I don't remember who told me 7-Elevens are very popular in Copenhagen, but I wish I hadn't told my tour guide this was the only thing I knew about the city earlier this month. I doubt I'd be impressed with a Danish colleague who knew only of the ubiquity of Starbucks in Manhattan, given the wealth of culture here.
We all accidentally utter things that can't be dismissed as mere jetlag (right?), but in an effort to curtail further diplomatic blunders, I offer art-loving travelers a few observations about Copenhagen.
"There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing," goes an old Danish maxim felt virtually everywhere in Copenhagen. Denmark is cold as fuck in the winter. As such, well-dressed people who all look as though they belong on photoblog The Sartorialist populate the city. Typically they are on bikes.
Rent one of those and visit the Statens Museum for Kunst (The National Museum of Denmark). It's impressive and their current contemporary show by Danish artist FOS is on through June 2012. FOS's handmade passage—a raised tunnel made of synthetic colored fabric—stretches the length of the hallway joining the museum's new and old buildings. In addition to being a hall it's also an unlikely site for art making.
Some areas of the structure open up to resemble the holodeck in Star Trek, and are used by the museum for educational classes. Also, a giant studio in the form of a circus tent lies just behind a giant curtain at the other end of the building. What feels best about this piece is the act of walking through it; viewers' participation activates the work and determines exactly what they get out of it. No grand narrative here.
It's worth taking a look at the Statens' permanent collection too; the museum has an unrivaled collection of paintings from the Danish Golden Age, the best 16th century prints by Albrecht Dürer and a collection of Henri Matisse paintings I've only seen in textbooks. I missed all of this because of the limited time I had on the trip, which I absolutely regret.
What I don't regret is visiting the Charlottenborg two blocks away, which hosted by far the best contemporary art show I've seen this year, Corso Multisala. The show closed the day I left, which means travelers will be seeing something else, but it's still worth mentioning. Assembled by a tight-knit group of emerging artists from Switzerland who exhibit, curate and publish together—Emil Michael Klein, Tobias Madison, Kaspar Müller and Emanuel Rossetti to name a few—the show is not unlike the typical group exhibition mishmash, just more cohesive. American museums rarely show so many highly collaborative works because a market that prefers single-authored works so heavily influences programming. I saw a Batman video created by close to twenty artists, and a transparent tent with polkadots produced by four while other works, such as Thomas Sauter's swooshy abstract paintings and John Armlader's pink wall with silver snowflakes, were more autonomous.
I didn't see anything quite as strong as that show for the rest of the trip, but it would've been hard to top. The artist-run center Overgaden opened a funhouse by Ahmet Ögüt & Cevdet Erek (through November 6), video artist Nathalie Djurburg had a show at The Kunstforeningen GL (through November 13), and for anyone wishing to travel 40 minutes outside Copenhagen to Sweden, Malmö Konsthall was about to open a Chris Johanson and Misaki Kawai show (through November 27). When I visited, Kawai was in the process of making a large number of nipple breasts for kids to stand on. That will probably be worth a return visit.
(Photo by the author)