Ai Weiwei ‘Grapes’, 2014. Photo: Anders Sune Berg. Courtesy Faurschou Foundation

June art guide to Copenhagen 0

By Lizete Riņķe

The calendar may show the first month of summer, but its arrival has been quite slow with rather modest temperatures. The positive aspect is, however, that it has prolonged the usually so evanescent moment when the entire city is in bloom. Defying the persistent fierce Scandinavian winds, the sunlight-famished people of Copenhagen rush out of their caves and hurry outdoors to the numerous pavement cafés and the green spots of the city to catch the occasional sunbeams. This pursuit can very suitably be combined with a visit to a gallery or two. Unfortunately, we are also approaching the season when a certain lull afflicts the art scene with few major exhibition openings and the gallery summer exhibitions that often are ‘The Best Of’ group presentations of the gallery artists. Nevertheless, here are a few suggestions of what to see in Copenhagen in June.

Ai Weiwei ‘Raptures’
Faurschou Foundation
Through December 22, 2015

Ai Weiwei ‘Straight’. 2008-2012. Installation view, Faurschou Foundation, 2015. Photo: Anders Sune Berg. Courtesy Faurschou Foundation

At the moment, it can be quite a challenge to locate the Faurschou Foundation at the windy Copenhagen North Harbour (Nordhavnen). This is because it is currently an enormous building site with luxury apartment and office buildings shooting up in the former industrial area that is now undergoing a transformation into a new urban area. Faurschou Foundation is a privately owned art institution established in 2012 after 25 years of existence as a gallery owned by Louise and Jens Faurschou. From 2012, the foundation occupies 1500 m2 in an old warehouse building; it also has an exhibition venue in Beijing. The core of the foundation is the impressive collection of Louise and Jens Faurschou, which features some of the absolutely top-drawer names on the international art scene, such as Louise Bourgeois, Santiago Sierra, Bill Viola, Danh Vo and Zhang Huan.

Currently selected works by the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei (b.1957) are on view in the imposing halls of the Faurschou Foundation. For some time now, Ai Weiwei has been one of the most influential names on the international art scene and the most renowned of the Chinese artists, as well as a persistent political activist and a critic of Chinese regime. Freedom of speech is one of the central subjects in Ai Weiwei’s artistic practice, which Chinese authorities attempt to restrict by all possible means by censoring Ai Weiwei in China, including detaining him for 81 days in 2011, and repeatedly placing him under house arrest as well as refusing to let him travel outside China, a prohibition which is still is upheld. In spite of all this, Ai Weiwei continues communicating with the world through social media like Twitter and Instagram. The Internet has become Ai Weiwei’s most important arena of political activity. Ai Weiwei himself has thus inextricably become an integral part of his art.

The exhibition provides an opportunity to see some of Ai Weiwei’s major works. The first work in the exhibition is the monumental installation Straight made of steel reinforcement bars used to support walls in concrete constructions. 73 tons of rusty bars cover almost the entire floor of the first large exhibition room, stacked side-by-side to resemble the crust of the earth displaced after an earthquake. The work was conceived in 2008 following the great earthquake in the Sichuan province that caused a large number of schools and other buildings to collapse. Almost 90,000 people perished, a large number of schoolchildren among them. The names of the 5019 children are listed on the wall in another work, Name List of Sichuan Earthquake Student Victims (2008-2012). However, the official death count, subsequently published by the government, was somewhat different. Ai Weiwei initiated an investigation to uncover the actual number of child fatalities. The high number of casualties was due to poor building construction.

Ai Weiwei. Installation view of ‘Raptures’. Faurschou Foundation, 2015. Photo: Anders Sune Berg. Courtesy Faurschou Foundation

Ai Weiwei brought 200 tons of iron bars from the collapsed buildings to his studio in Beijing where they were straightened by a host of assistants. Straight is a critique of the corrupt authorities that are to blame for the insufficient earthquake protection, but at the same time it is also visually striking.

Those who missed the opportunity to see Ai Weiwei’s spectacular Sunflower Seeds at Tate Modern in 2010 now have a chance to view a smaller version of the famous work. At Faurschou Foundation, the work consists of ‘just’ 15 tons – instead of the initial 150 tons – of 100 million handcrafted porcelain sunflower seeds. As a reflection of Straight in the first room, the seeds are spread in a thick layer across the entire length of the floor in the third room.

Commissioned from Jingdezhen, renowned for having produced the finest Chinese porcelain for the Imperial family, the seeds provided work for the entire small city for two and a half years.

A film accompanies each of the two works, telling the story and the idea behind the work and its time-consuming creation process. It also mostly through the films that we gain an insight into the political and activist aspect of Ai Weiwei’s work. Nevertheless, it is also possible to enjoy the works autonomously for their remarkable aesthetic qualities alone.

