Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Scandinavian Top Ten

This summer we travelled to Scandinavia, specifically to Denmark and Sweden. We began in Copenhagen, drove north through Denmark, took a ferry to Sweden and made our way to Stockholm.

I’d never been to this part of Northern Europe before, and it was incredible. We’ve been trying to maintain that holiday feeling by trying to bring little reminders of our trip back home, I’m lighting tea lights at mealtime, eating a homemade granola I developed after a fabulous hotel breakfast, and watching the TV series, Bron/Broen, which I highly recommend.

Of course, we did all the regular tourist things like canal cruises and castle tours, but we also hit art museums wherever possible, especially contemporary ones. Here are my top ten art highlights.

1. I wandered into the tiny Charlottenburg Museum in Copenhagen, simply because it was across the street from our apartment and I had a free hour. First I saw a local MFA show of mixed quality, but when I got to the top floor, there was an exhibition of two text artists: Simon Evans and Öyvind Fahlström.

If someone had told me I’d fall in love with an artist who used paper, ballpoint pen, scotch tape, and litter to make art, I would have thought they were nuts. But Simon Evans’s work is incredible. He balances obsessiveness, humour, and order to create incredible work. I could look for hours at his pieces; they look like the output of a creative genius locked in a cubicle with only office supplies. Unfortunately photos (and especially my crummy photos) do not do justice to his intricate works and he doesn't seem to have a website, so google him and check him out.
A close-up, where you can see a dissected mouse and his intricately-taped paper.

2. The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, located just outside Copenhagen, is a gorgeous contemporary art space right on the water. We got to see a Pop Art and Design show, which was excellent. I’ve noticed that I’ve seen a lot of incredible American art while I’m in Europe, but I guess the best art transcends nationalities. At the Louisiana, I discovered the obsessive work of Tara Donavan, an artist turning things as mundane as drinking straws and nails into art.

This giant sculpture was made from strips of film.
My favourite piece at the Louisiana was the permanent Yayoi Kusumi installation, “Gleaming Light of the Souls,” which you enter into. It’s a mirrored room of glass, water, and lights, which both delighted me and took me back to the disco days of my youth.

3. At the National Gallery of Denmark, I wandered through the works of many interesting Danish artists I had not encountered before. Afterwards, I found that I could learn more about them from the excellent museum website. But I was particularly struck by this huge painting by Poul Gernes, because it reminded me so much of the circle paintings I've been doing, right down to the painted metallic surface. His was done in 1925-26, and I swear I've never seen it before!

4. I loved Your Rainbow Panorama at the top of the Aros Museum in Aarhus, Denmark. It’s a fantastic multi-coloured transparent tunnel by Olafur Eliasson. The city of Aarhus is all around you, reflected in different colours as you walk through.
From the Aros website, the wider view.
Me, in the purple and pink section naturally.

 5. Also in Aarhus, we saw the Sculpture By The Sea exhibition, which consists of more than 60 sculptures set along a walkway beside the ocean. Lots of humourous works, including a simulated car crash/landfill and my favourite: a giant message in a bottle. Since the Danes love to picnic outside in the summer, it was the perfect blend of cultural activity and sea breezes. The path was filled with Danes of all ages, and tourists like us.

It's the scale that makes art pop.
Many international artists had to scrounge their raw materials, so lots of garbage was used.

6. Sometimes the building rivals the art inside. In Moderna Museet Malmö, everything was orange: the exterior, the interior, the furniture, even the elevator. But inside we did see the installation at the top of this post: Scandinavian Pain by Ragnar Kjartnsson. Originally a huge empty barn where the artist enacted the tortured lonely life of Nordic artists, here the barn was combined with the paintings of tortured Nordic artist, Edvard Munch.

7. Loved the modernist architecture of Malmo, Sweden. A huge area of the city has been redeveloped as modern condos, all with water views of the ports that were formerly shipyards. Also in this development is the famous Turning Torso building.

8. Did you know that Stockholm has a whole island of museums? I chose to visit the Moderna Museet, of course and it was amazing. There was a Niki de Saint Phalle retrospective, I always liked her big, bright female figures but I had no idea how dark and Freudian her oeuvre was. But the art student in me rejoiced as I got to see so many artworks that I had studied in art history like Tatlin’s Tower. 

And then this epic sculpture:

 Yes, Raushenberg’s goat! Amazing to see it, literally in the flesh.

9. Also at the Moderna Museet, I got to stand in the middle of four Gerhardt Richter paintings. For me, that’s better than drugs.

10. My favourite part of the many sights in Scandinavia was seeing the many and varied crowds enjoying the art. To see school kids laughing and pretending to bow down before an Andy Warhol painting, showed me they understood his importance in the canon. To see young families at the Louisiana, enjoying the art, and then playing among the Richard Serra sculptures on the wide green lawn. To have the rail employee tell us what train to get to a museum, and then say how much he envied that we were getting to go there. To see young men together, drinking beer, and wandering through the Sculptures by the Sea. It all showed that art is not elitist in Scandinavia.

And there is so much art! Vancouver and Copenhagen have the same populations, but where Vancouver has two art museums, Copenhagen has 10 art and architecture museums! Whenever I go to Europe, I am blown away by the sheer appreciation of art.

It's like tag, except you have to wear a wolf mask if you're it.


  1. Fantastic review of the trip. Tara Donovan's work is fabulous and the Kasumi photo you took is perfect. Canadians need to spend more time with their northern cousins-there is much to learn.

    1. Ha, that's the only time my photography will get complimented! But thank you. Yes, I'd love to see us modelling ourselves after Denmark and Sweden, in terms of arts, social policy, and building.

  2. fabulous. richter is one of my favourites too.

    1. Yes, aren't they great? I came home and watched the video, Gerhardt Richter Painting, which made those works even more impressive.

  3. SO Cool to see all this! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks, Sue! I definitely recommend a Scandinavian vacation for everyone, especially art lovers.

  4. Thanks for the kind words about our website! And glad to hear that you had a nice visit to the museum.

    All the best,

    Sarah Grøn/digital editor at the National Gallery of Denmark

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Sarah! Obviously the digital editor of the museum is on the ball. I envy you the great appreciation of art in Copenhagen.

  5. l though I love Montana and it is my soul's home ... I do wish I lived in a place where there was the kind of art appreciation you found in Europe! Even the kind of art appreciation there is in Vancouver far out-shadows what there is in Montana. Helena is a backwater, though there is a growing community of artists here and at least one internationally-renowned center, the Archie Bray Foundation for Ceramic Arts.

    1. Your "soul's home" is a beautiful phrase! Perhaps we're always wishing for more from the places we live in, luckily for us the internet can take us to see and appreciate art worldwide.