INVOLVING OVER SIXTY GALLERIES, project spaces, and museums in addition to the third edition of the Chart Art Fair and the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art’s annual literature festival, the first weekend of Copenhagen Art Week suffered no lack of exhibitions, talks, performances, and shindigs to variously see, imbibe, and endure, in no particular order.
I arrived early Friday morning and immediately commenced tromping around photographer Joakim Eskildsen’s exhibition at the National Museum of Photography and Anouk Kruithof’s show of sweat-inspired sculptures at soon-to-be-roving project space GREEN IS GOLD. From there I set off for the VIP opening of Chart at the city’s Kunsthal Charlottenborg. The gastronomic huts were still being installed in the kunst courtyard, and the fair’s beaming young director, Simon Friese, peppered his opening remarks with a spicy buzzword for growth and ambition. As he pronounced the fair’s “aim to attract international attention” and promised an “international scope,” I figured my presence ticked the box on the former while the latter designation remained somewhat ambiguous, given that the fair’s twenty-eight participating galleries all hail from Scandinavia. Perhaps the larger reach was in Chart’s public programming, scattered throughout the weekend and the city itself, curated by editors Francesca Gavin and Mark Rappolt to feature a range of artists and art-world officials from Asia and Europe.
No rabid, adrenaline-pumped collectors and press mercenaries here. Chart kicked off with the polite tink of champagne flutes and quiet flapping of swag-bag wooden fans, given out perhaps to offset the lack of air conditioning in Kunsthal Charlottenborg’s sunlight-flooded galleries. The genteel note was sustained throughout by an installation that harmoniously flowed across gallery lines usually physically manifested in subdividing fair-booth walls. Coming off more like an exhibition of trends and tendencies in contemporary Borealis art with a smattering of trophy names like Paul McCarthy, the fair can be enjoyed without any exhausted trotting up and down a tent.
The major real estate was occupied by paintings, often beautiful ones, as in Maria Nordin’s watercolors from Swedish gallery Magnus Karlsson or the Finnish Galerie Anhava’s Anna Tuori oil-on-canvas works. That’s not to say the overall display lacked politics, as evidenced by Danish artist E. B. Itso’s prints at Nicolai Wallner made with the clothes of North African immigrants left behind at a small Italian island used as an entry point to the country, or American Brad Kahlhamer’s painting that had spray-painted at top and bottom PLEASE PAY ME SO I CAN PAY THEM, referencing reparations for Native American tribes, brought by Stockholm’s Andréhn-Schiptjenko gallery.
Created by a consortium of Danish gallery directors in 2013, Chart, according to cofounder Susanne Ottesen, seeks to “remain small-scale so we can do things fast. We try to do the opposite of a normal fair. We are all working internationally, but none of us are big galleries, so you have to find a way to make people think they’ll get something different.” Such sentiments were echoed at the exclusive dinner that night in an upstairs hall of Charlottenborg for an international group of dealers and collectors. Asia Zak Persons of Berlin gallery Żak Branicka praised the affair’s ethos: “There’s time to talk here. At bigger fairs you can’t look left or right. A gallery with younger artists doesn’t stand a chance there.” On a similar note, the multiple speeches punctuating the dinner’s courses were also drowned out, though in this instance by the free opening-night concert in the courtyard featuring local metal and punk bands like Reverie and Marching Church and synth DJ sets from m00nbird and Sweden’s darkwave pinup stars Lust for Youth.
Upstairs and downstairs, outside and inside, kids versus adults; here were our old friends, the reliable hierarchies of access and association that the art world just can’t get enough of or shake even in the midst of an otherwise egalitarian affair. Even I, dedicated diarist, at one point in the night was wandering the block around the kunsthal feeling sorry for my momentarily dinner-invitation-less self, before I was whisked back and ascending the staircase to catered feasting where my half-empty (or half-full) Carlsberg can was promptly confiscated by the wait staff and replaced by two varieties of wine. How quickly the tables turn.
