After nineteen years, the National Gallery of Denmark in Copenhagen will end the exhibition series known as X-rummet (The X-space or X-room) in 2020. Its absence will have a palpable impact on the Danish art scene, because while X-rummet may not officially have been an institution in its own right, it nevertheless felt as if it were.
A lot of contemporary art gets displayed at the Danish institutions, but only a small handful take it seriously at a level which bears comparison to the truly serious exhibition venues – the kind we’d like to see more of in Nordic countries. Over the years, X-rummet has been compared to exhibition venues such as the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, Portikus under the Städelschule in Frankfurt, and of course the exhibition series Projects at MoMA in New York. Like these institutions, X-rummet aims to present important positions on the international art scene today.
Most of the 35 exhibitions staged at X-rummet were curated by senior curator Marianne Torp, as well as – from 2002 to 2008 – by a succession of other curators with the museum (Vibeke Knudsen, Birgitte Anderberg, and Elisabeth Cederstrøm). During the past decade, Torp once again helmed the X-rummet exhibitions, collaborating with curator Tone Bonnén from 2012 onwards. Except for a few displays elsewhere in the museum, virtually all X-rummet exhibitions have taken place in a special room dedicated to this very purpose from the outset: a secluded gallery located at the end of the glass-covered ‘Sculpture Street’ that connects the museum’s historic building from 1896 with the new wing from 1998.
One of the fundamental tenets of the X-rummet programme has been to commission new works or exhibitions for every presentation. The programme has included one group exhibition (Abandon the Parents, curated by Henrik Olesen in collaboration with Christopher Müller and Daniel Buchholz) but the remaining exhibitions have been solo shows. As regards the current debate regarding the representation of female artists at Danish institutions, the ratio at X-rummet is approaching 50/50.
As the reader will no doubt be aware, public funding for Danish culture has been severely downgraded in recent years. Large government institutions such as the National Gallery of Denmark have been particularly hard hit; despite drastic cuts (which, at the time of writing, seem set to continue) they are nevertheless expected to discharge their important duties in terms of safeguarding cultural heritage. This in turn means that the X-rummet programme has been utterly dependent on external funding. Until 2012, Nykredit was X-rummet’s main sponsor. Since 2013, the venue has benefited from two three-year grants from the Obel Family Foundation, which will extend to the very last X-rummet exhibition, scheduled for autumn 2020.
The first X-rummet exhibition took place in 2001: a collaboration between Joachim Koester and Matthew Buckingham consisting of the video installation Sandra of the Tuliphouse or How to Live in a Free State, which was about Freetown Christiania, a commune in central Copenhagen. It was followed by solo exhibitions featuring Elmgreen & Dragset, Yvette Brackman, Peter Land, Ceal Floyer, Eva Koch, Annika von Hauswolff, Nils Erik Gjerdevik, Salla Tykkä, Lars Nilsson, Elke Krystufek, Henrik Plenge Jakobsen, Tal R & Jonathan Meese, Lilibeth Cuenca Rasmussen, Jeppe Hein, Frederik Raddum, Ann Lislegaard and Søren Martinsen.
On the whole, the first X-rummet era, spanning 2001 to 2008, was dominated by Danish artists and artists with ties to the Danish or Nordic art scene.
During the last ten years, the outlook has been more international in scope. Indeed, the official mission of X-rummet has been to present “artists whose works help define important positions on the international art scene.” The names featured during this period include Gerard Byrne, FOS, Mike Nelson, Emily Wardill, Willie Doherty, Laura Lima, Ed Atkins, Mark Leckey, Nairy Baghramian, Lindsay Seers, Haim Steinbach, Lutz Bacher, Sergej Jensen, Danh Vo, Judith Hopf, and Sidsel Meiniche Hansen.
When asked why the National Gallery of Denmark elected to close down the X-rummet programme, and how the museum intends to present contemporary art in the future, Director Mikkel Bogh stated:
“I would like to emphasise that our decision to close down X-rummet is by no means about the quality of the exhibitions, on the contrary, nor should it be seen to suggest that the National Gallery of Denmark will not prioritise contemporary art in the future. Rather, there are two main reasons for the decision. Firstly, we have now received support for the same project from two different foundations for prolonged periods of time. Thereby, we have reached the maximum level of funding you can expect for such a project in a Danish context. Generally speaking, foundations do not wish to provide project support for periods longer than nine years. Also, the ongoing annual two-percent cuts means that we have fewer resources overall; we have just terminated a number of positions at the museum, and we need to increase our earnings, for example by selling more tickets.
“The second reason has to do with the fact that we have revised our exhibition formats and programme – our annual cycle. In the future, we will present two main exhibitions annually: a medium-sized winter exhibition and a summer exhibition that takes its point of departure in our collections. The exhibitions scheduled for the upcoming summers will feature Goodiepal one year and Kirsten Astrup & Maria Bordorff the next. Taken as a whole, these four exhibitions must cover our entire mission of preserving and presenting our shared cultural heritage, including contemporary art. In addition, we have plans to activate the Sculpture Street as an additional format; we envision it as a place where new contemporary art exhibitions or displays can be presented on a regular basis.”
When asked whether the prospect of larger-format contemporary art exhibitions, for example in the Sculpture Street, means that the National Gallery of Denmark will now put emphasis on the kind of experience-oriented exhibitions widespread at so many Western museums these days, with Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall as a major inspiration, Bogh replied:
“That’s definitely not our intention. We still want to show contemporary art of the kind shown at X-rummet so far. Spectacular shows that bombard all our senses should not be the new norm. In fact, this is an issue I’m paying close attention to at present. I would also hasten to emphasise that we are not closing X-rummet because it did not attract an audience, because it did! The type of art presented there – insofar as it is possible to describe it as a ‘type’ – must still have its place at the museum. Our decision to simplify the museum’s exhibition formats is mainly about the current scarcity of resources.”
Speaking of scarce resources, another characteristic feature of the X-rummet venue has been the genuine care it shows in providing decent and favourable production conditions. In fact, it does so to such a degree that the foreign artists invited over the years often commented on this trait.
Anyone who knows just a little about how prestigious exhibitions at the world’s leading institutions are actually funded (by the artists themselves or their galleries) will realise that full funding, let alone a decent fee, is far from a given. This point will hardly be noticed by the general public, but it has certainly meant a great deal to the local art scene – and, in a wider sense, to Danish art history as such – that influential international artists passing through Copenhagen have been offered favourable conditions for producing new works specifically for the National Gallery.
Right now, X-rummet is showing an exhibition featuring artist Shahryar Nashat, who was born in Geneva in 1975 and now lives in Los Angeles. The project was realised in collaboration with the Swiss Institute in New York, which showed a version of the exhibition earlier this year. We do not yet know who will be featured in the next X-rummet exhibition, due to open in the autumn of 2020, but we do know that it will be the last.