New International Art Fair in Copenhagen

Copenhagen is hardly overrun by international events, says Mikkel Carl, one of the organisers behind a new international art fair that includes prominent galleries.

König Galerie is among the participants at CODE Art Fair. The picture shows a view of the gallery’s presentation of Katharina Grosse at Art Basel Miami 2015. Photo: Art Basel.
König Galerie is among the participants at CODE Art Fair. Here, a view of the gallery’s presentation of Katharina Grosse at Art Basel Miami 2015. Photo: Art Basel.

The late summer of 2016 will see the opening of a new art fair in Copenhagen. Known as CODE, the new fair harks back to the older Art Copenhagen fair, but – unlike Art Copenhagen and the other art fair currently found in the Danish capital, Chart – CODE is an international fair. The list of participants already contains more than a handful of interesting galleries from abroad. As yet, the confirmed list features 33 galleries, seven of them Danish.

Put very briefly, the recent history of art fairs in Denmark could be condensed as follows: this year, the oldest art fair in Denmark, Art Copenhagen, would have celebrated its twentieth birthday. Since 1997 the fair has been based at the Forum venue in Frederiksberg. In the last few years, the fair has presented some 60 to 70 galleries from throughout the country. As the art industry has grown in scale and scope and the number of art fairs has followed suit globally, Art Copenhagen has faced increasing competition over the years. The most influential Danish galleries now take part in some five or six international fairs every year. And given that Art Copenhagen is a local fair, featuring so many Danish galleries, it is no wonder that the real highlights have come to feel somewhat few and far between.

In 2013, a group of five Copenhagen galleries chose to set up a new fair. The Chart Art Fair was founded by Galleri Susanne Ottesen, Galleri Bo Bjerggaard, V1 Gallery, Andersen’s Contemporary and David Risley Gallery. Most of these had taken part in Art Copenhagen for several years. They wanted to form a smaller, exclusive fair with a specifically Nordic profile; a fair for specially invited galleries only. Last year’s edition of Chart featured 28 galleries, half of them from Denmark. This year, as in the preceding years, Kunsthal Charlottenborg provided an high-end backdrop for the event in the heart of Copenhagen.

Christian Falsnæs’ performance Rise from 2014 will be the “opening speech” at CODE Art Fair.
Christian Falsnæs’ performance Rise from 2014 will be the “opening speech” at CODE Art Fair.

The fact that these galleries broke ranks also changed the profile of Art Copenhagen. For example, it meant that a number of other major Danish galleries felt rather homeless at this local fair. Without the Chart galleries, taking part in Art Copenhagen was less attractive.

All this has prompted Art Copenhagen to change: in this year of the fair’s 20th exhibition it turns things entirely around. In the weekend of 26–28 August, concurrently with Chart, two fairs will open under the same roof. The main fair will be the international CODE Art Fair. This is supplemented by the more all-embracing Selected – a fair for the other Danish galleries that used to take part in Art Copenhagen. Both fairs will take place in Bella Center Copenhagen, Scandinavia’s largest conference and exhibition venue, which is located in Ørestaden, a new region of Copenhagen.

This is to say that now, Art Copenhagen has become a kind of production company working with a range of players who will help restructure and establish the new main fair. These include artist Mikkel Carl, art advisor Christina Wilson and art collectors Peter Ibsen and Claus Busch Risvig.

The question is, of course, whether Copenhagen actually needs more art fairs. Kunstkritikk talked to Mikkel Carl about the ambitions behind the new main fair.

New York gallery owner Kai Matsumiya will be part of the CODE Art Fair. Exhibition view from the gallery showing Z. Behl’s Joker’s Solitaire, 2015. Photo: Kai Matsumiya.
New York gallery owner Kai Matsumiya will be part of the CODE Art Fair. Exhibition view from the gallery showing Z. Behl’s Joker’s Solitaire, 2015. Photo: Kai Matsumiya.

CODE is envisioned as an international fair. How many galleries do you plan to see there? Can you say anything about what galleries will be arriving from abroad?

We aimed to have at least 30 galleries, and right now 33 have signed on. There are some really fantastic names among them: the Berlin galleries König Galerie, Peres Projects and Nagel Draxler, and the London gallery owner Vilma Gold are some of the real heavyweights. But we also have Anonymous Gallery, which I thought did one of the best presentations at the Zona Maco fair in Mexico City. We also have the two up-and-coming New York galleries Kai Matsumiya and Lyles & King, Steven Turner from L.A., Tristan Koenig from Melbourne and not least Antoine Levi, who helps arrange the über-cool Paris International.

Chart is striving to be a smaller-scale fair featuring Nordic galleries – what is the concept of CODE? Are there any role models?

To me as an artist, the whole “Nordic” thing never made much sense as a point to navigate by, but perhaps things look different if you are a gallery owner or a collector. Or a critic! And you might equally well ask: what is the concept of Chart? After all, the regional Market fair in Stockholm is based on the same basic idea.

