There I Belong at Statens Museum for Kunst


There I Belong is the first in a new series of exhibitions under the title SMK Plus where contemporary artists will explore the collections of the National Gallery.

For this exhibiion - Inspired by the works of the Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi who lived and worked in Copenhagen around 1900 - the artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset have collaborated with Marianne Torp and Tone Bonnén, the museum's curators of contemporary art.

Spartan interiors by Hammershøi are restrained and calm but they are enigmatic - paintings that tread a fine line between being self contained or depictions of a life of painful isolation. The paintings resonate with a contemporary audience, reflecting aspects of modern taste and restrained Scandinavian interiors.

There may be windows in these rooms but the view out to a world beyond is usually obscured by thin, translucent curtains … the natural light entering the room is crucial but a sense of place not so because these are studies in light but never put people, objects or place under a harsh spot light. Figures in the paintings are detached, generally absorbed in what they are doing, inward looking, often with their back to the viewer and in many of the paintings we do not even know if they are reading or writing or simply sitting with head bowed in quiet contemplation. Open doors indicate that there are rooms beyond but barely hint at a lived life.

Interior with the Artist's Easel, takes this to an extreme because, when painting the picture, the artist himself should be at the easel. The only conclusion has to be that there is a second easel at the point where the viewer is standing so are we the artist? Perhaps we have been co-opted into this quiet and private world but this is the ultimate antidote to that modern scourge - the selfie - where the photographer shows themselves at the centre of the scene, always the subject of the view, inevitably relegating an event or scene beyond to a secondary role.

The second gallery - a large space - shows the work Powerless Structures (8 doors) by Elmgreen & Dragset from 2000-2002. These are the most simple, basic, standard white doors imaginable, with plain white door frames but each is a variation in a theme of a detachment from the real or the functional … one door has handles and hinges on both the left and the right side so it would be impossible to open - another has a handle that is not on the door but on the wall alongside so it might or might not open - one door is slightly open to reveal a locked door immediately behind - one door is folded and wrapped around the corner of the gallery - a pair of doors on adjoining walls at another corner are separate but linked by a security chain as if someone might be able to squeeze through from a room on one side to another room without being able to get into the gallery.

This work, or a version of this work, was shown at Statens Museum for Kunst in 2015 in Biography - an ambitious set of major installations by Elmgreen & Dragset. Then, the doors were part of a corridor and a series of rooms that were in what appeared to be a government or public office building. If not obviously dystopian then the corridor was completely anonymous and designed to smother any sense of self. On entering you had a choice to go one way or the other but with no signs or notices to say where you were or why you were there although you could get a ticket from a machine to wait for your number to be called but it never would be, of course, and if you proceeded past these doors you could only return to where you started.

By now placing these doors on the four walls of a large gallery, the work takes yet another step back and pays homage to Hammershøi but expands his space until it is monumental in scale.

The exhibition includes photographs, paintings, sculptures and video by other artists - all taking the theme of doorways and spartan anonymity - with works by Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Lilianna Maresca, Francesca Woodman, Robert Gober, Annika von Hausswolff, Ugo Rondinone and Thomas Ruff. Only the work by von Hausswolff is from the museum collection with the other works either courtesy of the artist or on loan from galleries and private owners.


the exhibition at Statens Museum for Kunst / The National Gallery in Copenhagen
continues until 1 September 2019

Interior with a young woman sweeping, 1899

Interior, No 30 Strandgade, 1906-1908

Interior with the Artist’s Easel, 1910

OUT at Statens Museum for Kunst


An exhibition of work by the German artist Judith Hopf who is based in Berlin.

In part this work is about how we perceive space - how an artist can organise and manipulate space - and how we respond to space.

And it is also about materials and scale.

The main work, that you see as you enter the gallery, is a diagonal line of three Pears in brick and on a monumental scale - the largest is just under a metre high. That line is reinforced by a low brick wall cutting across the gallery at an angle. 

Untitled (Laptop Men) in polished sheet metal are identifiable as figures holding a laptop and leaning back against the gallery wall but are also like a pictogram but on a life-sized scale.

Suspended around a large video display are curtains hung from the ceiling but stopping short of the floor so you have to duck under the curtain to enter the space to see the video but your legs, from the knee down, seem to become part of the work.

OUT - the video that gives the exhibition its name - shows a high narrow block in front of the open courtyard of an apartment building with distinct features including sun shades over the balconies but, as you watch, the tall block is raised up revealing legs, again from the knees down, showing it is in fact a costume worn by a person and it is our preconceptions and clever perspective and manipulation of perspective that deceives us into seeing it as a building.

