Leaf Fall

Election bullshit, hot air, down-at-heel flip-flops, and a delightful drop-out artist. The Danish art autumn is whipping into a frenzy.

Lee Lozano, uden titel, 1961. Crayon on paper, 41.8 x 34.8 cm © The Estate of Lee Lozano. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Thomas Barratt.

On one of the last warm evenings of summer, I attended a rather enchanting birthday party in a garden full of abundant fig and pear trees. We hadn’t even made much of a dent in the appetiser before one of my fellow diners, an ever-observant artist, came up with a surprising forecast for the general election that all Danes are currently waiting for the prime minister to announce soon.

“The election campaign is going to be about art,” he said. Faced with my look of incredulous scepticism, he elaborated: “The visual arts are, after all, a godsend for all politicians when the election will clearly be won by whoever can distance themselves the most from ‘the Copenhagen salons’.”

The phrase wasn’t his own, but was launched by the new right-wing populist party Denmark Democrats (and yep, dear Swedish readers, it’s modelled on your Sweden Democrats). Suddenly, I saw what he meant. In the last few years, visual art – with its ever so rapidly (mis)read visuality – has proven itself the perfect illustration and embodiment of value clashes of all kinds.

Even so, will we truly get an election run-up about visual art? We’ll know that soon enough. Meanwhile, my earpiece is abuzz with information about outlandish stories from the art world, which is currently being investigated by major media outlets zealously applying incriminating angles. It feels af if they are looking for a new “bust scandal” or some bad girl riot at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. And while I do feel a strong urge to share some of the more out-there cases of ‘investigative’ journalism, I have also seen too much headless cultural journalism setting itself (and all the rest of us) on fire with even the dampest of kindling, so I keep quiet and hope for the best.

For now, artists and other fellow creatures-in-creation have brushed the butterfly dust off their shoulders and turned their attention to the heart of the matter. As usual, the season was kicked off with the Copenhagen art fairs Chart and Enter as well as various “collateral events,” as they are called in biennale lingo, including Chart’s new and promising concept: an exhibition featuring fifteen outdoor works on display for the rest of the month in Tivoli, the world’s oldest amusement park.

The first institutional exhibition of the season was Den Frie Center of Contemporary Art’s Another Surrealism – Anna Weile Kjær’s group exhibition – which already seems destined to be one of the autumn’s highlights and a future reference for all sorts of much-needed conversations about the curated exhibition.

It’s a funny thing about Surrealism. Obviously a good fit for our current era, the movement has attracted plenty of attention for some years now, prompting weighty presentations at many large international institutions, most recently at this year’s Venice Biennale, whose exhibition title, Milk of Dreams, is taken from a children’s book by Leonora Carrington. Next week, Arken will open a retrospective on Carrington, a central figure from the inner circle of international Surrealism, and an avant-garde artist whose work is refreshingly out-there Incidentally, this is Arken’s first exhibition under new Director Marie Nipper, though it is not part of her programme; that is yet to come.

Several of the other major museums are also following the avant-garde track. ARoS in Aarhus offers the largest presentation to date of Franciska Clausen (1899–1986), who was born in Denmark but spent long periods of time living in the European art metropolises of the 1920s and 30s. Louisiana shows The Cold Gaze about the New Objectivity movement and 1920s art and culture in Germany (arranged in collaboration with the Centre Pompidou). Around the same time, Statens Museum for Kunst (in collaboration with MoMA, New York) shows a Matisse exhibition centred around what is actually a fundamentally weird painting, The Red Studio from 1911, a seminal work in European modernism. 

Installation view, Nanna Abell, Psychodile, Vestjyllands Kunstpavillon, Videbæk, 2022. Photo: Jacob Friis-Holm Nielsen.

What the avant-garde movements are to the museums, social analysis is to a venue like Charlottenborg, which will soon open the group exhibition Post-Capital – Art and Economics of the Digital Age, based on “the inherent paradox of having a capitalist system which is both dependent on and threatened by technological progress.” The artists include Simon Denny, Katja Novitskova, and Oliver Laric, while the accompanying reader features contributions from figures such as Hito Steyerl, McKenzie Wark, and Shoshana Zuboff.

