The year is drawing to an end, and since November, Christmas decorations have spread their light on the otherwise wintery-gray of Copenhagen, and everybody on the streets seems already to be stressed-out from Christmas shopping – Danes take their Christmas preparations very seriously. In accordance with tradition, many galleries round off the year with Christmas shows. The shows are often a kind of potpourri of work by different artists that the the gallery represents. Personally, I have never been fond of these shows – they are often too crowded and lack focus, and somehow give an impression that it is an attempt to present visitors and potential customers with as broad a selection of art as possible, so that there is something for every taste. Luckily, not all galleries practice this tactic, so it is also possible to see some fine exhibitions at this time of year when everybody is in the holiday mood. Besides, gallery space is an excellent place to escape the throngs. So, confronting the cold and harsh Danish winter wind, I set out on a small tour around Copenhagen, which included some galleries and one other exhibition space.
I started on Bredgade, probably one of the grandest streets in the historical centre of Copenhagen, in the area of Amalienborg Palace – the Queen’s residence. It is, without a doubt, the area in Copenhagen with the largest number of galleries, and includes large and established galleries as well as some that have arrived more recently, having moved in from more remote locations during the economic crisis.
Graham Collins. Silver. 2013. Martin Asbæk Gallery
Maximilian Schubert, Robert Davis, Graham Collins, Peter Demos “Bluebottle Coffee” Martin Asbæk Gallery November 29, 2013 – January 4, 2014
One of the more established galleries on Bredgade is the Martin Asbæk Gallery. In December the gallery will present four New York artists – Maximilian Schubert, Robert Davis, Graham Collins and Peter Demos – in the exhibition Bluebottle Coffee. The exhibition takes its title from the name of the coffee bar in New York where the decision was made about which artists to select for the exhibition. It can also be regarded as a humorous reference to the paintings of Robert Davis, which are encountered on the wall of the first gallery room as soon as you walk in. Instead of paint, coffee is one of the materials that Davis uses in his abstract paintings. Other materials include beer, bourbon, cigarette ash and bleach – all alternative materials that are intended to question our perception of a painting.
Robert Davis. Let it be. 2013. Martin Asbæk Gallery
With their fluid and organic forms, Davis' paintings make quite a contrast to Peter Demos' blank and minimalistic geometric planes done in black, white and a touch of neon yellow. Black is the dominant colour for Demos; he explores its potential, limits and effects on perception.
Two other artists – Maximilian Schubert and Graham Collins, expand the concept of painting by working with painting as if it were a sculpture. At first glance, the white relief surface of Maximilian Schubert’s paintings evokes an impression of canvas draped onto a stretcher, but it is, in fact, created from a kind of plasma that imitates the structure of canvas. His other works, titled Format # – elegant and fragile brass frames shaped into different forms, also lie somewhere in the field between sculpture, object and surface.
The same concept is behind Graham Collins’ work. His monochrome canvases, set behind DYI film-covered glass and encased in driftwood frames, are also more like objects than paintings.
In sum, what all of the artists represented in the exhibition have in common is their different ways of exploring and challenging the idea of painting.
Alex da Corte, Martin Creed, Jose Dávilla, Sam Francis, Helen Frik, Ryan Gander, Poul Gernes, Paul Housley, Merlin James, J.F. Willumsen “The Parergon and the Gutter” David Risley Gallery December 6, 2013 – February 2, 2014
Further up the street I stop at the David Risley Gallery. The show contains works by both contemporary artists and some classic artists, like J.F. Willumsen (DK), Poul Gernes (DK) and Sam Francis (US), although their work is not for sale. The older paintings are exhibited together with the work of contemporary artists as an experiment to see how they would work together.
The title of the exhibition refers to the essay The Parergon (in The Truth in Painting, 1987) by the French Philosopher Jacques Derrida, and the gap between two frames in a comic strip – called “the gutter”. It is the space where time and meaning happens; we are met with an example in the graphic piece “Comic Life” (2005), by Helen Frik. Parergon is what supplements the work (Ergon), which is the frame. The frame is, in more than one sense, central for all artworks – it is not just the physical frame that surrounds them for a display, but also the metaphorical frame. It is either an integrated part of the work itself – as in the case of Willumsen or Gernes, where the frame is literally implicated in the painting – or, found in its meaning. The ambiguity about where the work and its frame begins and ends is present in all of the works in the show.
All in all, the concept works quite well. Even though the works are very different in their form, there appears to be some interesting interplay between them; in my opinion, the first two gallery rooms seem to be the most convincing.
Jacob Hunosøe “On a Clear Day” Peter Lav Gallery November 22, 2013 – January 25, 2014
Virtually in the same building, but hidden in the yard, is the location of the Peter Lav Gallery – it is the first gallery in Copenhagen focused exclusively on contemporary art photography. Closer study of Jacob Hunosøe’s large photographs – of seemingly humble, everyday objects such as a cracked yellow cup, a pair of earplugs, or a balloon – reveals unexpected and surreal details. The objects in the photos are completely removed from any context or surroundings. They seem to be endowed with life, and therefore, somehow become enigmatic. By use of seemingly simple means, Hunosøe plays with reality in such a way that things are not what they appear to be.