Like so many other things these days, the CODE Art Fair arose out of networks. When someone is appointed, that person goes on to recommend other people, who in turn activate their network. So the fair has mushroomed slowly, based on individual contacts, but also on shared interests. The aim is quite simple: to create an international high-quality fair in Copenhagen – we have never had one before. 

Your presentation materials state that you also offer a range of curated exhibitions and special projects. Can you say a little more about these initiatives?

German painter Stefan Müller is presented at CODE Art Fair by Galerie Nagel Draxler.
German painter Stefan Müller will be presented at CODE Art Fair by Galerie Nagel Draxler.

Getting the main fair off the ground was perhaps a little more demanding than we originally envisioned, so we will have to wait and see exactly how extensive our special projects and on-stage programme will be. At present, we do have confirmation for two curated exhibitions. Two artist-cum-curators, Ryan Steadman and Ryan Wallace, join forces to arrange the exhibition Flat Fix, which takes its starting point in their local scene, i.e. New York. I myself will curate the exhibition Danmark – which is why I got involved in the project in the first place. The title is taken from Jens Haaning’s eponymous work from 2005. When I looked at the context of this event – the Danish art scene in general, and the gallery and art fair setting in particular – I got the idea of staging an exhibition featuring only Danish artists who do not have representation in Denmark.

It soon turned out that there are plenty of Danish artists who are, to my mind at least, among the very best, but who do not have a Danish gallery even though they may have one or more abroad. There can be many different reasons for this, and that issue is the driving force behind the exhibition. It’s also interesting how the artists within this category belong to different generations and positions. Things aren’t 100% settled yet, but right now I have nine artists on board, including Ivan Pérard, Christian Falsnæs, Ditte Gantriis, Jens Haaning and Ann Lislegaard. Actually, the exhibition acts as a fair stand, just as Flat Fix does. For unlike here in Denmark, the “artist-run exhibition venues” in New York are commercial galleries where artists sell works created by fellow artists. So now I will be a gallery manager for a weekend.

CODE takes place during the same weekend in August as Chart Art Fair. Is Denmark really big enough for two such concurrent and high-end fairs?

Copenhagen is hardly overrun by international events as it is. Certainly not now that the ministry has told Kunsthal Charlottenborg to pull their punches financially – to put it delicately. So in terms of people’s attention span I’d say that yes, Denmark is big enough for people to want to meet fifty international artists that usually never get shown around here. That’s certainly the impression I get when I speak to Danish collectors: they are hugely excited about this. And the same thing applies to the artists who believe, as I do, that galleries are not simply a necessary evil: for better or worse they help carry the torch of contemporary art – increasingly so now that the public institutions are forever having to cultivate new audiences that – Heaven forfend! – aren’t us.

If by “big enough” you actually mean whether there is sufficient financial scope for having two high-end art fairs, that question can be said to be based on a particular idea about economics: that there’s a limited amount of coins rattling around in the coffers, and that if you need to share them with others, there will be less for everyone. But that’s not how it works here. When the CODE Art Fair helps attract greater attention to Copenhagen with its list of international galleries, by which I don’t just mean galleries from abroad, but also the extensive international network they represent – then this will attract even more collectors to the city, including new ones. And that’s good news for everyone. Including Chart. Without making comparisons, this is also why the newly established offshoot of the New York-based Independent art fair in Brussels is also good news for Art Bruxelles, the old main fair of that city.

Bella Center in Ørestaden is Scandinavia’s largest conference and exhibition venue. Photo: Bella Center Copenhagen.
Bella Center Copenhagen in Ørestaden is Scandinavia’s largest conference and exhibition venue. Photo: Bella Center Copenhagen.


Confirmed galleries at CODE Art Fair so far:

Acapella, Napoli

Andrew Rafacz, Chigaco

Anonymous Gallery, Mexico/NY

Antoine Levi, Paris

Berthold Pott, Köln

Bianca D’Alessandro, København

Boetzelaer|Nispen, Amsterdam

Brand New Gallery, Milano

Charlotte Fogh Gallery, Aarhus 

Cinnamon, Rotterdam

Drei, Köln

Dürst Britt & Mayhew, Haag

Galeria Stereo, Warszawa

Galerie Nagel Draxler, Berlin

Gether Contemporary, København

Hans Alf Gallery, København  

Jacob Bjørn, Aarhus

Jan Kapps, Köln

Kai Matsumiya, New York

KANT, København

König Galerie, Berlin

Last Resort, København

Les Gens Heureux, København

Luce Gallery, Torino

Lyles & King, New York

Markus Lüttgen, Köln

Peres Projects, Berlin

Rod Barton, London

Steve Turner, Los Angeles

Super Dakota, Bruxelles         

Tobias Naehring, Leipzig

Tristian Koenig, Melbourne

Vilma Gold, London