Saturday morning I peeled myself prematurely from the cocoon of sleep to book it to a private talk hosted in a palatial apartment in posh Østerbro featuring curator and writer Hu Fang, Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s Anselm Franke, and Hans Ulrich Obrist, who were to address the question Does Art Need to Tell a Story? While the answer (spoiler alert!) remains ambiguous, many stories were related to the perky, morning-person audience, who giggled at Obrist’s recounting of the time a philosopher fell asleep on him at the latter’s home or when Alain Robbe-Grillet had to be evacuated by helicopter. Others listened intently to Franke’s declaration that “positivism is my enemy” and that art is about how “to tell a story that doesn’t close doors and fix meanings, but rather opens it.”
Soon enough, a door opened for me: Obrist’s car door, to be precise. Off we went to the studio of Danish artist Tal R. While perambulating amid a menagerie of in-progress sculptures, wood-block prints, and drawings of the facades of European sex shops, we learned that one really ought to “embrace disappointment” and “invest in losing.” Words to live or, more likely, die heroically by. Next I headed to Kødbyens, the still-functioning meatpacking district and gallery destination (take note, New York), to see Daniel Richter’s show of paintings at Galleri Bo Bjerggaard and Ruth Campau’s brushed and spray-painted sculptures and sculpted paintings at Gether Contemporary.
After a brief detour to Søndermarken park near the old Carlsberg brewery to take in Swedish artist Ingvar Cronhammar’s atmospheric intervention to the Cisternerne, a former underground holding cell for the city’s water supply, it was onwards to a dinner with organizers of Copenhagen Art Week, including curator Charlotte Bagger Brandt and artist Jenny Gräf Sheppard in Valby, before maneuvering myself to the afterparty portion of another dinner for Chart’s participating galleries at the Den Frie Center of Contemporary Art back in Østerbro. The blaring music sans dancing begged “don’t let me go,” but Sara Stiansen of Norway’s VI, VII and artists Bjarne Bare, Tiago Bom, and myself decided it had to be so. We bounced to Kødbyens, literally translated as Meat City, only to be bounced back out of the busted Jolene Bar, sandwiched between Gether Contemporary and Bo Bjerggaard, for jumping the queue and trying our hand at ballpoint pen imitations of the door’s admission stamps. We scuttled to another spot around the corner where they played Northern Soul with a dance floor smaller than a Manhattan studio apartment yet packed to the gills with writhing revelers. Tables were climbed on, girls were spun, and drinks ended up as much on the crowd as down their gullets.
After a three-hour power nap at my hotel somewhere in the early hours of Sunday, I roused myself and somehow managed to get my body, if not my spirit, to the fashionable Normann Copenhagen boutique for a talk between Danish architect Bjarke Ingels and Bjørnstjerne Christiansen from the artist’s group Superflex, who were discussing the necessity of art and architecture “to entertain.” “If you do something that remains loved,” Ingels posited, “it can last forever. Make it relevant and it will remain in people’s lives.”
Nowhere was a tension between accessibility, the imperative to entertain an audience, and hermetic aesthetic expression better exemplified than in the afternoon performance back at the K.C. with Julie Verhoeven and fashion designer Peter Jensen. Behind two darkly lit performers with rainbow cushions affixed to their abdomens and otherwise cloaked in black with garishly made-up faces was a video projection of Jensen dancing in cobbled-together outfits while the sound track crooned “with your hand in mine the sun is gonna shine,” or wistfully pined for “forever in blue jeans.” Then came the bombastic, familiar opening bars of Coldplay’s “Yellow” and the pleasant chug of UB40’s “Red Red Wine,” cues for the performers’ slow dancing and curator Francesca Gavin’s lone voice cracking up. The piece ended with a full-screen instruction to “CLAP”; most did its bidding, while the partners in crime shuffled toward the exit. If you didn’t like performance art there was pop, and if you didn’t like pop there was art. All were welcome.