Determining exactly what is going on is rather more difficult in the case of Gl. Strand, which constantly twists and turns its programme so that we never quite know where we are going – often with quite refreshing results. While the last season included a presentation of the graphic design luminaries M/M (Paris) and a major scoop of an exhibition featuring Zanele Muholi, the old art association now presents the radical 1960s artist Lee Lozano, whose uncompromising oeuvre was created over the course of just a decade before she dropped out of art (and New York City) completely in 1972. It’s an exhibition that I really look forward to – and wasn’t expecting on Danish soil.

From Gl. Strand you can see straight across the canal to Thorvaldsens Museum, which has turned up an equally surprising name in Irish-born formalist sculptor Sean Scully. While it was still summer, three monumental columns made of oak were beamed in place in the square in front of Gottlieb Bindesbøll’s beautiful museum building – according to Scully, as a reference to the large fleet of wooden ships that welcomed Bertel Thorvaldsen in the Copenhagen Harbour when the famous sculptor returned home from Italy in 1838. Art in public spaces comes in many guises, arriving by way of many winding roads. Scully’s colossi will make a good case study for the first-ever batch of students in the new post-graduate programme on monumental and architecturally integrated art just launched by the Funen Art Academy under the direction of artist Marie Lund.

More jobs for artists is a good thing, especially at a time when politicians are watching artists’ employment rates like hawks and holding the academies accountable. In this regard, Søren Taaning clocks up plenty of pluses in the statistics. In recent years, Taaning has spearheaded the Danish Talent Academy in Holstebro, been a co-founder of the nature and art park Deep Forest Art Land (formerly Skovsnogen), and he has just taken over the rector’s seat at the Jutland Art Academy in Aarhus. That academy, poised to move into brand-new facilities very shortly, is currently in a delicate state of transition. The press release announcing the appointment of the new rector stated that Taaning intends to cooperate even more closely with the outside world and heighten the academy’s visibility in the city. Such an approach is usually a good strategy for the smaller academies, which are heavily dependent on the benevolence of local authorities.

Tora Schultz, Wiper, 2022. Print on aluminium, 79 x 125 cm. Installation view, Tora Schultz, Dirty, Palace Enterprise, Copenhagen, 2022. Photo: Jan Søndergaard.

I have previously applauded the excellent presentations at Vestjyllands Kunstpavillon in the small town of Videbæk, and the programme is certainly no less interesting now that it has come under the direction of Paola Paleari and Anne Zychalak Stolten. Following exhibitions featuring artists such as Birke Gorm and Tanja Nis-Hansen, Nanna Abell’s dry but sly sculptures are currently creeping across the floor and walls, including a heavily down-at-heel flip-flop. In November, this will be replaced by the final exhibition under the duo’s management: a solo show featuring Mette Winckelmann.

Solo shows have long been Overgaden’s thing. Currently, both Helene Nymann and Marie Kølbæk Iversen are showing there. They will be succeeded by artists such as Tora Schultz, who, since her graduation from the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm in 2021, has quickly gained prominence on the Copenhagen scene. At the moment, she is featured at Another Surrealism and has a solo show at the Copenhagen gallery Palace Enterprise. At Overgaden, she is part of the gallery’s talent development programme for young artists.

I am also looking forward to revisiting Francis Alÿs’s humanist video installation Children’s Games (1999–ongoing), currently on display in the Belgian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, which will be shown at Copenhagen Contemporary this October. It follows on the heels of curator Mette Woller’s Dangerous When Wet at the same venue. Woller has previously shown a penchant for what is termed hydrofeminism, and this time the approach seems to be reaching new heights with paintings exhibited in water and a synchronised swimming performance. The main exhibition itself is in set in a public swimming pool, and the list of artists includes Filip Berg, Tamara Alegre, Freja Sofie Kirk, Melanie Kitti, and Élie Autin.

I can hardly be the only one to have noticed how The Pictures Generation has been popping up more and more in conversations and exhibitions over the past few years. It seems as if these 1980s artists from the U.S. – and their hard-nosed appropriation art based on the potent commercial image culture around them – anticipated something we have clearly seen in a younger generation of artists in the last decade. Given all this, Louisiana shows impeccable timing in showing the most eminent appropriator of them all, Richard Prince. I am keen to find out what it means to revisit, in 2022, Prince’s photograph of a copy of an advertisement photo of the lonely Marlboro cowboy.

Richard Prince, Untitled (Cowboy), 2016 C-print in two parts Courtesy the Artist. © Richard Prince Studio.