The autumn season on the Danish art scene is already well underway and looking very promising – with women, witch hunts, and an eccentric baron on the menu.

Arild Rosenkrantz, Menneskeriget, 1950-60. Photo: Rudi Hass.

This year’s autumn season begins in medias res. Like confused tectonic plates, adrift and crashing into each other, the postponed exhibitions of the spring season have extended into summer and further into autumn and winter, too. Several galleries and artist-run venues have already held their first openings, and in the midst of July, a month usually associated with a carefully guarded shutdown of the art scene, Louisiana opened an exhibition of enigmatic works by women Surrealist artists ranging from the well-known to the lesser-known (from Méret Oppenheim and Claude Cahun to Bridget Tichenor and Jane Graverol). And in the weeks ahead you will also have the opportunity to view MFA shows from The Funen Art Academy and The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, showcasing young artists who ought to have graduated months ago.

Hence, the art fairs will no longer be the grand season openers that they sometimes are. While Enter Art Fair is still held as a physical, single-venue affair – this time presented in the giant Tunnel Factory in Nordhavnen – the Chart Art Fair has been transformed into a kind of Nordic gallery weekend held at the participating galleries’ own venues, with the added flourish that all galleries show only women artists. Also noteworthy is the fact that several staunchly loyal Chart galleries, such as Nils Stærk, Nicolai Wallner, and Martin Asbæk, are taking part in both art fairs this year. The pandemic may have somewhat softened the otherwise sharp divides of the art fair scene. 

Almost a year has gone by since the discussion on unequal gender representation on the Danish art scene erupted in the media. While it arrived a couple of years after #MeToo, it still felt like something was happening. Now we have a gender-specific initiative launched by Chart Art Fair, and there are several signs which suggest that more and more institutions are beginning think carefully about this issue – and are happy to speak out, too.  

In addition to Fantastic Women, the title of Louisiana’s Surrealist exhibition, this autumn also gives us Modern Women and Significant Women, the former being Finnish modernists (Helene Schjerfbeck, Elga Sesemann, and others) presented at Gl. Strand in Copenhagen, the latter being showcased at the OFF short film festival at Brandts in Odense. While such titles do smack somewhat of exoticising leanings, we do, of course, hope that they are a sign of new times ahead, not just a trendy ripple that will soon dissipate.

The policy of institutional cooperation that characterised the spring programme on the Danish art scene will continue this autumn. For example, no less than three art venues will present solo shows featuring Esben Weile Kjær. Campaign, the instalment presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Roskilde, is described as a “hyped-up advertising campaign” advertising the other two exhibitions, one of which opens at Gl. Strand this week and the other at Copenhagen Contemporary in October. 

Even though Weile Kjær, a young DJ / author / artist, has been on the Copenhagen stage for some time now, this is nevertheless a remarkable institutional vote of confidence in a young name who is still a student. Maybe it even heralds a new trend on the Danish art scene: the Museum of Contemporary Art is showing a solo exhibition featuring Samara Sallam, who is a student at the Copenhagen art academy, too. The same goes for Maja Malou Lyse, who has a solo show at Brandts in early October.

Sandra Mujinga, Ghosting, 2019. Courtesy the artist and og Croy Nielsen, Vienna.

Far, far removed from today’s accelerating art scene we find the Danish artist and baron Arild Rosenkrantz (1870–1964). But perhaps the two are not opposite poles after all.  Rosenkrantz’s luminous rainbow-coloured world is inspired by Rudolph Steiner’s anthroposophical teachings, a theme which still fascinates many contemporary artists today. Arken Museum of Modern Art is behind this exhibition of brightly coloured paintings, embroideries, and illustrations. It will be interesting how the museum will spin this eccentric oeuvre without draining it of its rainbow blood. 

A small art scene like the Danish one needs frequent blasts of fresh air. This happens, for example, when the institutions invite freelance curators inside. Copenhagen’s largest Kunsthalle, Charlottenborg, is particularly good at opening its exhibition space to outsiders. As a case in point, this autumn’s group exhibition Witch Hunt is curated by Jeppe Ugelvig and Alison Karasyk.

Featuring contributions from artists such as Sandra Mujinga, Pia Arke, Carol Rama, Rasmus Myrup, Marét Ánne Sara, and Cecilia Vicuña, the exhibition examines the phenomenon of the Nordic witch hunts in history, but in a broader sense the theme is, of course, also about social persecution in our time. The exhibition is a collaboration with HEX, the new witch museum located in Ribe – hometown of the most famous Danish woman ever accused of witchcraft, Maren Spliids, who was burned at the stake in 1641. There Witch Hunt will show selected works of art alongside illustrations and books about the witch trials and persecutions seen during the period 1500 to 1750.

Sammy Baloji, Other Tales, installation view, Lunds Kunsthall, 2020. Photo: Daniel Zachrisson.

Another way to ensure a steady influx of fresh air and fresh blood – not least in a time of limited travel opportunities – is to make exhibitions featuring artists who have not been on show ten times before already. Or, even better, artists you barely know of. In this regard, a special shout-out goes to Kunsthal Aarhus, which delves into so many different corners of the art world, locally and internationally, that its programme is never predictable. This autumn, November will see an exhibition featuring Jamaican artist Ebony G. Patterson, known for her political tapestries full of glitter and glamour; and an exhibition featuring Sammy Baloji, which opened last week.

Baloji takes his point of departure in his home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose resources have historically held a central position in international trade. In the past, it was rubber for tires. Today, it is lithium for use in batteries for electric cars and other forms of “green energy.” Baloji applies a decolonising gaze – through photographs, installation, and film – at the dubious exchanges that continue to link the Western world and African countries.

If one were name the two must-see shows in this season’s programme, it would have to Anne Imhof at the National Gallery of Denmark (SMK) and Arthur Jafa at Louisiana. Not only because they are quite simply really good artists with a keenly honed sensibility for the time we live in, but also because they will both present new works created specifically for their exhibitions on Danish soil.

For her part, Imhof is making a film for SMK, combining footage from her performance Sex at Tate Modern in 2019 with new material shot in a desert near Los Angeles. Opening in late November, the exhibition will also be the very last presented in the museum’s X-room venue for experimental art, bringing a twenty-year era to a close. At Louisiana, Jafa will present a number of new works, but visitors will also be able to see the famous, eight-minute-long video collage Love is the Message, The Message is Death (2016). A cool political work that bears repeated viewing. You’ll have the chance again in Humlebæk in early December.

Arthur Jafa, APEX, 2013, Video still ©Arthur Jafa