Autumn’s Carousel

Carsten Höller looms large over the Danish art scene this autumn, alongside dreadfully thin-skinned pottery and a hospital for self-medication.

Jakob Jakobsen’s newly opened Hospital for Self Medication in Copenhagen. Photo: Jakob Jakobsen.

I occasionally use Copenhagen Fashion Week in August to sidle sideways into the new art season, which doesn’t set in until a few weeks later. It somehow feels easier to once more step into the breach of urban sociality when you do so on a scene you’re not really that involved in. You can just go there and nonchalantly watch the hubbub and frazzled nerves of the various actors – taut as bowstrings – as you get used to it all again and gradually don the appropriate socio-camouflage of the season.

This year I missed that opportunity, but never mind: one of the art season’s first shows, Window Shopper, was almost a direct extension of the fashion week – even if it was in fact a precursor to the Chart Art Fair, which forged ahead at full tilt last weekend. As if going on a collective shopping trip, gaggles of vernissage attendees went from one shop to the next to view window art by Ursula Reuter Christiansen, Hannah Heilmann, Marie Lea Lund, New Noveta, and the siblings Anna & Esben Weile Kjær. It was a mixture of attitude, offbeat concepts, and throwbacks, just like fashion and art generally like it. After this breezy cat-walk, we’re ready for the season to unfold.  

Danish editor, Pernille Albrethsen. Tegning: Jenz Koudahl.

“After nine years of hide glue,” Tal R has returned to the realm of oil painting, announced Copenhagen-based Galleri Bo Bjerggaard ahead of the artist’s exhibition there. Another gallery also featured at Chart, Christian Andersen, presents one of its house painters too: British artist Tom Humphreys. And Collaborations by Tania and Thomas Asbæk, also Copenhagen, presents Evren Tekinoktay. This is not a comeback, we are told, “because [Tekinoktay] was never gone. The rest of us, however, may have zoned out for a moment,” as the deliciously rambling press release has it – the cockiest of the season so far. 

As always, the artist-driven initiatives on the Danish art scene are brimming with vigour. At the tiny and tightly executed exhibition site C.C.C. in the Vesterbro district of Copenhagen, run by artist Simon Rasmussen, the season launches with an exhibition featuring Lulu Refn, who graduated from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts last year. At the same time, the city’s indisputably smallest exhibition venue, INOX – located inside artists Benedikte Bjerreand Asta Lynge’s refrigerator – presents the artist collective Coyote. To top it all off, Jakob Jakobsen has opened a hospital in the attic above his own flat. The idea for this Hospital for Self Medication came after a three-month stint in hospital where the artist saw the need for a new type of hospital: “an ad hoc space for experimentation into therapy as well as a critical forum for developing a new vocabulary in the space between art and sickness.”

The first project is an audio-therapeutic experiment developed in collaboration with musician Anders Remmer.

In Aarhus, too, an artist-driven initiative delivers an ambitious start of the season. In what looks rather like a miniature version of Skulptur Projekte Münster, the artist group Piscine (Jens Settergren, Mark Tholander, and Anna Ørberg) has launched an extensive group exhibition, Leviathan, which takes place not only in Kunsthal Aarhus, but also at the city’s main police station, its botanical gardens, and other public places. “How do the micro and macro structures of society affect the individual? How does society relate to what falls outside the norm?” asks the Foucauldian subtitle; the title itself is of course a nod to Thomas Hobbes.

Piscine (Jens Settergren, Mark Tholander & Anna Ørberg), OS, 2019. Still. On display at Leviathan, Kunsthal Aarhus.

If we raise our eyes to the big museums, contemporary art doesn’t dominate the programmes. However, Arken’s generational show stands out from the crowd. Ung dansk kunst. Samfundsprognoser (Young Danish Art. Social Forecasting), just opened and going on until well into next year, is not a big exhibition – it features just ten artists of the 2010s generation (including Nanna Abell, Kirsten Astrup, and Astrid Myntekær). But it is shrewdly and stringently executed, and is already shaping up to become the talk of the town for most of autumn.

In October, ARoS opens an exhibition focusing on the history of sculpture, a collaboration with the Tate in London, which presents significant breaks within sculpture from the 1960s to the present day. The list of names published so far includes Anish Kapoor, Damien Hirst, and Sarah Lucas, suggesting that the story told is also particularly British in scope. Of course, Danish museums have an affinity for that particular narrative. 

Rather less canonical – and far from British – are the originators behind the three solo shows presented at Kunsthal Charlottenborg this autumn: Czech artist Eva Koťátková;Israeli artist Roee Rosen; and Irene Haiduk, about whom the Documenta 14 catalogue simply states, “Irena Haiduk is against biography.”

Otherwise, this autumn the Danish art scene belongs to Carsten Höller. Two large institutions at either end of the country – the museum Kunsten Aalborg and the exhibition venue CC in Copenhagen – have joined forces to present two parallel exhibitions featuring the work of the German artist. While it is somewhat surprising to suddenly see Höller being showcased with such aplomb on Danish soil, it may be very relevant for Danish audiences to witness the wellspring of participatory art, which has become something of a default setting at several of the major institutions in Denmark.

This season, special treats will be found at the smaller institutions too. Particularly noteworthy are two solo shows, one at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Roskilde, and the other at Vestjyllands Kunstpavillon (West Jutland Art Museum) in the small town of Videbæk near the western coast.

In the former, Lea Porsager will show “a promiscuous interplay between the spiritual and quantum physics,” which, according to the museum’s advance press, includes tantric practices and Kundalini technology. In other words, classicPorsager. At the latter, an exhibition featuring Hannah Heilmann will be the main draw in November. I expect Laura Ashley moods, eco-catastrophes, and hopefully the little kawaii dress creatures that the artist herself calls “dreadfully thin-skinned pottery.” Indeed, it should be noted that Vestjyllands Kunstpavillon presents a remarkable programme under the direction of artist Anna Margrethe Pedersen.

That’s all well and good, but some might ask: what about the new Danish government’s cultural policies? 

Well, for the time being, Denmark’s cultural scene has its collective fingers stuck firmly in its ears, singing loudly so as not to hear what the recently inaugurated Minister of Culture, Joy Mogensen, might be trying to say between the lines. Namely that, despite several promises to the contrary prior to the election, the new government will not put a stop to the severe cutbacks to state institutions that have ravaged Danish cultural life since 2016. One simply refuses to believe it. I myself can’t face thinking about it anymore, so I’m allowing myself a brisk bout of repression and a quick turn on Carsten Höller’s carousel until we see it all in black and white in the budget proposals, which are due any day now.  

Carsten Höller, Double Carousel, Installation view at MACRO – Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Rome, 2011. Courtesy Carsten Höller and ENEL. Photo: Attilio Maranzano