Copenhagen Art Scene: Still Going Strong
The wooden clogs ended up in smoke (2017), installation view at Age of Aquarius
Courtesy the artist and Age of Aquarius
Recent activities in relation to dissolution and transformation (1995),
Installation view at Primer
Ivan Pérard vs Marian Luft
"Biggest Bedroom Worries (BBW)" (2017)
Exhibition view at Future Suburban Contemporary
"Raymond Pettibon | A Selection by DAN GRAHAM" (2018)
Installation view at Galleri Nicolai Wallner
Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles and David Zwirner, New York
For Louis-Ferdinand Céline: Voyage au bout de la nuit, installation view at Copenhagen Contemporary 2017
"In the Pines – Slight return" (2017)
Exhibition view of a group show featuring James Aldridge, Keith Allan, Anna Bjerger, Dexter Dalwood, Graham Dolphin, Jenny Källman, Robert McNally, Charlie Roberts, Evren Tekinoktay and Richard Woods at David Risley
Lasse Schmidt Hansen
Dismantled Molleton (2015) at Christian Andersen
Courtesy the artist and Christian Andersen
Bakunin's Barricade (2015/2017)
Installation view of "No Protest Lost" at Kunsthal Charlottenborg, 2017
Photo by David Stjernholm
"The Antipodes of My Body" (2017-18),
Exhibition view of a group show featuring Rob Churm, Nanna Lysholt Hansen
"New Works" (2018)
Exhibition view of a group show featuring Martin Erik Andersen, Stig Brøgger, Morten Buch, Jiri Georg Dokoupil, Andreas Eriksson, Olav Christopher Jenssen, Pernille With Madsen, Kehnet Nielsen, Lawrence Weiner, Troels Wörsel at Susanne Ottesen
Photo: Anders Sune Berg
New Noveta, It's her (2017), Performance at YEARS
For Spike's third installment in a series (after Vienna and Dallas) of close-ups on the art scenes of various cities, Danish artist and writer Janus Høm presents a cartography of contemporary art in Copenhagen.
What comes to most people’s minds when thinking about Copenhagen is probably not art, but rather restaurants showered in Michelin stars, unbearable living costs, Scandinavian design or ever-so-cute cyclists. And, granted, until recently, the only major international art star was neo-classicist sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen (*1797). But things have been looking up ever since the Minister of Culture Julius Bomholt initiated the Danish Arts Council (now the Danish Arts Foundation) in 1964. I’ll be coming back to that.
Last summer, Copenhagen held the fifth iteration of Cph Art Week – a city-wide, event-filled week that has become a standard requirement for any respectable art world capital. Even for a small city like ours, an organised week sprawling with exhibition openings, performances, concerts, pop-up bars, talks, tours and titillating events is to be expected. But what is remarkable, is that the city is now suddenly home to not just one but two concurrent high-end art fairs: CODE and Chart Art Fair. Just a couple of years ago we had nothing of the sort.
After many years of meagre interest in the rather provincial fair Art Copenhagen, a handful of the strongest Danish galleries – led by Galleri Susanne Ottesen – left the fair, joined forces and, in 2013, initiated Chart Art Fair, inside the prestigious halls of Kunsthal Charlottenborg. This was a major and much welcomed move. And, incredibly, jumping ship didn’t lead to Art Copenhagen’s implosion as such. Rather, three years later, it would motivate an ambitious expansion, relocation and rebranding that eventually turned Art Copenhagen into CODE – an international art fair complimenting the specifically Nordic profile of Chart.
Few had imagined a couple of years ago that Copenhagen would attract the likes of Galerie Neu (Berlin), Perrotin (Paris/New York/Hong Kong/Seoul/Tokyo), Croy Nielsen (Vienna), Arcadia Missa (London), former Vilma Gold (London), Peres Projects (Berlin), Nagel Draxler (Berlin/Cologne) and König Galerie (Berlin). Copenhagen seems to be thriving more than ever.
But the question is whether the rather sudden addition of two high-end art fairs is actually evidence of an underlying, seismic change in the Copenhagen art market.
Unfortunately, I don’t think so. It's hard to think of a commercial gallery with significant international aspirations that has opened in the last five years (excluding Bianca d'Alessandro, which previously operated under the name of Peinture et Sculpture since 2012). Consequently, only a few handfuls of local artists have gained commercial representation in that same timeframe. And, at least to my knowledge, the collector base is as infinitesimal as always.
