Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The ridiculous to the sublime....

We all really enjoyed visiting Copenhagen. It’s a very friendly place, especially when you have children in tow, with an impressive mix of old and new buildings.  On one of the days we visited we took a boat tour around the city which I would recommend. It’s a great way to get a better sense of the place and how things relate to each other. When we were with Jamie we discussed places to visit over an open map. ‘You want to avoid this place, though’, he said taking out a pen and scribbling intently on a spot on the map. ‘It’s full of tourists, and is the site of the most horrible, horrible sculpture!’  He was of course, talking about the famous Little Mermaid sculpture in Copenhagen Harbour! Jamie thought it was a dreadful piece of art and told with some relish how it had twice been decapitated, once by an artist who shared a similar sense of outrage at this popular tourist attraction that seems to grace most guide book covers. I couldn’t help laughing to myself as we passed it a couple of days later on our boat tour.
Louisiana Museum Of Modern Art
A twenty minute drive up the coastline out of Copenhagen took you to the Louisiana Museum Of Modern Art, which must be the best located art gallery I’ve ever visited. It is based right on the coastline, with spectacular views across the North Sea from the wonderful sculpture garden or the café. It was very exhilarating, and the continual views of the ocean that we had all week in Denmark from places like this, but also as we drove along the coastline, and the days we had at the beach (which I’ll get to) are one of my abiding memories I have of this region and one of my key inspirations.
The Louisiana was exhibiting a rarely seen installation by one of my favourite sculptors, Ed Keinhoz, called ‘Five Car Stud’ (above). In this violent and disturbing piece the viewer walks into a large, darkened room illuminated only by the headlights of four cars and a pick-up truck surrounding a horrific scene of a group of white men castrating a black man as his white girlfriend watches. The figures are life-size mannequins wearing masks and you are eyeball to eyeball with these characters as you enter and walk around the scene , making you feel uncomfortably complicit in it, which is the point. Floating letters in an oil pan on the victim’s chest spell out the word ‘nigger’. Kienholz’s aesthetic is as uncompromisingly bitter as Goya’s. People are mean and stupid, and things don’t get better.

 It was the best thing I’d seen in a long time, and it is terrible to think that until it’s recent restoration by his widow, Nancy Kienholz it had been rotting in the collection of some wealthy Japanese collector. This was art with something real to say and one couldn’t help thinking how much the Chapman Brothers must owe to Kienholz, and yet they seem to be stuck in a trap of increasingly banal, ‘conceptual’ shocks in their own work that seem empty and meaningless beyond an art world audience. Kienholz’s work reaches far beyond this and that is one of the reasons it is so powerful. The visceral experience of exhibitions like this are a welcome reminder you of what can be so exciting about modern and contemporary art at its best. 


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