Myntekær, Alexander Tovborg, and Jacob Tækker) – overall, the kind of programming typical of Overgaden in recent years seems to be continued without any real change.

Judging by the title of a new TV programme on art premiering on 4 February on DR TV, the national broadcasting corporation of Denmark, it might seem as if this public service station continues the overall line in its arts coverage that has remained prevalent for many years now. Pik, lort og hundehvalpe (Cocks, shit, and puppies) is the name of the show, hosted by Michael Jeppesen. But of course one shouldn’t judge the hound by the hairs of the cover that bit it, or whatever the expression is …

What is truly surprising is that the US artist Cory Arcangel will exhibit his work at HEART – Herning Museum of Contemporary Art. It would have been more likely to see him featured at Toves Galleri or IMO, venues that belong to the same generation as Arcangel, who won fame for e.g. his hacking of Nintendo games from the 1980s. One example is his modification of a Super Mario game in which most of the graphics have been removed, leaving behind only the blue sky in the background with its slowly drifting white clouds. Or to put is as the museum does in its press materials: “Come and see an artist who transforms the commercial world into art and poetry.”  

Louisiana – Museum of Modern Art is another Danish museum that has transitioned to an English name, and here the highlight of the season is bound to be the exhibition featuring Hilma af Klint, which was shown at Moderna Museet last year. Apart from the sensational fact that Klint’s abstract paintings supposedly predate what we usually consider the birth of abstract painting, Hilma af Klint’s art should also add contemporary relevance due to its link to theosophy and the occult; subjects that exert considerable fascination on certain aspects of contemporary art today. One example of this can be seen at Sorø Kunstmuseum, which shows Im-materialitet no 3. (bevidsthed) (Im-materiality no. 3 (consciousness)) – the last instalment in an ambitious exhibition trilogy anchored in the philosophical movement Speculative Realism. The exhibition (featuring works by e.g. Lea Porsager, Ursula Nistrup, Ebbe Stub Wittrup, and Hansjoerg Dobliar) focuses on the outer limits of science, on paranormal phenomena, and recent microbiological research suggesting that our consciousness is rather more founded in material aspects than we have hitherto believed.   “There is much to indicate that what we call ‘our’ consciousness isn’t ours at all. And other studies suggest that even plants communicate with and warn each other by means of clicking sounds, sound waves in the soil, and by emitting gases”– says curator Birgitte Kirkhoff.

Hansjoerg Dobliar, uden titel, 2013. Del af udstillingen Im-materialitet på Sorø Kunstmuseum.
Hansjoerg Dobliar, uden titel, 2013. Del af udstillingen Im-materialitet at Sorø Kunstmuseum, opening on 31 January.

As far as directorships are concerned we are still waiting for some of the most senior positions in the Øresund region to be filled. From a Danish perspective the most important of these, apart from Malmö Konsthall, is the appointment of a new director of Statens Museum for Kunst. The seat became vacant after Karsten Ohrt withdrew to pick up the mantle as chairman of the Ny Carlsberg Foundation, one of the most important positions on the Danish cultural scene. According to the Danish newspaper Politiken the most likely candidates are: Mikkel Bogh, rector of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts; Christine Buhl Andersen, director of KØS Museum of art in public spaces; Sanne Kofod Olsen, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Roskilde; and Gitte Ørskou, director of Kunsten in Aalborg. The list seems quite plausible.  

And speaking of the SMK, the museum will be showing the exhibition A Farewell to Parents by Henrik Olesen, who has – together with his German gallerists Daniel Buchholz and Christopher Müller – curated an exhibition of new and older works that address the process of liberation that takes place – or can take place – when a young person leaves behind their childhood home and their parents’ standards and values.

Before Normal: Concept after Concept is the title of an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Roskilde curated by Lars Bang Larsen. Présence Panchounette, Lasse Schmidt Hansen, Michael Portnoy, Alberto Greco and Louise Lawler are just some of the names on the promising list of featured artists. The exhibition presents the thesis that conceptual art has not yet found its place within art history; it is a conflicted and ambiguous phenomenon that should not only “be understood as the moment where art begins to make sense, to make meaning; it also evinces a tendency towards dissolution, a nihilistic or ironic resistance against meaning.”

Camille Henrot, L'Histoire de la Révolution française, 2012.
Camille Henrot, L’Histoire de la Révolution française, 2012.

Charlottenborg, too, invites visitors to witness a rewriting of art history with Kerry James Marshall’s paintings, which address questions of cultural representation from an African-American perspective and seek to mitigate “the lack in the image bank”, to use the artist’s own turn of phrase. Charlottenborg’s summer exhibition features the young French artist Camille Henrot, whose videos and Ikebana-like floral compositions can currently be seen popping up everywhere on the international art circuit, particularly since her participation in last year’s Venice Biennial.

The Royal Academy of Fine Arts’ exhibition venue BKS Garage is now closing after four years of great activity, staging more than 50 exhibitions. A shame, really, for there are very few places in Copenhagen that combine professionalism with freedom in this manner, offering students the opportunity to experiment within a real exhibition space. There is, however, some hope that the Academy’s own upcoming book series will make an important contribution to the realm of publications on art and philosophy, just as it was in the 1980s and early 1990s. The first book in the series is In a Quare Time and Space by the German post-porn theorist Tim Stüttgen.

Arken in Ishøj recreates Palle Nielsen’s Modellen. En modell för ett kvalitativt samhälle (The Model – A Model for a Qualitative Society) from 1968 – the famous adventure playground for children that Nielsen created for Moderna Museet in collaboration with the Swedish activist group Aktion Samtal. It will be interesting to see whether the 2014 incarnation of The Model can tear itself free from contemporary trends in museum education and its focus on “learning” – and remain the same kind of anti-authoritarian experiment and rough adventure/construction playground it was back in Stockholm in 1968.

Palle Nielsen og Aktion Samtal, Modellen. Modell for a Qualitative Society, 1968. Moderna Museet, Stockholm.
Palle Nielsen and Aktion Samtal, Modellen. Modell för et kvalitativt samhälle, 1968. Moderna Museet, Stockholm.