"Defying the consistent lack of commercial and institutional opportunities by taking matters into one’s own hands is an old tradition in the Copenhagen art scene"
But thanks to Julius Bomholt and his godsend of an initiative in 1964, the Danish Arts Foundation, Copenhagen’s art scene is consistently as vibrant as it has been for decades. Funding art productions, exhibitions, residencies, work grants, art fair participation, public art and more, there's no doubt that the institution carries a lot of weight. Of course, more than just public funding factors into the creation and growth of an art scene – one can think of macro-economic cycles, online networks, the Bologna Agreement, art school politics, governmental spending cuts, institutional programming (notably the ripple effects from SMK Fridays at The National Gallery – a bimonthly art event attracting as many as 5,000 people), unemployment benefits, socioeconomics and so on. But case in point: in the span of Chart Art Fair’s five-year existence, the Danish Arts Foundation has funded fifty new self-organised spaces, along with considerable support for individual projects and work grants, with as much as €1 million.
Aside from the persistent good work by the few local galleries already established – such as Christian Andersen, Bianca d’Alessandro, Nicolai Wallner, Nils Stærk, David Risley and Susanne Ottesen – what truly keeps the Copenhagen scene well and alive is the abundance of self-organised enterprises run by local artists and their collaborators.
One such undertaking is Age of Aquarius, founded in 2016 by the artist-couple Uffe Isolotto and Nanna Starck. Located on a beautiful rooftop garden overlooking Copenhagen’s skyline and connected to their private residence in Østerbro, the duo collaborates with artists and non-artists alike to produce exquisite New Age-y events – conjuring spiritual, intellectual and earthly ecologies. Exemplary was the last summer solstice when, from sunrise to sunset, Age of Aquarius offered a full day of collective performances, Kundalini yoga, chakra tea and eatable sculptures. Equally exciting is Future Suburban Contemporary, masterminded in 2015 by hyper-collaborator Jens Ivar Kjetså, who singled-handedly produced the Biennale of Future Contemporary Art 2017, an exuberant event held this year in his local suburban community, Brønshøj. Recently, siblings Esben and Anna Weile Kjær appeared on the scene, and, after having collaborated with scores of people from around the world at countless venues, they are now set to curate the entirety of Copenhagen’s alternative art fair, Alt_Cph 2018. Rumour has it that it’s going to be a performance-oriented extravaganza.
At the other end of the spectrum, David Hilmer Rex spearheads Primer, an organisational platform, somewhat reminiscent of Artist Placement Group, which has been operating since early 2017 inside the headquarters of bio-tech company, Aquaporin. Additionally, one of the oldest artist-run spaces in Denmark, TOVES (founded in 2010), is going through the unlikely process of selling its brand, copyrights, artworks and inventory to a new owner (full disclosure: I’m a current member).
Complementing the initiatives concerned specifically with experimental exhibition formats, Copenhagen also houses numerous more “traditional” spaces. For example, the gallery YEARS has managed to be an ever-relevant frontrunner in the scene since 2012, showcasing some of the most interesting artists from Denmark and abroad. In September, the artists behind the space attracted an audience spanning three generations, who were thoroughly moshed around by the artist-duo New Noveta. Two years ago, artist Kevin Malcolm and curator Nikolaj Stobbe opened Vermilion Sands with a highly professionalised program that faces contemporary, pressing topics head on. Taking a strong position on written discourse – by simply eliminating it from their program – the organisers have instead insisted on face-to-face dialogue as well as carefully organised talks to provide contextualisation. With more than twenty different artist-run spaces currently in Copenhagen, I could go on and on.
Defying the lack of commercial and institutional opportunities by taking matters into one’s own hands is an old and necessary tradition in the Copenhagen art scene. As evidenced through the recent creation of fairs, exhibition platforms and artist-run spaces, alongside the sustained help of public funding, I suspect this do-it-yourself attitude won’t stop anytime soon.
JANUS HØM is an artist, critic and curator. He lives in Berlin.
Part two of this feature on the Copenhagen art scene, an interview about public institutions and education with artist and professor at The Royal Danish Art Academy Henriette Heise can be read here.
Age of Aquarius
6. sal Copenhagen
Copenhagen Art Week
22–27 May 2018
Bianca D'Alessandro (Gallery)
Frederiksholms Kanal 28A
Biennale of Future Contemporary Arts 2017
2 – 3 June 2017
Kongens Nytorv 1
CHART Art Fair
31 August – 2 September 2018
Christian Andersen (Gallery)
Code Art Fair
30 August – 2 September 2018
Danish Arts Foundation
David Risley Gallery
Future Suburban Contemporary
Galleri Nils Stærk
Galleri Susanne Ottesen