World-class art and architecture

By Marie Louise Dunker

The ARKEN Museum of Modern Art is a monumental landmark surrounded by a manmade beachscape just south of Copenhagen. The museum showcases one of Scandinavia’s finest collections of contemporary art, and the maritime-inspired architecture has gained the museum international renown.

One of Denmark’s newest contemporary art museums, the ARKEN Museum of Modern Art was inaugurated on 15 March 1996 by Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II. Prior to this, years had been spent to ensure that this coastal location in Ishøj just south of Copenhagen would become a significant player in Danish cultural life. The then only 25-year-old architecture student, Søren Robert Lund, surprised the establishment by winning the design competition with a Deconstructivist museum, which resembled a giant beached ship. The ship metaphor is also evident in the huge indoor gallery axis, which is shaped like a hull with tall, heavy doors of iron, exposed rivet-like bolts, metal staircases, dark red hues and resonant acoustics. This distinctive and bold design provides the framework for a large collection of contemporary art and special exhibitions.

Hirst, Reyle and Ai Weiwei

The collections consist of more than 400 artworks, mainly by Danish, Nordic and international contemporary artists, primarily representing the period after 1990. There are two underpinning themes: one about the human condition of modern man and the other about art that, via new materials, art forms and media, questions the very definition of art. Distinguished exponents of both these subjects are the British enfant terrible Damien Hirst (b. 1965) and the German art-world comet Anselm Reyle (b. 1970). Both are well represented at the museum with entire galleries dedicated to their works. The controversial Chinese artist Ai Weiwei (b. 1957) is represented with one of his major pieces: Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads from 2010. Danish and Nordic artists, such as Olafur Eliasson, Elmgreen and Dragset, Jeppe Hein and Tal R, are also well represented at the museum.

Hundertwasser the artist and environmentalist

“I want to show how easy it is to create paradise on earth.” So said artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000), whose creative passion was devoted to nature and human emancipation. Over the summer, ARKEN will feature a special exhibition dedicated to the painter, architect and environmentalist, who with his paintings, manifestos and adventurous buildings sought to make the world a better place. He mixed graphic spirals, gold domes and roof garden trees with mundane necessities such as composting toilets, nettle soup and handiwork clothes. He was controversial in his time. Today, with his ideas about green architecture and ecology, he is more topical and current than ever.

Gigantic playground

The museum has dedicated its largest exhibition space to a giant installation – namely the 1968 children’s playground by Danish artist Palle Nielsen (b 1942) entitled The Model where children can jump around in rubber foam, paint and draw, dress up and play music. In 1968, Moderna Museet in Stockholm was turned into one big building playground, or bauspielplatz. For three hectic weeks, tens of thousands of children brought bounce and play to the museum’s main gallery, garnering a great deal of media attention. The building playground was named The Model – A Model for a Qualitative Community and was in equal measure a groundbreaking social experiment, a critique of the art museum as an institution and an architectural artwork. Much has changed since 1968, including the role children enjoy in society, the impact technology has on our everyday lives, the values we associate with a good childhood, and the space and scope we afford children. What is still valid, nonetheless, is the radical notion Palle Nielsen represented that children’s freedom and creativity can lead the way to a better society.

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