Critics’ Picks

Thomas Kilpper, Pavilion for Revolutionary Free Speech, 2012, mixed media, dimensions variable.


Thomas Kilpper

Kunsthal Charlottenborg
Nyhavn 2 Charlottenborg Udstillingsbygning
June 5 - September 5

During the so-called cartoon crisis in 2005, the then Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen characterized the publishing and support of the caricatures of the prophet Mohammed as exemplary of Denmark’s signature defense of free speech. It was clearly this nationalist branding of speaking freely that prompted the German artist Thomas Kilpper’s contribution to the internationally curated Danish pavilion at the last Venice Biennale.

Made up of large woodcuts—engraved with the likenesses of politicians, cultural personalities, businesspeople, and clergy from around the world, most of whom have made headlines for their xenophobic exclamations—in Venice the piece was strategically positioned outside, as an extension of the national showcase, and Kilpper named it a pavilion in its own right, the Pavilion for Revolutionary Free Speech. The work’s international cast of characters, as well as its placement in the Biennale’s equivalent of international waters, proposed intolerant speech as a transnational current, thereby countering the asserted patriotism of the speakers depicted while emphasizing the thinly veiled nationalism beneath the celebratory globalist gloss of the biennial format. Predictably, the contribution unleashed yet another, albeit smaller and strictly national, media controversy, since this piece featured the faces of several Danish politicians, among them Fogh Rasmussen’s.

In its current Copenhagen iteration, the wood panels placed on the floor serve as negatives for large colored prints that are hung throughout the gallery. Their impromptu designs and lettering recall the revolutionary prints of Atelier Populaire in Paris in 1968. Also included in the installation is an oversize sculpture in the shape of a bullhorn, as if an invitation for visitors to go and speak their minds. Providing amplification for a lone speaker, it allows for dissenting opinions yet also implies that one person’s unhindered expression is frequently conditioned by the silence of many others.