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Elīna Sproģe near the sculpture park of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

A Cultural Guidebook: Elīna Sproģe’s “Copenhagen Cocktail” 0

Elīna Sproģe

Photos from personal archive

Spending a weekend in one of Europe's capital cities is like unbuttoning just the top few buttons of your blouse, only to hurriedly close them back up again a few moments later... One is resigned to either taking one's chances by haphazardly going with the flow, or making a plan so detailed and comprehensive that nothing is missed, but instead – you end up not having had a good look at anything. Bitingly wind-blown Copenhagen is not one to surprise; its rational air and efficient infrastructure ensure that no time is wasted on unexpected hassles.

After a brisk walk through the shopping streets of the historical city center (the shops and eateries here do not follow the usual Western European practice of fighting tooth and nail for each potential customer), and a look-around at the harbor area (permeated with the aroma of just-baked waffles), you must make a quick stop by the polished legs of “The Little Mermaid” (Asian tourists seem to be especially fond of her).

Frederik's Church

Heading back towards the city center, and after passing by the royal family's winter residence of Amalienborg, a true gem of marble architecture emerges – Frederik's Church. It lies on Bredgade, a street lined with numerous galleries, auction houses, antique shops and design stores. The paintings that make up most of the inventory of these galleries do not tempt one to step inside, however.

Read in the archives: What to see, what to have a closer look at, and where to eat and have a cup of coffee when in Copenhagen

The gallery Avlskarl stops you in your tracks. On the other side of the windows there is a foil-lined panel on which has been hung an artwork that consists of the word “Inertia” scribbled on a rough canvas – the piece is by Florian Meisenberg, an artist of German extraction, and is from his series Den højdesyge af Marquis de Lessert (“The altitude sickness by the Marquis de Lessert”). This work serves as the key to the whole exhibition, which the New York-based artist created specially to be shown in Denmark. The exhibition is loosely based on events surrounding the sickly Marquis de Lessert, who lived in the 18th century. On his regular walks, the Marquis would always take a drink of water from the spring of St. Katherine to quench his thirst. Over time the Marquis' symptoms disappeared, and the credit for this phenomenon was assigned to the “wondrous” healing properties of the spring. The owner of the land where the spring was located began to market the water, which today is sold under the brand name of Evian. In Meisenberg's exhibition, a specially made contraption pumps a mist of Evian spring water into the gallery space.

Meisenberg has attempted to create an air of suspense by making it appear as if the ceiling of the gallery hasn't been properly supported, sloppily strewing the floor beneath with “unused”, red metal girders. Much like the pile of spit-out copy machine paper lying in a corner of the gallery, Meisenberg's paintings also reveal his propensity towards creating a feeling of things gradually disappearing. In painting an unprimed canvas, the paint is slowly absorbed by the fibers; the chalky surface of a piece of paper resists the printings from a half-empty ink cartridge. A similar effect is produced by the lack of oxygen (as referred to in the title of the exhibition) that is encountered by mountain climbers at high altitudes. It overcomes one gradually, starting with a headache and nausea, until it eventually claims one's life completely. The exhibition is open through May 15.

The “little brother” to Hans Christian Anderson's “Little Mermaid”, as created by the artistic duo of Elmgreen & Dragset, in Helsingør

Right across the street is the Martin Asbaek  gallery, which recently hosted the exhibition, “New Young Art”, featuring works by students at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. At the moment it is showing the work of Maria Rubinke – grotesque porcelain figures of children that have been cut apart and shot through with bullets. This exhibition will be on view through May 17.

As you head towards the Christianshavn neighborhood and pass one of the oldest stock exchange buildings in Copenhagen (Børsen) – its tower topped with spiraling dragon's tails (symbolizing the union between Denmark, Norway and Sweden) – you just might miss the Overgaden Institute for Contemporary Art, nestled inside a 19th-century building on the edge of the canal. Through May 18, exhibitions by two Danish new-media artists can be seen here.

