For years Copenhagen has been quietly building a reputation as one of the trendiest places in Europe to see contemporary art; drawing artists and connoisseurs alike to its chic Scandinavian streets.
Not only does Copenhagen boast the only international art fair in Scandinavia with Code art fair and CHART at the Kunsthal Charlottenborg in late summer, it plays host to several breathtaking museums at ARKEN and Louisiana that have become global institutions in their own right. Just two years ago the city’s Paper Island welcomed Copenhagen Contemporary: the latest art centre to draw crowds eager to lap up Anselm Kiefer, Christian Marclay, Bill Viola, Pierre Huyghe, Bruce Nauman, Yoko Ono and other movers and shakers in the contemporary art world.
Gallerists have also established a strong trade for contemporary art in the city, including Christoffer Egelund, Nicolai Wallner, V1 Gallery, the small but mighty LARM, Clause Anderson’s stronghold for Olafur Eliasson and the like, and even British dealer David Risley who jumped ship from London’s Bethnal Green in 2009. And the appetite for contemporary art in this stylish Scandinavian stronghold just continues to grow.
Much like Berlin in the post-Soviet boom of the 1990s and 2000s, when young artists and galleries flocked to fill the cheap studio and exhibition spaces in the eastern edge of the city, something has clicked in Copenhagen to make it the next capital of cool.
But this forward-thinking, innovative landscape doesn’t have the same hold over modern art. In fact, the 19th and 20th century collections that pepper Copenhagen are downright unpopular. If you ever want to find yourself alone on a Friday evening, just head over to the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek beside Tivoli Gardens. This astonishing museum, topped with a botanical greenhouse and over 10,000 works of art, was first established in 1888 to house Carlsberg brewer Carl Jacobsen’s dreamy collection of Gauguins, Van Goghs, Monets and more. The Glyptotek positively has Rodin sculptures coming out of its ears. But unlike Louisiana or ARKEN, this traditional museum is woefully unsubscribed. You’re likely to find more punters in the Tivoli amusement park next door.
A visit to the enormous Statens Museum for Kunst, where El Greco sits beside Rubens, Munch and Hammershoi, tells a similar story. It’s a dizzyingly broad selection, matched by its history of a veritable who’s who of royal art collectors through Danish history. But the hoard of visitors flooding the halls of Louisiana are nowhere to be found. Then of course there is the Design Museum (for essential lessons in hygge) and Thorvaldsen Museum dedicated to the Danish neoclassical sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, and Denmark’s first public museum.
In contrast to the ferocious queues at the Louvre or National Gallery where elbows are out to see a glimpse of the Mona Lisa or Van Gogh’s sunflowers, footsteps echo in Copenhagen’s bastions of modern art.
It’s true that there is a certain razzmatazz surrounding contemporary art that steals headlines and convinces collectors to write a cheque for hundreds of millions. More so even than a painting by Pablo Picasso because – let’s face it – we crave the drama. We want to be shocked and outraged by the price someone will put on a piece of art made yesterday and looks like anyone could have done it.
Copenhagen’s blossoming scene is testimony to this magical ingredient in contemporary art and the draw of specially-designed international museums that have become the calling-card of star-architects. But while Denmark’s daring contemporary exploits deserve a round of applause, we should not allow that priceless Gauguin on display for all to see and enjoy to simply gather dust.