One of the latest works on display is Grapes (2014), where 32 traditional Chinese antique wooden stools are joined together forming a visually extremely beautiful round structure. In his work, Ai Weiwei continues the tradition of western modernism, whose influence, cited by the artist on several occasions, is drawn from the years he spent in New York between 1983 and 1993. A series of documentary photographs from the stay are also on view at the exhibition. In many of his installations and sculptures, Ai Weiwei works with readymades, following in the footsteps of Marcel Duchamp while at the same time incorporating Chinese culture into this practice through appropriation of traditional Chinese materials and objects, often in a controversial way.

Frank Ammerlaan ‘The Extended Arms of the Transom’
David Risley Gallery
Through June 27, 2015    

Frank Ammerlaan ‘Untitled’. 2015. Courtesy David Risley Gallery

Back in the city centre, for the first time the David Risley Gallery presents a solo show by the London-based Dutch artist Frank Ammerlaan (b.1979), comprised of brand new work and featuring paintings, sculpture and a video. However, painting remains Ammerlaan’s main field of exploration, where he continuously experiments in search for a new potential within the medium. His earlier series of paintings resembled iridescent oil spills on canvas and were made with a blend of chemicals through a special process. Only one painting from this series is on view at the David Risley Gallery.

The newest series of paintings is dark and mysterious, a blur of blue, red, purple, green and yellow in different shades emerging from a dark background like northern lights on a dark night sky. In some of the paintings, metallic threads are stretched across the surface of the canvas in different geometric shapes and patterns. The threads either shimmer or change colour, or almost disappear as you move in front of the canvas. In other paintings, lines and geometric impressions in the surface of the painting have been created by folding the canvas before stretching. Only one painting diverges from the others with a representation of something recognisable – a silhouette of an aeroplane viewed from above, absorbed by the darkness with what look like luminescent green and blue cloud formations above it. For some reason, it appears somehow disturbing and ghostly, lost in the darkness.

Frank Ammerlaan. Installation view of “The Extended Arms of the Transom”. Courtesy David Risley Gallery       

Most of the works are untitled, including the two sculptures – folded and slightly crumbled steel sheets that have been subject to industrial electroplating process, where the sheets are immersed in several baths of zinc that gives them a shiny multi-coloured surface.

Ammerlaan’s work is not so much about the message as it is about the material, its transformation and the visual experience as a process, where the perception of a piece depends on the light and the position of the viewer in front of the work.

‘Staffetten’ (Art Relay) Danish Contemporary Art
Through August 16, 2015

Maj Hasager ‘Decembers – A Round Table Conversation’ (Videostill). 2012. Courtesy Maj Hasager 

Art society GL STRAND offers a somewhat unusual exhibition concept. Here 17 different Danish artists have been invited to play the part of the curator. This exhibition concept can be regarded in the light of a recent ongoing debate in the art circles about the status of the curator, questioning whether art curators today have too much power and receive more attention than the artists themselves. As a result, art itself is in danger of being overshadowed by the curated exhibition concepts and thus deprived of its ability to speak its own language.

The concept of the Art Relay is that the artists themselves had to choose whom they exhibit together with. However, the artists were obliged to follow a number of rules or dogmas: the artist must be Danish – however, this does not necessarily imply their nationality; the artist must have had an important exhibition in Denmark within the past three years; the artist must contribute a work and then choose the next artist, as well as provide arguments for his or her choice of artist, and finally, the artist must participate in the exhibition’s ‘live’ programme throughout the exhibition period.

GL STRAND has selected the first artist to start off the relay. This task has been given to the Superflex group of Danish artists, founded in 1993. Superflex work with different media in the intermediate area between art and political activism. With many of their projects Superflex strive to challenge and directly participate in the existing political and social reality and even create actual social change with some of their works, which they call Tools. One of their iconic works is the Supergas project (1996-), where they collaborated with engineers to construct a simple biogas system that runs on organic materials and can supply a family living in rural areas in the Global South with gas for household needs.

In this exhibition they present a video work entitled The Working Life (2013), where a hypnotist standing in an empty white room talks to the viewer, evoking and verbalizing the feelings of anxiety, loss of identity and fear of failure, which some might recognise as the basic conditions of modern working life. The work is very simple in its form, yet exceptionally effective.