The exhibition “Orgone”, by Astrid Myntekær, consists of kinetic objects that work with lights and sounds. The works were inspired by the Austrian doctor and psychoanalyst, Wilhelm Reich, and his theoretic “discovery” of a universal source of life in the earth's atmosphere. Reich called this “orgonomy”, and created a “cloud dispersal machine” with which a person could manipulate the weather. Using the ready-made technique, Myntekær's objects are made from disassembled machines, copper, resin and crystals, and can be perceived as sensors for the sphere that she has created. When switched on, they cut open the crust and release waves of dreams, mysticism and disassociated melancholy which, when they hit one's skin under UV light, give one goosebumps. On April 12 the Institute held the creative workshop, “Make Your Own Dream Wheel”, and on April 24 there will be a concert featuring Volto and Jamie Allen's Circuit Music.

In the second hall of the Institute one can experience the exhibition, “Apophenia Cloud Travel Apparatus”, by Jacob Taekker. It has been set up as an installation that invites the viewer to participate and to doubt the virtual reality that we have now become used to and accept as “real”. Visitors don gray jumpsuits that serve as a projection screen and through which the disorienting sound track and kaleidoscopic lights meet up with the visitor's imagination, thereby opening up a gateway to another dimension. Two panel discussions have been planned to go along with the exhibition. The first took place on April 9 and consisted of Taekker and computer science professor, Ravi Vatrapu, speaking about art and its relationship to computer games, as well as about the newest technologies in the field of computer simulations. The second discussion will take place on May 8 and will cover the role of sound and its visual qualities in art; the panel members will be the musician and composer, Anders Monrad, and the sound artist, Budhaditya Chattopadhyay.

View to Christianshavn

Continuing in the direction of Christianshavn, the next point of interest one sees is the spiral steeple of the Church of Our Savior; legend has it that once the church was completed, its architect committed suicide by jumping from the spire. Looking down, one sees a densely packed walkway lined with bushes in full bloom. If you take a look back, you'll see the famous sign: “You are now entering the EU” – which means that you are now within the borders of Christianshavn. It's a Friday evening. People are coming in to have a beer in one of the open-air bars, or they carry in their own drinks to enjoy while sitting along the edge of the lake.

Read in the archive: The free-city of Christianshavn and the War Over Space

In the eyes of a non-local, Christianshavn is overrated. No one is going to stop you over an open bottle of alcohol in Copenhagen either, after all. And as for the free-thinking, hippy and artsy environs that Christianshavn is lauded for, this can only be faintly seen in terms of the area's overgrown shacks, mediocre graffiti, and souvenir shops hawking T-shirts printed with cannabis leaves or “Legalize” on them (but they do sell good music and cute jewelry). It is strictly forbidden to take pictures in this self-proclaimed free-city – which is understandable from the point of view of the locals who come here for hassle-free relaxation, but it is also clear that this place is a haven for the criminal underbelly of Copenhagen. As long as the masked men for whom the limited police presence is convenient are not the same ones who gather together people of all ages to enjoy the spring weather and listen to outdoor concerts, then the structure that they have here right now could, perhaps, be called “freedom”. In any case, it's hard to tell from just one evening spent in Christianshavn if this place truly is anything more than just the shell of what was once envisioned as an ideal commune.

Public transport in Copenhagen

The next day beckons us to leave the city and head for Humlebæk. If you're going to be in Copenhagen for just a short time, then the 24-hour ticket is very convenient – it covers not only all forms of public transport, but it also allows the holder to travel along the southern shore of Sweden, including the cities of Malmö and Helsingborg.

“Gleaming Lights of the Souls”, by Yayoi Kusama. In the Louisiana Museum's permanent collection

The train goes up along the coast, and on this sunny day a handful of people get out at the stop for Humlebæk, to walk on foot the rest of the way to the Louisiana Museum. The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art is located in a picturesque spot and includes a sculpture park that stretches along the rocky shoreline of the crystal-clear sea. Along with a permanent exhibition that features such artists as Lucio Fontana and Yayoi Kusama, the museum regularly holds impressive temporary exhibitions. A staple is the Louisiana Collection exhibition, which this spring is showing “American Pictures”, with works by Andy Warhol, Barbara Kruger, Claes Oldenburg and David Hockney.

