Autumn Sonata

Horses, lions, ants and potatoes – and a new minister of culture with gunpowder residue on her hands. The Danish art scene’s autumn season is live on air.

Mohamed Bourouissa, Horse Day, 2014 – 2015. Video, 13:32 min. ©ADAGP, Paris 2018. Courtesy the artist and kamel mennour, Paris/London.

Most people hope that the new season will be more predictable than the last one, without too many tired-looking face masks and dreary restrictions. Yet perhaps not everything needs to be business as usual. In fact, I struck gold on my very first round of openings after the summer. Even more surprisingly, I found it at the firmly established Copenhagen Gallery Bo Bjerggaard (which represents Per Kirkeby, Tal R, and others).

Apparently, the grown-ups had gone to the seaside and left the place to If My Given Body, a pop-up exhibition featuring a new generation and new names (including J. G. Arvidsson, Emilie Imán, and Stine Victoria) that had not previously graced these premises. The takeover was signed by the new nomadic gallery Arrange the Ants, which will inhabit different art venues in order to change the status quo. “Marginalised voices” and “integrity before commercial viability” are some of the keywords behind the mission. A gentle, yet excited atmosphere ran through the gallery, the empty offices, and out onto the packed roof terrace where the afterparty was held in a still-bright Scandinavian summer night, dancing bodies went with the flow, and some things might have been ‘rearranged’. It was a breath of fresh air for the scene, for everyone and everything.

There’s also something of a “home alone” situation going on in Aarhus, where both Kunsthal Aarhus and ARoS are currently without directors. The kunsthalle is looking for an artistic director after Jacob Fabricius went on to Art Hub. Whereas at ARoS, Erlend Høyersten resigned as director shortly before the summer after an external work environment survey concluded that the museum’s management culture was problematic and that incidents of harassment and abuse had taken place.

A consulting firm has now been hired to find a new director, and at a staff meeting last week, the employees were praised for their efforts during difficult times, even if the number of visitors attracted this summer were better than feared. According to daily newspaper Jyllandsposten, the chairman of the board proudly reported that the visitors had been bigger spenders than usual: “In July, each guest spent an average of DKK 26 [EUR 3.50] in the café and DKK 23 [EURO 3.10] in the shop. According to the chairman, this figure is usually below DKK 20 [EUR 2.69] per guest.”

Ever since the inception of Art Hub, the project has been looking for the right home. Now the Bikuben Foundation has bought a 7,000 square metre building in Copenhagen’s northwest district which will house not only Art Hub, but the foundation itself too.

Before renovation begins, the premises will briefly open in mid-September to present Thorasvej 29, a large exhibition that will fill the entire five-storey building. The five curators selected for the task have been given one floor each. These are Mette Woller, Feminist Collective with No Name, Culture Art Society, Institut Funder Bakke, and Kristian Vistrup Madsen. When the renovation is complete in 2023, the house will boast exhibition galleries, workshops, production facilities, and fifteen to twenty studios, some of which will be earmarked for the residency programme while most will be available for rent. The latter is good news in a city where studio spaces are in increasingly short supply – provided, of course, that the rent is reasonable.

This week sees the opening of the main autumn exhibition at National Gallery of Denmark (SMK). After the Silence – women of art speak out looks like quite a mixed bag of women artists who have used art politically. Käthe Kollwitz, Hannah Ryggen, Lene Adler Petersen, Pia Arke, and Hannah Höch are some of the promising names on offer. Next month, the National Gallery will present a duo that also could have been included in the same show: Astrup & Bordorff’s The Art Museum, a new film installation based on research into the museum’s history, working methods, guides, guards, curators, and other characters. It looks poised to be yet another queered cabaret with catchy homespun compositions and trademark 1980s makeup.

Jeanette Mundt, Untitled, 2021. Graphite, colored pencil, and Neocolor wax crayon on Kraft paper, 45.72 x 60.96 cm. Courtesy the artist.

Other notable solo exhibitions this season include Mika Rottenberg at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art and Mohamed Bourouissa at Kunsthal Charlottenborg. I am looking forward to Bourouissa’s Horse Day (2014–15), a contemporary cowboy movie based on an eight-month stay in a community surrounding some horse stables in a low-income area of ​​North Philadelphia.