His photos are a kind of visual riddle that rouses your curiosity, so that you catch yourself staring at the image to find out if there is something strange about it – and then you realize that the coconut is not inside of a wineglass, which would be physically impossible, but behind it; and that the crack in the cup is actually a hair. Hunosøe’s works are poetic and humorous, and make us see familiar everyday objects in a new light; at the same time, they also prompt us to question our perception of reality.
EXTRACT – YOUNG ART PRIZE. CPH 2013 GL STRAND December 6, 2013 – January 26, 2014
I head to GL STRAND – an exhibition venue founded in 1825 as an art society. At GL STRAND they usually present some very innovative exhibitions and have a lot of focus on some of the most original of artists. At the moment, two exhibitions are on show there.
EXTRACT is an annual exhibition (this being its third year) and presents seven young international artists, all of whom have graduated this year from their master’s program at one of the art academies in Europe. The participating artists are Åsa Frankenberg (SE), Laurits Nymand Svendsen (DK), Niels Pugholm (DK), Birgitte Martinsen (DK), Lydia Nsiah (AU), Mollie Anna King (IRL) and Natalia Zaluska (PL). In addition to receiving DKK 50.000, the winner of the EXTRACT prize is presented with the opportunity to make a solo exhibition at GL STRAND. The goal of EXTRACT is to promote the artists internationally, and also to give emerging art more visibility among the general public.
The work of each artist is presented in a separate room, which gives artists the possibility to create a universe around their work. It immediately becomes apparent that all seven participating artists are very talented. They all work within a wide range of media and artistic practice, and are thematically diverse as well. Video and film, however, are highly reiterated at the exhibition; three of the works are videos, while others are executed in another medium, and only one of the artists works with painting. Unfortunately, it would demand more space than is available in this article to mention each artist’s work, even though all of them certainly deserve it.
As you could already read here on the site, this year’s winner, Niels Pugholm, is a graduate from The Funen Art Academy. Although his work for EXTRACT, titled Kimbrer (Cimbrer) (2013), is an audiovisual installation, Pugholm works in several media. On a large screen in the middle of the room, photos of an alpine landscape keep changing while we hear a voice telling a story. The deserted landscapes in the photos appear more dark and gloomy than picturesque, and are even slightly frightening; you keep expecting something to emerge suddenly. The same personal history is told from the point of view of different people – some are Pugholm’s own family members, while others are acquaintances or neighbours; this way, the history becomes more complex and sometimes, even contradictory. The stories from everyday life are a sharp contrast to the magnificent, almost sublime, landscapes. Narrative is central to Pugholm’s work, and it is also the essential element in this work. He is interested in everyday reality, and how the narrative forms and changes depending on the identity of the narrator. It is a truly powerful work.
Birgitte Martinsen. Airport Wanderer. 2013. Still photo. Photo: Alastair Philip Wiper
My other favourite is Birgitte Martinsen’s (a graduate of the Royal Danish Art Academy) video installation Airport Wanderer, 2013. The title refers to a term in psychiatry that describes a person who wanders around an airport without any goal or direction. Such a person is attracted to the airport as a place for partings and reunions, and has developed a drive to wander aimlessly around the airport. I must be a latent airport wanderer, because airports have always fascinated me in some way. Martinsen is inspired by architect Rem Koolhaas’ description of the airport as a “non-space” – an unstable and disorientating place that is, nevertheless, organized after a constant pattern of movement, the violation of which destabilizes the room. The video shows a man walking around an almost deserted airport, mostly shot from behind; sometimes we only see the sterile airport space straight ahead, as from his point of view. Distant and sporadic voices, or a slamming of doors in the background, are among the few sounds and signs of the existence of other people. Three tall frames, with lee film in three different colours stretched on them, have been hung in the exhibition room; their effect makes you feel slightly disorientated the moment you walk in and see the video behind them.
In her work, Martinsen explores the relationship of the film medium to time as a term, as she also focuses on the way we dwell upon different things and everyday situations. She examines how we perceive time and space through the interaction between the physical body and our mind.
Laurits Nymand Svendsen from The Jutland Art Academy is the third artist that I'd like to mention here. His work Artworks for Animals (2013) is a part of the project known as The Society for the Preservation of Useful Knowledge, which has the goal of preserving scientific knowledge that would otherwise be lost. The work reminds one of an exhibition room at a history or natural history museum, with different objects displayed in exhibition cases and boards with photos and text on the walls. Svendsen works in the field of installation, video and text, in which he incorporates both found objects and his own sculptures. The work is a kind of “wunderkammer”, in which strange objects are displayed. According to Svendsen, the objects are sculptures for different animals. He plays with the idea that animals may also have an aesthetic sense. The photos on the wall show the sculptures placed outside, in nature.