The works of Swedish painter Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) are currently on view in the museum's South Wing; a comprehensive retrospective of her works could be seen at Stockholm's Moderna Museet last year. The spiritualism and symbolism with which af Klint attributed her series of abstract compositions indicate not only the range of variation in her signature style, but also her quest for a higher form of consciousness – with the goal of bringing together the dimensions of the real world with the metaphysical.

A view of the Hilma af Klint exhibition at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Af Klint's works have been chronologically arranged throughout five galleries. Her early works show the young artist's interest in natural forms and the resulting botanic studies and painted landscapes. After becoming an adherent of spiritualism and having wound a visual language through her experiences thereof, af Klint announced that that is what compelled her to create her large-format series, “Paintings for the Temple”. Although the temple was to be perceived as a metaphor for some higher level of consciousness, the artist longed to build a real shrine for this series.

A view of the Hilma af Klint exhibition at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

The next grouping of works encompasses the four stages of human life – childhood, youth, adulthood and old age. Botanicals and bird motifs intertwine throughout the fragile imagery that came to be through both conscious and automatic drawing sessions. These motifs were used to visualize the relationship between good and evil, light and dark, harmony and disharmony. Evolutionary constructs also appear in her series “Altar Paintings”, which, operating with universal geometry, reference theosophical ideas. The af Klint exhibition is showing at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art through July 6.

A poster for the Joseph Beuys exhibition by the entrance to the Louisiana Museum

One floor below you'll find the works of the German artist and theoretician, Joseph Beuys, which have been assembled into the museum's special series, “Louisiana on Paper” – a sectiont of the museum initiated in 2007 that focuses on works done on paper. The carefully framed drawings, sketches and notes reveal an intimate look into Beuy's way of thinking and systemization of ideas. Collages – made from cardboard cuttings of various textures, botanical elements, newspaper clippings and reproductions of other artists' works – create a kind of “archeology of thoughts” that, quite often, reveal much more than a finished work does. The exhibition is open through June 9.

The entrance to the “Arab Contemporary” exhibition at the Louisiana Museum

The third project housed in the museum's lower level, in the East Wing, is the second exhibition series under the title of “Architecture, Culture and Identity”. At its focus are the Arab nations and the contemporary processes occurring there.

A view of the “Arab Contemporary” exhibition

This exhibition is made up of several sections that allow the visitor to get a view of Arab culture through the eyes of a local, and to learn about the region's traditions and its ties to the development of architecture and art – all of which is intrinsically linked to the political strife that is present in many of the 24 Arab countries. “Arab Contemporary” will be open through May 4.

After having your fill of the museum, it's worth taking advantage of the opportunity to take the train to Helsingør – a seaside town with the fortified castle of Kronborg perched right on the Øresund strait.

An inside view of the National Gallery of Denmark

Sundays in Copenhagen can be spent much like any other day – in a park, in the Assistens graveyard, in the botanical gardens or elsewhere – grilling sausages, drinking beer and listening to music along with the locals. But you should definitely stop by the National Gallery of Denmark (Statens Museum for Kunst), where the permanent collection of classical, modern and contemporary art is open to visitors for free. The museum's exhibition gallery is currently showing “Restless Rebel”, in honor of the 100-year anniversary of the Danish artist and member of the Cobra group, Asger Jorn. Not far from the National Gallery is the contemporary art center, Nikolaj Kunsthal.

By Leonardo da Vinci's “Virgin of the Rocks”, part of the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Denmark

There wasn't enough time to visit Carlsberg City and the Meat Factory district, nor for the ARKEN modern art museum which is only a short distance from the capital. There's a feeling of things left undone, which only means that Copenhagen is due for another visit!

Read in the archive: Copenhagen's Carlsberg City – the Brewing of True Urbanism

A street shot of Copenhagen