Olof Olsson ‘Office Work’. 2010. Photo: Lizete Riņķe

The same applies to the next work in the line, which is also a video; Office Work (2010) by the Denmark-based Swedish-Dutch performance artist Olof Olsson. It is a one-hour performance, where the artist methodically cuts 500 white A4 sheets of paper into smaller pieces. Dressed in a white shirt and black tie – the office uniform, but also the uniform that the artist usually wears during his performances –filmed from the shoulders and down, Olof Olsson works his way through a stack of paper, shifting it from one side to the other and back again. This meaningless activity ends with 8000 pieces of A8 paper. Who hasn’t at some point experienced this feeling as a part of their working life? Both works are among the strongest contributions to the exhibition; furthermore, they also fit together exceptionally well contextually, which is not necessarily the case as far as the other works are concerned.

Olof Olsson has chosen Per Bak Jensen, who is regarded as a pioneer of landscape photography in Scandinavia. The Art Relay presents two monumental black and white photographs by Per Bak Jensen. The two landscape photographs, MountainLiverpool Land (2012) and Smoke (2010), seem almost sublime in their grandeur and beauty, and as Olof Olsson puts it, require no explanation. There is a certain link, a sort of dialogue between most of the works, thematically, conceptually or aesthetically. Per Bak Jensen’s photographs are among a few other works which just seem too inconsistent with the rest.

Per Bak Jensen ‘Mountain’. 2011. Courtesy Per Bak Jensen and Galleri Bo Bjergaard

The exhibition provides a good insight into contemporary Danish art in its diversity and speaks about what issues occupy the minds of artists and what inspires them. The subject of nationality seems to have a particular significance, particularly because some of the participating artists have another cultural background, which shows the diversity of Danish art also from this aspect. The last work in the relay, a video work What’s Wrong with Being a Dane (2011) by Naja Maria Lundstrøm, contributes to the subject in a humorous way.

A wide range of media is represented at Art Reley, including photography, painting, sculpture and installation. However, video seems to be slightly overrepresented with seven different works of a considerable length, which makes it a somewhat time-consuming exhibition. Unfortunately, the average exhibition-goer is known to spend only a very limited time in front of a video work, which is a pity, because the videos are certainly among the most interesting features here at the show. Every work is accompanied by a text in which the artist explains his or her choice. The motives are very diverse, and some texts are better than others at communicating the idea and facilitating the understanding of the works.

The participating artists are SUPERFLEX, Olof Olsson, Per Bak Jensen, Vladimir Tomic, Ana Pavlovic, Christian Vind, Jens Birkemose, Jacob Stangerup, Ebbe Stub Wittrup, E.B. Itso, Maj Hasager, Jeannette Ehlers, Javier Tapia, Emil Westman Hertz, Claus Hugo Nielsen, Nanna Abell, Naja Maria Lundstrøm.

Barry McGee and Todd James “FUD”
V1 Gallery
Through June 27, 2015      

Barry McGee “Untitled”. 2015. Courtesy V1 Gallery           

In Copenhagen’s hipster paradise – the Meat Packing District, at the V1 Gallery that has recently changed its name to V1 Contemporary Art Centre, American East Coast meets West Coast in a collaborative exhibition of the New York-based Todd James (b. 1969) and Barry McGee (b. 1966) from San Francisco. Both artists have background in the graffiti milieu, which is manifested in their vividly colourful, cartoonish yet stylistically very distinctive paintings. Even though both artists have become established icons of graffiti culture today and have numerous prominent gallery and museum shows in their portfolio, they are still occasionally also active in the street, albeit in more legal ways. 

Since its opening in 2002, the V1 gallery has maintained a special focus on street art and the particular aesthetics derived from it, working with some of the most prominent Danish and international names within the field. The gallery was one of the first in Denmark to bring street art into gallery space. Today, street art has become widely accepted as art form and often appears within gallery and museum walls. However, this has also invited criticism to the effect that street art has become institutionalised, because it does not belong in the clinical white gallery or museum space away from its initial context, and has therefore corrupted its own ideology.

Barry McGee and Todd James. Installation view of “FUD”. Courtesy V1 Gallery

A nude blond female figure is a recurring motif in Todd James’ vivid paintings, somewhat evocative of Matisse – a reference to the female stereotype often presented by the media. This time around she also appears in almost every painting on show. In one of the works, she is on the beach wearing a tiny red bikini, lying on her back on the bonnet of a car while the sun is setting below the horizon – yet another conventionally stereotypical way of staging women on the pages of men’s magazines and in advertisements. In another painting,  Anna Banana Lemonade Afternoon (2015), she has sunk into a chair in the kitchen in the company of a blue cat. But that is where things begin to get weirder and creepier: in the next two paintings, Fancy Meeting You Here (2015) and Perfect Union (2015), the blonde has suddenly been joined by a blue cobra, and her face is transformed by surprise and terror. There is also a large portrait, The Wizard Ram Zzee (2015), that almost dissolves into abstraction – homage to the late Rammellzee, New York graffiti and hip-hop pioneer and performance artist. The weird and the obscene are the central elements in Todd James’ colourful, humorous and playful universe.

