ARKEN - the Ark

ARKEN from the north beyond the lagoon and marina

In 1988 Søren Robert Lund, a young architecture student then in his mid 20s, won a competition to design a major new gallery for modern art in Ishøj, in a coastal park on the shore of the bay, about 15 kilometres from Copenhagen to the south west of the city. A final design was agreed in 1992 and the gallery opened in 1996.

read more


ARKEN exhibitions


The reason for a trip out to Ishøj was to take photographs of the work in progress on the landscape around ARKEN … the gallery of modern art on the foreshore. 

Really, it was a matter of just watching the weather to try and time a visit to a day when the skies were relatively clear of clouds so, oddly, no thought was given to the current exhibitions … not even as far as checking on the web site before the trip as it would be a matter of spending time around the outside of the building where there is open access. At most the plan was maybe to go in for a coffee - particularly as the day chosen turned out to be bright and clear but also very very cold.

So the exhibitions were a surprise and curiously felt like a bonus. 

Generally, although I go to a fair number of art exhibitions, they are not reviewed here … it needs a bit of effort just to keep up with the exhibitions around architecture and design … but the works by Gerda Wegener and the very very different show of sculptures by Niki Saint Phalle are certainly worth both time and effort. They certainly justify a trip out to Ishøj.

In very different ways the exhibitions are about women on the edge of society whose art shows a element of escapism … a realisation that their lives are clearly not everyday ... so about how they embraced, celebrated and expressed that realisation of difference.


Gerda Wegener was born in 1885 and died in 1940. She was a prolific illustrator as well as a painter and worked for a number of fashion magazines … then as now essentially about escape and unreality. Motifs and colours and subjects like the paintings of fast cars and travel link the style definitely to the contemporary Art Deco movement but it was also fascinating to see how closely Wegener, painting actresses and scenes like the card player in Queen of Hearts, actually had much in common with the tradition of Flemish and Dutch conversation pieces … intimate scenes far removed from formally posed portraits.

Gerda Wegener spent much of her time in France with her husband Einar Wegener and their life is very much in the spotlight now as the subject of the recent film The Danish Girl.


Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002) was a French-American artist whose work is about as far from a Vogue photo spread as it is possible to get although, in fact, when young, de Saint Phalle did work as a fashion model for Vogue.

Her sculptures are vibrant with loud strong colours and the shapes of her figures are, to put it mildly, larger than life - overblown. What comes across well in this exhibition is the huge amount of energy she had, producing works that were used for dance productions or works that filled an extensive garden landscape - The Tarot Garden in Tuscany.




On any trip out to ARKEN there’s also the chance to look again at the gold heads of the animals of the signs of Zodiac by Ai Weiwei … magical and part of the display of the permanent collection.


Gerda Wegner opened on 7 November and continues until 16th May 2016

Niki de Saint Phalle opened on 13th February and continues until 12th June 2016

a new landscape for Arken Museum of Modern Art


The trip out to Bronsby Strand to take photographs of the housing scheme was also the opportunity to revisit the art gallery at Arken to look at how new work on its landscape has progressed over the winter.

Back in 1988 a competition was held to select an architect to design a new art gallery in Ishøj to the west of Copenhagen. A design by the young architect Søren Robert Lund won and the new buildings opened in 1996. Initially, the hope had been to construct the gallery on the beach to look out over the bay but for conservation reasons it was set back behind low sand dunes between a lagoon and the Strand. The setting was stark, little more than a rather exposed and uneven area of car park.

That has all changed and in the most dramatic way with the excavation of extensive areas around the gallery which has allowed water to flow around the building and link through to an extensive area of lagoon to the west to create a new island for the gallery that can now only be reached by three new bridges or causeways. Car parking has been spread out with some along the public road to the north, where public buses also stop, some to the east and, more between the gallery and the sea and reached by a new causeway but with the cars hidden by low dunes.

Only just completed, there has been no time for sedges, grasses and trees to become established but already the transformation is little less than miraculous. Where the building looked rather stark and rather temporary, more like a boat yard than an international exhibition space, light off the water now creates shaper shadows and throws texture into relief and the structure of the restaurant across the south side, with its ribs reminiscent of the hull of a raised and stranded boat, now seems to make sense.

Inside the gallery, the entrance area to the west is flooded with reflected light from the large area of water on that side and light is reflected up into the restaurant. Now all that might be left to do, apart from allowing the natural vegetation to grow, would be to consider breaking through just a few more window openings to bring more light into the gallery spaces.


The partnership of Møller & Grønborg are the landscape architects for the new work.

above a view of the gallery before excavation work for the new areas of water from the gallery web site and (below) drawings of the entrance and of the site by Møller and Gronborg