As an extra bonus, on the top floor of GL STRAND is a room with a couple of TV screens and headphones, so you can hear a short interview with each of the participating artists.
Julie Nord. Silence in the Snow. 2005. Photo: Anders Sune Berg
“Fantastical” – Magical Drawings by Louis Moe and Sværre Malling, Julie Nord and Ragnar Persson December 6, 2013 – February 16, 2014
On the top floor of GL STRAND is a second exhibition in which the drawings of three contemporary Nordic artists are presented alongside the work of Norwegian-Danish artist and illustrator Louis Moe (1857-1945), renowned particularly for his illustrations for children’s books and folk tales. The subjects of Moe’s work are often taken from classical and Norse mythologies, and show different mythological creatures. His work deals with such fundamental and existential subjects as death, beauty, the erotic, and fear.
In recent years, there has been a growing interest in drawing in Nordic contemporary art. All three participating artists are representatives of this trend, and they all work with the narrative potential of their drawing style. Their work is characterised by graphic lines and a wealth of detail, so that one can spend hours studying the works just looking for new details. The artists also find their inspiration in mythology and the fairytale universe, which they then mix with elements from popular culture and media. It is characteristic of the artists that, at first sight, their ostensibly childish, and sometimes naïve, universes hide elements that are surreal, dark and frightening, but at the same time, fascinating.
For the past decade, Danish artist Julie Nord has been one of the leading artists working in this field. The universe that Nord has created in her works is populated with girls that resemble dolls, animals and flowers, and has been inspired by children’s books from the 1950’s and psychedelic art – but blended with a Gothic aesthetic and elements from the contemporary world, which prevent them from becoming too trivial.
Sverre Malling. Untitled. St.George. BeachyHead. 2013. Photo: Thomas Winderberg
Norwegian Sverre Malling finds his influence in contemporary popular culture, nature studies, classical book illustrations (especially Lois Moe) and music – in genres like Norwegian folk music and black metal. Swede Ragnar Person is also influenced by popular culture, particularly contemporary teenage culture; in his drawings, he merges it together with landscapes, nature and animals. The encounter between man and nature is altogether essential in the work of all three artists.
The exhibition creates an interesting and successful dialogue between the work of Louis Moe and these three contemporary artists, each with their individual approach to drawing and illustration.
Thomas Øvlisen. Grazing Blitz. Photo: Malle Madsen
Thomas Øvlisen “Grazing Blitz” – Ethan Cook and Landon Metz “Shake Shack Guggenheim” V1 Gallery November 30, 2013 – January 11, 2013
I leave the inner city and head to the Vesterbro area – to Meat City (Copenhagen’s Meat-Packing District counterpart). This time I chose only to stop by the V1 gallery, although there are a number of other galleries in this district. V1 is currently presenting two exhibitions – one of Danish artist Thomas Øvlisen’s new work, and a double exhibition of two New York-based artists – Ethan Cook and Landon Metz.
Øvlisen’s large-scale, over-two-meters-high sculptures have been installed in the main gallery room. The sculptures are quite striking in their size, and upon first impression, seem quite massive and heavy. Which makes it quite surprising to find out that they are actually made of light materials, like polystyrene foam and fibreglass. Visitors are even invited to touch them, to move the sculptures around the room, or to turn and flip them over – this way, each visitor has a chance to make a new version of the exhibition. Covered with layers of paint and lacquer, the monolithic-shaped objects with oblong holes in the middle are very expressive; they could be positioned somewhere in the field in-between sculpture and painting. Øvlisen’s works are, at the same time, minimalistic and abstract, and consciously refer to Pollock, Richter’s abstract paintings, Rothko, Judd, and street art; they are a kind of homage to his many, even contradictory, sources of influence.
In the next room are the paintings by Ethan Cook and Landon Metz. When you move closer to Cook’s minimalistic works, it becomes apparent that they are not actual paintings, but pieces of self-woven and prefabricated canvas that have been joined together in geometric compositions. Through a demanding and time-consuming process, Cook manually weaves pre-dyed cotton and linen fibres – the same kind that are also used for traditional canvases. Afterward, the different types of canvas are used to create his “paintings without paint”, in which the canvas is both medium and subject.
The paintings of Landon Metz are also abstract minimal compositions. Metz’s paintings are created as a series of three, in which the same forms are repeated. The paintings are made by pouring pigment liquid dye onto unprimed canvas while he guides the dye with his hands or a sponge; the dye then gets absorbed by the canvas, creating different shapes. Although he has succeeded in mastering this process to the level that makes the repetition of forms possible, it can still be described as a process that is both controlled and uncontrolled.
In this exhibition, we once again encounter artists for whom painting is an object of their investigation. Both artists engage in a conversation about painting, artistic practice, and art.