Critics’ Picks

View of “What’s Happening?,” 2015.

View of “What’s Happening?,” 2015.


“What’s Happening?”

SMK | National Gallery of Denmark
Sølvgade 48-50
March 26–August 2, 2015

This expansive multimedia exhibition makes clear the extensive purview and inventiveness of Danish artists’ responses to the social, sexual, and political upheavals of 1965 to 1975. The show emphasizes the different ways in which artists sourced popular culture, explored the body and performance as media, adopted collective authorship, and participated in events—all as means for creating socially conscious work. Of the several experimental films that form the core of the exhibition, The Female Christ II: The Expulsion from the Temple, 1969, best integrates these concerns. It presents Bjørn Nørgaard’s iconic recording of a naked Lene Adler Petersen nonchalantly carrying a cross through the Copenhagen Stock Exchange, to the utter bewilderment of suited white brokers, in a pointed feminist infiltration of Danish commerce.

Five smaller rooms to the side of one of the galleries especially accentuate the provisional and polemical aspects of collective events. One room re-creates “The Camp,” a 1970 installation in which artists lived and worked with their children as part of “Damebilleder” (Images of Women), one of the first feminist exhibitions in the world. (It occurred in Rådskælderen, a small space at Charlottenborg by the Royal Academy of Fine Arts and at Trefoldigheden, a building near Den Frie Udstillingsbygning.) In another room, Nørgaard’s 1969 film Slump depicts an experimental settlement that undertook random creative acts. A third room presents the interdisciplinary trials of Eks-skolen, an alternative art school co-founded by Per Kirkeby and art historian Troels Andersen in 1961. The fourth room offers documentation from “Women’s Exhibition XX,” a 1975 show that included readings, discussions, and works by international artists as well as nonartists. The final room offers the sensory spaces of architect Carsten Hoff and artist Susanne Ussing. As with the exhibition as a whole, these galleries encourage visitors to contemplate the innovative nature of the original events and address afresh the questions those moments posed.