As the scene develops there is a short length of hedge on wheels and a young boy playing a full set of drums in what looks like the courtyard of an apartment building.



the exhibition continues until 30 December 2018
in X-rummet / the X room at Statens Museum for Kunst

Bagsider / Flip Sides


For the Golden Days Festival this year the theme was The B-sides of History so, for this exhibition, the curators at Statens Museum for Kunst took that literally and present the backs of paintings and drawings in their collection.

And it is fascinating.

The exhibition is relatively small and shown in an almost-square gallery space just off the Sculpture Street with views out over the park so there is pleasant natural light and it is well worth spending time here to look at the works and read the well-written and thought-provoking labels and information panels. 

A number of paintings and drawings are shown in double-sided display cases - so that you can examine both sides - but most are turned face to the wall and they are grouped under four themes:

  • process, technique and conservation

  • recycling

  • back or front?

  • traces and signs

The first group looks at materials used to make a work of art and it is fascinating to see how considerable craftsmanship went into producing the ground for the painting or drawing particularly for paintings here on panels or on planks of wood but there are also examples of important studio techniques like pricking holes in an initial drawing so that pounce or black powder could be used to either transfer the outline or to reverse the image.

Several works show how a drawing or painting could be abandoned and the other side used for a different work.

In a few examples the view of the back shows that both sides of a work were in fact to be seen - particularly for doors that covered an altarpiece that would have an image to be seen when the door was closed and a second image that was revealed when the door was open and it flanked the main central panel. However several works play clever games with that idea so a work by Cornelis Gijsbrecht is the solid door of a cabinet but painted as if it was glazed and with the contents of the cupboard as an image and with some items painted as if they were stuck to the inside of the glass. The back of the door has a painting of the back of what was stuck to the glass. One work, also by Gijsbrecht, shows what appears to be the back of a unpainted wooden frame held with wooden pegs and with nails and the back of the canvas but the whole thing is painted.

For the social historian or simply for anyone curious about how paintings can be dated and their attribution confirmed, then the back of a painting can reveal huge amounts of evidence from plausible to incongruous techniques that do or don’t tally with what the painting on the front is telling us to makers labels for the panels or canvases the artists bought ready made to the labels from auctions or the labels and notes pasted on the back by collectors or by galleries.  

the exhibition continues at Statens Museum for Kunst until 10 March 2019


The reverse of a Dutch painting - a half-length portrait of an old man painted in the late 17th century on two planks of oak. The planks include sapwood, which is unusual and the curators conclude this suggests the at the panel was not of the highest quality. Note how the edges are bevelled to hold the panel in slots on the inner edge of the frame.

If a work is to go to an exhibition with several venues so might need a more controlled environment, then the gallery produces special frames where the work is sealed in a ‘micro climate’.

A painting of Board Game Players by Pieter SymonszPotter (1597/1600-1652). On the back is a drawing of a castle or manor house and the seal of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf with the name of the artist.

Labels on the back record that the painting by Carpeaux was shown in exhibitions at the Petit Palais in Paris and the Musees de Nice.

The label on the back shows that A View from the Temple of Athena on the Acropolis from 1844 was painted by Rørbye on millboard from Robert Davy, a London frame maker and restorer, but as Rørbye is not known to have visited London then the board may have been bought from a foreign dealer and possibly while he was travelling.

A trompe l’oeil by the Flemish painter Cornelis Gijsbrecht with what appears to be a canvas in a frame but all painted.

Painting of working horses cut down and used for a new work.

Untitled work from 1945 by Asger Jorn (1914-1973) The artist had returned from Paris and his style of work was going through a period of transition so, in effect, abandoning a work to paint a new work on the back might be seen to reflect this. The photograph on the left shows the painting on the front.

Take My Breath Away - an exhibition by Danh Vo

LOG DOG, 2013


Generally, art and sculpture are not reviewed here - on a site that focuses on architecture and design - but this extensive exhibition, showing work by the artist Danh Vo from the last fifteen years, includes pieces that he has chosen from the collection of the gallery and these are presented in a way that challenges our perceptions and preconceptions and uses the architectural space extending across the lobby and the Sculpture Street of the gallery as well as the two main exhibition spaces.

Works include sculpture, furniture, Chinese pavilions in timber and artefacts including letters and photographs. It is the juxtaposition of these elements - so a television and refrigerator and a crucifix together - that tests the boundaries we impose between art works, found objects, discarded or broken art and more mundane household objects that never-the-less have strong and important personal associations.

