Danish Art Now
VIENNA: KRINZINGER PROJEKTE
Exportable Goods – Danish Art Now | November 17th, 2006 – February 17th, 2007 | www.galerie-krinzinger.at/projekte/ | Curated by Severin Dünser.
Carlsberg, Lego and Bang & Olufsen are what comes to mind when Danish exports are the topic. This is quite remarkable already considering the size of this Nordic kingdom with about 6 million permanent citizens. There is also Arla foods, whose butter had been boycotted some time ago because of another Danish export, the now-infamous Muhammad cartoons. But there is more to Denmark than bad taste. Now there are also names such as Superflex, Rasmus Bjørn and Jesper Just to be included in the list.
Denmark is an architecture and design rather than an art nation, with household names such as Jørn Utzon, designer of the Sidney Opera House, Verner Panton, designer of the still-very-hip Panton chair, or Poul Kjærholm, an uncompromising advocate of solid crafts, good materials and intelligent construction, who sold his furniture mostly to Americans and Japanese while his compatriots were questioning if it wouldn’t be better to make it all in PVC.
Only 5 years ago something like an art gallery was a rare sight to be spotted in Copenhagen. All at once there is now a demand for domestic art, reason enough for a very contemporary art scene to thrive. Yet there is no area which could be called a gallery district. But it would not be Denmark if the government would not take care of any unmet needs, and so a new government-initiated art district is in the making.
In a scene as jaded as the contemporary art scene in most places these days, the Danish look a bit fresher. Superflex, a Copenhagen-based collaborative of three, show a neatly laid out table with ingredients and equipment for home beer brewing (Free Beer, Superflex, 2005). Perhaps a statement in the vein of open source computer software such as Linux, or an antithesis to Carlsberg , which only competes with Heineken and Bud for world dominance, or perhaps just a statement that the Danes like beer.
Video artist Jesper Just, whose Something to Love (2005) is on view, has been exhibiting intensely in the last few years on both sides of the Atlantic, including a solo exhibition at the Stedelijk in Amsterdam. A series of works captured in 16 mm film exploits a rather neglected topic in contemporary art – gender-mainstreamed identity politics. Just’s silent but emotionally tense Something to Love questions the traditional role of the Hollywood male, suggesting that it is okay for men to betray inner emotions and that, sometimes, boys cry, too.
Many works here are directly influenced by architecture and design: For instance, Rasmus Bjørn’s Goldie (2005), a baseball cap and bat adorned with pseudeo-commercial brand logos; Hein Jeppe’s neon hanging lamp; Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset’s trolleys Coupled #1 (2002), which had been rendered dysfunctional by being joined together; and California-educated Pia Rönicke’s The Zone (2005), which features three young architects repeating some of the most abused buzzwords in the field of city planning, exposing how Danish architectural practice has plunged into use of thoroughly void Modernist clichés.
Form doesn’t always follow function, but here it is all too tempered. Nothing here is meant to challenge, provoke or offend. Since the infamous cartoons, the Danish pride in freedom of expression seems to have been bruised, or as the Danish writer Poul Borum said, ‘ Art is for everybody, but not everybody knows it.’ And in the end, even the insightful socio-institutional critique provided by something like Elmgreen & Dragset’s dysfunctional trolleys is ultimately just another lucrative export.
* This article originally appeared in the Contemporary magazine issue no. 92 in 2007.