Barry McGee works in a wide range of media: painting on wood, drawing, sculpture and installation featuring found objects. The V1 presents a number of McGee’s paintings on wood panel and on vintage surfboards piled up in one corner – a reference to the bicoastal surf culture, as well as other works that include a tableau of different objects like an old monitor, a DVD Player pottery and a carved wooden head. Displayed on a white podium, there is also a readymade of a metal safe that has been forced open.   

In contrast with the more expressive Todd James, Barry McGee’s work is very graphic. Here droopy monochrome caricature faces appear among the patchwork of grid-like geometric patterns; both have become his signature. These sad or grumpy faces of men, looking quite worn, are inspired by different characters seen in the streets of San Francisco, particularly representing the margins of the society. We find traces of many different sources of inspiration in McGee’s work, American folk art and op art among them.

Mural by Danish artist HuskMitNavn. Tullinsgade 21, Copenhagen. The artist has worked with the V1 Gallery for several years and has had a number of shows at the gallery. Photo: Lizete Riņķe

The Irish London-based Conor Harrington works on his mural in Tullinsgade 1, Copenhagen. Photo: Lizete Riņķe

Should you be interested in seeing some more street art in its original environment, there is a chance from the 12th of June to view works of eight internationally recognised artists who were invited to participate in the project OUTDOOR SURFACE and create murals in different places around Copenhagen. The invited artists are Conor Harrington (UK), ROA (Belgium), Borondo (Spain), DALeast (China), Vhils (Portugal), Maya Hayuk (USA), Icy & Soft (Iran) and HuskMitNavn (Denmark).

Bo Christian Larsson “Animal Magnetism”
Galleri Bo Bjergaard
Through June 20, 2015

Bo Christian Larsson “Astral Navigation”. 2015. Courtesy Galleri Bo Bjergaard

The first thing that pops into mind upon entering the exhibition of the Swedish artist Bo Christian Larsson (b. 1976) at Gallery Bo Bjerggard, a few steps from V1 Gallery, is the dark and uncanny universe of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, where the woods hide mystery and evil as a reflection of the hidden dark side of humans. In Bo Christian Larson’s works, something also seems to be lurking beneath the surface. A landscape can be faintly seen behind the black tar-covered trees that grow in the foreground in the Forest Gate series (2015). These three-dimensional pictures are based on framed landscape pictures which the artist has found in abandoned houses, subsequently adding his own drawings and the sculptural images of trees in tar. The idealised idyllic landscape has thus become mysterious and menacing.

Bo Christian Larsson “Forest Gate 1”. 2015. Courtesy Galleri Bo Bjergaard

A bunch of slimy mushrooms is tied to a stick at one end, while six silver fingers, growing from the other end like legs of a spider, carry the stick in the surrealistic sculptural work Mushroom Walk (2015) that looks like something from a psychedelic trip.

The next sculpture, Magnetic Stone (2015), is just as surrealistic and enigmatic. A large black stone is placed on a black rocking chair. On top of it there are a black human figure and a tree. The figure is broken in the middle and leans backwards as if drawn by the stone’s magnetic force, revealing that it is hollow inside, only filled with straw. The tree in front of the figure is dead.

Bo Christian Larsson ‘Magnetic Stone’. 2015. Courtesy Galleri Bo Bjergaard

Philosophically, symbolically and aesthetically, nature plays an essential role in Bo Christian Larsson’s work, which is also reflected in his use of materials. Larsson works with a whole range of natural materials such as tree branches, plants, feathers, fur and wax, just to mention a few. There is also a series of collages created with found photographs of wild animals, trees and forest lakes, titled Satanic Lake (2015), Dark Throne (2015) and Truth (2015), and assemblages Lucifer Closing (2015) and Toothgrinder (2015). As already suggested by the titles, Larsson’s work is loaded with symbolism. However, even though it all might seem a bit excessive, Larsson succeeds in balancing the heavy connotations without falling into the trap of clichés. What Larsson creates instead is a dark, strange and highly compelling universe. In so doing, Larsson deals with our ambivalence and changing perception of nature: we can contemplate it from a distance in its idealised beauty, but the real connection to it has been lost; nature can also be demonic, cruel and possess an inexplicable power, serving as a portal to other worlds. In Larsson’s work, nature is in fact a mirror of ourselves; it can contain both good and evil, depending on what we project onto it. The nature is both a symbol of our unconscious and a path to it. In this context, the figure of the shaman in the sculpture Shaman Dream (2015) symbolises a link between the internal and the external, between nature and man, and the access to the unconscious, where a new self-insight can become possible.