Din ting - vores historie / Your thing - our history 

Thirty objects have been chosen to show trends or mark events that have had an impact and that, in some ways, might represent life in Denmark over the 17 years since the beginning of this century. 

Fifteen objects are from the collection of the museum - important because it makes the point that this is a national museum that is not just about a distant or remote past but is relevant now and looks at the full social and political history of the country through the artefacts it collects because history can be as close as yesterday.

Fifteen objects were selected by a committee from objects suggested by the public. Again this is important because academic staff might feel that they are ‘across’ the major trends of contemporary life and culture but it always helps to get a broad viewpoint. After all, the idea of diversity or at least open discussion about diversity is itself an aspect of life in most modern democracies.

Very few of the objects are what would be defined as design pieces - if your definition of design follows what is seen in design museums or design magazines - but again this exhibition reinforces the most general principle that all man-made objects are designed. They have to be, even if the design is kept in the mind as work starts, and any commercial object that is industrially produced has to be designed - has to be contrived. A manufactured object might not be beautiful or it might not be good design but designed it is.

What is interesting, with these thirty objects, is that many are utilitarian so make life easier and can be game changing or life changing. Included would be the single-cup coffee maker that uses capsules of fresh coffee - OK not exactly life saving but pretty important to some of us - along with an NEM ID card for online security; a pair of trainers, and a trailer used to take rubbish to the recycling centre at weekends. 

The trailer is evidence of distinct social change but also change that is overtly political as people try, as individuals, to tackle the threat of climate change by sorting their rubbish.

There is also an iPhone from Apple - not to show the achievements of recent advances in technology but it is an ‘old’ model from 2011, cracked and, despite it’s initial cost, just given away to a charity shop. Nearby is a purse that is not here to represent money but here because its owner thought it is now redundant with the rapid movement towards a cashless society.

In fact, a surprising number of the objects reflect what has been dramatic and, in some instances, traumatic political and social change in Denmark through the first years of this century. 

  • there is a cobble or stone sett thrown in street fighting in 2007 when police cleared protestors from Ungdomshuset, the Youth House, in Jagtvej in Nørrebro when the building was demolished  

  • a full-length red evening dress worn to get into a formal dinner for the UN Climate Change Conference in 2009 so a banner could be unfurled as a protest

  • sweets and packaging from Malaco because when the confectionary factory in Scalgelse was closed, when production was moved to Slovakia, it had a huge impact on the community

  • a school assessment form included to show how much pressure there is now on children to achieve top grades and also, and in some ways related, capsules for anti depressants and a roughly made market stall with the sign ‘Ryg med hjem’ or ‘Hash to Go’ from Pusher Street in Christiania

  • glass from Krudttønden - the community centre in Serridslevvej - that was shattered by a bullet when a meeting about Freedom of Speech was attacked before the perpetrator went on to attack the synagogue in the centre of the city

  • a fake road sign that was set up in Thisted in 2016 to show the direction for migrants and asylum seekers to go to get home

Some objects are intensely personal but reflect much wider social issues so there is a wig worn by a patient undergoing treatment for cancer.

Some of the objects were chosen to represent more vague concepts or ideas that are actually important to people … so there was a small Danish flag - the Dannebrog seen at so many events and in so many homes - and a book about hygge along with  the suit worn by the first Danish astronaut and a football shirt worn by Nadia Nadim with pictures of the successful Danish Women's European Championship team …. so all about a quiet, generally undemonstrative, pride that Danes feel for their country.

There are comments by people about each object - far from all being positive - and around the exhibition are bound booklets with these comments and details of the exhibition in English. Well worth reading. 

If you want to try to begin to understand what it is to be Danish in the 21st century then a good starting point is this brilliant exhibition.

the exhibition continues at Nationalmuseet / National Museum of Denmark
Prinsens Palæ, Ny Vestergade 10, 1471 Copenhagen K


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.