Spring Défilé

This year’s first opening night in Copenhagen whetted our appetite for more. The season’s dictates are British 90s art, French 80s sculpture, and Georgian folk painting. Oh, and Arken is rebranding.

Julie Falk, Détournement, 2023, still from b/w film, 2:46 min, loop.

On the roof of the Rigshospitalet, with more than a thousand hospital beds beneath her feet, a woman is taking a stroll. Her body forms a dark silhouette, clad in a long coat and soft trouser legs flapping in the wind. Shot in slow motion, the short film is shown on a loop. Copenhagen’s skyline and tall cranes pass by in the background, over and over again. Only very few people ever come here on the helipad, the octagonal plateau where helicopters land with patients needing the most urgent of care. The person walking around up here is the artist herself, Julie Falk. Almost as a hack of the entire hospital and all it represents, not least its entanglements with her own body. Her wig is the only tell-tale marker, its silvery locks bobbing with each stoic, booted slow-motion step.

Falk’s cool video work Détournement premiered last Friday at the year’s first big (and well-attended) night of openings in Copenhagen. It forms part of her otherwise mainly sculpture-crisp show at the new exhibition venue All All All. Solid solos could also be found at Lagune Ouest, featuring Emilie Bausager, and at Galleri Susanne Ottesen, which presented Nanna Abell. In the world of sports, you would probably have called it a promising start to the season.

Speaking of hopeful beginnings, Arken appears primed for rebranding. A few weeks from now, the museum will launch its two major spring exhibitions under new Director Marie Nipper: the first being Turkish artist Refik Anadol’s vast and unabashedly spectacular digital installations; the other being Danish artist Esben Weile Kjær’s curatorial dive into the Arken collection, focusing primarily on works by 90s artists (Sarah Lucas, Mads Gamdrup, Vibeke Tandberg, Wolfgang Tillmans, and others).

Opening with an all-night preview where all are welcome – complete with a concert, DJ line-up and cheap drinks – the event promises to be the closest thing to a Palais de Tokyo opening night you’ll find on Danish soil. Let’s hope so. Arken needs it; we need it.

Kunsthal Charlottenborg is also ushering in the spring with a sustainable 90s name this year. A good handful of years have gone by since the CPH.DOX festival became attached to the venue, and it’s become something of a tradition for the concurrent Charlottenborg exhibition to address the festival’s themes or the documentary genre as such. Jeremy Deller’s Welcome to the Shitshow, ticks all the boxes. Depeche Mode fans, the Brexit debate, and the Battle of the Somme during the First World War are just some of the phenomena investigated by the British artist.

Rarely has Louisiana probed so many of the far corners of the world as it will this season. Next week, the museum opens a show featuring Indian photographer Gauri Gill, who lives and works in New Delhi. A few months later, the Georgian painter Niko Pirosmani (1862–1918) is up. A new name to me, the museum presents Pirosmani as a self-taught sign painter who spent most of his life living as a poor vagabond. His subjects are simple semi-mythical depictions of folk life and wildlife. Reportedly, this exhibition is his first in Northern Europe.

Refik Anadol, Nature Dreams, 2021. Courtesy mabu.eth © Refik Anadol og König Galerie Berlin, Seoul. Photo: Roman März.

While the Gill exhibition is a collaboration with Schirn in Frankfurt, the Pirosmani show is yet another instalment in the museum’s series of collaborations with the Fondation Beyeler in Basel. Louisiana also continues the conversation on a particular corner of contemporary painting from the Western Hemisphere – from Cecily Brown to Daniel Richter and Peter Doig – when the American storyteller Dana Schutz takes over the hallowed halls. The exhibition will then go on to visit the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris.

The National Gallery of Denmark (SMK) is still, and quite rightfully so, basking in the glory of the current Matisse exhibition, built around a single marvellous painting, The Red Studio, from 1911. At the same time, however, it is clear that contemporary art is given shorter shrift at the museum after the closure of X-room. It’s not that contemporary art is invisible on the scene in general; it’s rather that a link in the food chain is missing – the level represented by X-room. The final exhibition there was held in 2021, featuring Anne Imhof.

Right now, all conversation about SMK revolves mostly around the fact that Mikkel Bogh has announced his resignation as director (via LinkedIn, apparently a kind of SoMe for museum directors; Karin Hindsbo used the same platform to recently announce her resignation from the National Museum in Norway). Bogh will let go of the reins in April, when his contract expires. Last Friday saw a lot of guesswork – over lukewarm beer – about who can, wants to, and will take over.

I wonder what implications are on the horizon for Copenhagen Contemporary now that the real estate developers Ejendomsselskabet Refshaleøen together with urban development agency By & Havn have just announced that they are ready to further develop the island into “a new, vibrant district.” The horror! We have all seen what happens when entire districts are developed in the capital, not least with By & Havn at the helm. One takes little, if any comfort in their reassurances to conserve the area’s creative scene and history.

For the time being, Copenhagen Contemporary keeps the flag flying in fine style, for example, with Yet, It Moves! an exhibition about movement with contributions from the realm of science, including a collaboration with the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva. The curator is Irene Campolmi, who always has a keen nose for cutting-edge international names. I look forward to exploring the work of artists such as Precious Okoyomon and Black Quantum Futurism in this former industrial district.

It is surprising, but exciting to note that in mid-May, ARoS Aarhus Art Museum will treat us to a solo show featuring Annette Messager, one of the strongest French artists of the 1980s. Most will be familiar with Christian Boltanski or Sophie Calle from roughly the same generation, and Messager’s less widely known sculptures were every bit as interesting as theirs – and still are. 

Something similar could be said of Cindy Sherman, one of North America’s greatest living artists. In February, ARoS will exhibit a series of her new works, the so-called ‘Tapestries’ (2017 – ongoing). These are based on manipulated selfies of the kind that the artist already shares liberally on Instagram, where they actually work quite well as logical extensions of a long life in the service of staged photography. Here they have been converted into huge tapestries, woven in the traditional manner. It sounds… intriguing. But, of course, it’s a must-see.

Benedikte Bjerre is another must-see, and an opportunity to do so will present itself in just a few weeks when Overgaden opens Shell, her first institutional solo show. This will happen concurrently with Doubt, an exhibition by Young-jun Tak, an artist from the same generation who has South Korean roots and lives in Berlin. You can tell that Overgaden’s new head, Rhea Dall, has taken a firm hold of the institution and programme. It’s good to see. Not least because it would seem that she has ensured the survival of this venerable old art gallery at Christianshavns Kanal despite what at one point was a very bleak outlook.

Of course, you are never completely safe when spearheading a Danish art institution run on public funds. Sometimes, I fondly think that Danish directors and heads really deserve to spend a year at, for example, a Norwegian museum, where just for once they wouldn’t only have to think about keeping things running with as little staff as possible and the radiators turned all the way down; they might even have some time to think about the art. But for the time being, we just have to take joy in each and every art institution that is saved at the very last minute, every day. Godspeed and happy day-to-day operation to you all!

Cindy Sherman Untitled, 2019. Polyester, cotton, wool, and acrylic woven together 284.5 × 218.4 cm. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer ©Cindy Sherman. Courtesy the artist, Sprüth Magers and Hauser & Wirth.