As far as painting is concerned, the autumn season features weighty solo shows. Brandts in Odense will present a Kathrine Ærtebjerg retrospective, while Tranen in Hellerup will feature Magnus Andersen. Both painters can be described as representative of their respective decades – the former the early 2000s, and the latter the late 2010s – which may actually be overlapping in exciting ways here in the early 2020s.

Yet another accomplished painter can be found at the artist-run gallery Red Tracy. This weekend, the venue opens an exhibition featuring American artist Jeannette Mundt, who is best known for her paintings, but will show drawings and video in Copenhagen. The Red Tracys themselves say that they are fascinated by Mundt’s Pictures Generation-like approach where the picture has cut the cord to any original referents, proceeding to forever move around a world of images of images.

The Chart fair is this weekend’s dominant event by far. This year, special attention is given to Buffalo AKG Art Museum in upstate New York, which is also the fair’s official museum partner. I didn’t know Chart did that, but then again this particular museum, which is scheduled to open in 2022, has in the pipeline some spectacular news of particular interest to a Nordic art fair: it is reportedly planning to establish the largest collection of Nordic art outside the Nordic region. We will hopefully know much more about the hows, whos, wherefores, and how muchs when a delegation from the museum reveals its plans in the coming days.

Anne Marie Carl-Nielsen next to an enlarged version of her equestrian statue of King Christian IX, Copenhagen, 1923. The Royal Library, photographer uknown.

Speaking of collections springing from the soil of nations and regions, Chart will also offer an opportunity to meet three directors of Scandinavia’s national galleries, which, oddly enough, are all led by Danish art historians: Karin Hindsbo from the National Museum in Oslo, Gitte Ørskou from Moderna Museet in Stockholm, and Mikkel Bogh from National Gallery of Denmark in Copenhagen will discuss the role of national museums today and in the future.

There is no escaping Danish sculptor Anne Marie Carl-Nielsen (1863–1945) this autumn. In October, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek will open a research-based special exhibition about this artist, who enjoyed great international success in her own lifetime and received prestigious public commissions, such as the equestrian statue of King Christian IX, yet is virtually unknown to the general public.

Concurrently, Den Frie presents Arven – efter Anne Marie Carl-Nielsen (The Legacy of Anne Marie Carl-Nielsen), for which a total of eleven contemporary artists have been invited to create new works, including Nanna Abell, Rasmus Myrup, Jytte Rex, Tal R, and Nina Beier. Incidentally, the latter is currently also presenting a spectacular performance exhibition which cries out to be visited: lion sculptures, live cats, eggs, soil, smoke, and milk are just some of the elements of CAT COW, set in a barn at Rønnebæksholm, about an hour’s drive south of Copenhagen, in Næstved. It is part of the exhibition project Soil.Sickness.Society.

Lots of other treats are in store in this season, too: you can go to the sculpture park in Nivå to hill potatoes in Danh Vo’s potato field, and soon Hannah Heilmann will open a web shop at Ariel – Feminisms in the Aesthetics. But it is difficult to ignore the fact that last week Denmark suddenly got a new minister of culture, Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen.

She is described as a Social Democratic party loyalist. Translated into the realm of cultural policy, this means culture understood as community, handball, and more music schools for children – never, ever use the word “art.” There is something in the air these days which means that no minister of culture, either here or in the rest of Europe, dares to speak about art in positive terms – not to mention present-day artists who, as we all know, dwell in highbrow ivory towers that you don’t want to be associated with. If you do, the yellow vests will come swarming to topple parliament or something like that. What is more, the new minister comes with worrying baggage.

Before Halsboe-Jørgensen became head of culture, she was minister of education and research, and was among those who sternly admonished Danish universities to refrain from conducting politicised research. An outrageous and quite politicised act in itself, initiated by politicians on the far right with a clear agenda aimed at gender and diversity studies in the humanities. If Halsboe-Jørgensen continues in this vein in the field of culture, not least in relation to the ongoing restructuring of institutes of artistic education in Denmark, we will no longer be able to peacefully visit whimsical art shops or look at lion sculptures with milk on them. Fingers crossed.

Installation view, Nina Beier, Cat Cow, 2021. Curated by Charlotte Sprogøe, part of Soil.Sickness.Society, Rønnebæksholm, Næstved, 2021. Photo: Jan Søndergaard.