Danh Vo was born in Vietnam in 1975 and came to Denmark with his family when he was four years old. His work explores themes of migration, colonialism and religion. In the exhibition is a chandelier that hung above the table in the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs where the treaty ending the Vietnam War was signed. He studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art in Copenhagen and at the Städelschule in Frankfurt. 

the exhibition continues at Statens Museum for Kunst until 2 December 2018


Chinese pavilions - the pavilion in the middle lobby area with the bronze sculpture It’s Just Not a Waiting Room by Danh Vo from 2013 and the pavilion in the north exhibition hall with commercial shelving used to display some of the works


Sculpture Street with statues from the Royal Cast Collection shown in groups and set on wooden pallets


Bronze from Pinault Collection

MA TI LONG, 2016
Bamboo bird cage on Roman Corinthian column

Roman torso of Venus in marble


03.01.1752, 2015
German porcelain recovered from the wreck of the trading ship Geldermalsen that sunk in the South China Sea
Set on a sandstone eagle

08.03, 28.05, 2009
Chandelier from the Hotel Majestic in Paris from above a table where the Paris Peace Accord was signed


The One and the Many by Elmgreen & Dragset


If you visit Statens Museum for Kunst - the National Gallery in Copenhagen - the only way that you can avoid looking at The One and the Many is by not actually going inside the building as this colossal installation fills the entrance hall. 

That hall rises up through two storeys with a high domed ceiling and substantial galleries running around it with a prominent modern staircase but this work, from the partnership of Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, dominates and fills the hall and pushes visitors to the edges of the space.

It is a stark, dark, grey, concrete cube representing a four-storey apartment building for social housing or, to be more straightforward, what in England would be called a council block. There is an entrance door on one side with bells and name plates but you cannot get in because there is an answer phone and no one is in apart from a young man on a mattress on the floor in his room dead to the World or worse.

Some rooms are lit and let you look into the interior through the windows … not just at the ground floor but at the upper levels from the galleries. Each room, or cell, belongs to a different tenant and each room, from its contents and furniture, hints at a back story but above all show you, the voyeur looking in, that the tenant is trapped. Not trapped in the room for only one room is actually occupied, but trapped in a life they are surviving or facing or coping with by dreaming or denying.

There is the room of an old lady, or I presume an old lady, which is spotlessly clean with carefully-washed net curtains and her knitting only just abandoned on the armchair; there is the sitting room of a man escaping by watching football on his TV with the coffee table covered in empty beer bottles and cigarette ends; a neighbour has a room set out with bland good taste but, needing drama or whatever, has the TV tuned to X-factor and, heart-wrenchingly sad, the kitchen of an immigrant from the far east with the poster of the woman they would like to be or want to look like and surrounded by everything that can be bought that is pink. Not pretty, soft pinks but harsh strong pinks.

Like a Flemish or Dutch still life, you are drawn further and further in to the scene to look at the details.

If this sounds grim it isn’t. If it sounds pretentious that’s my fault because of the way I’ve written about it. Everyone who lives in an apartment or is worried about ending up in a flat if they have to 'down size' or has aspirations to get away from mum and dad and get some independence should see this work. Anyone who tries to claim that they are not, above all, defined by what they own, should look carefully at this piece and then look around when they get home.

At some stage it is also important to watch the film in a side gallery for an interview with the artists because there you begin to understand their observational skills and the way they use what is, essentially, the stripped-back but laser-sharp viewpoint of a cartoonist but with a very real sense of humanity to create the narrative for their tenants. In doing that the artists make the viewer take stock. At one point in the film they admit that they feel as if they are outsiders but surely it takes an outsider to see what is happening in this way?

Visitors to the gallery eagerly look in through the windows or read the name plates on the entrance bells and laugh nervously about the piles of junk mail inside that no one has bothered to clear. One of the mail boxes has been forced open and left bent and un-lockable and that is in part what is brilliant about this work because just two years ago my mail box in the apartment where I was living then was broken into in just this way … it is that classic ‘shock of recognition’ that makes you feel that art has a strong message.


This is parody and there is real gentle, and mocking humour running through the ideas but what is haunting is that there is no hint of a future. That is what is grim. One window has no light but has a sign to show it is to let so new people will arrive. Is this The Hotel California? The style is hyper realism but stripped back and thin, lean and almost hungry … or is that trying to read too much into it?

I spent a lot of time watching people’s reactions. Watching parents lift up children to look in through windows, trying to judge their reactions, but who was watching me?


The One and the Many was created in 2010 and was shown at the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art in Oslo.
It will be at SMK until 4 January 2015 and is shown with two other major installations by Elmgreen & Dragset under the title Biography.