Mathias Toubro Props Up the Artists’ Bar

A solo exhibition at Lagune Ouest, Copenhagen, takes a nostalgic look at the favoured haunt of Danish intellectuals

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BY Alice Godwin in Exhibition Reviews | 31 JAN 24

When it opened its doors in 1984, Café Krasnapolsky embodied the cultural zeitgeist of 1980s Copenhagen. Clad in cement, steel and glass, the New York-style cafe quickly became the favoured haunt of writers such as Poul Borum and Carsten Jensen who, alongside a host of Danish artists and intellectuals, could often be found propping up the distinctive oval bar, vying to see and be seen. For ‘Showers’, his solo exhibition at Lagune Ouest, Mathias Toubro has conjured the memory of this legendary space, transposing the bar’s essence into the minimalist, white cube gallery. It’s a restrained appraisal that avoids garish re-enactment, but whose elusive signposts might leave some visitors mystified.

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Mathias Toubro, ‘Showers’, 2024, exhibition view, Lagune Ouest, Copenhagen. Courtesy: the artist and Lagune Ouest, Copenhagen; photograph: Malle Madsen

Nodding to the video art and installations that continually occupied Krasnapolsky, for instance, are three old-fashioned televisions. All three screen the film Ventilator (2024), which riffs on the ventilator sign and logo that Icelandic-Danish artist, and former Krasnapolsky employee, Olafur Eliasson placed in the cafe’s windows for his first solo exhibition in 1991. Ventilator recalls the endless stream of 1990s MTV and features a soundless music video in which one band member wears the same drooping ears as the satyr in Matthew Barney’s Cremaster 4 (1994). Nearby, Wet Spectre (2024) – a wall-based sculpture mirroring the cafe’s oval bar – is etched with pencil lines that echo the rhythmic geometries of Agnes Martin’s canvases.

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Mathias Toubro, Wet Spectre, 2024, oil, pencil, bees wax on MDF, 1.3 × 2.1 m. Courtesy: the artist and Lagune Ouest, Copenhagen; photograph: Malle Madsen

It would take an uninformed viewer a considerable leap to make those connections, but perhaps that is the point. Toubro weaves these references into the quiet fabric of the white-walled gallery to draw attention away from the romantic tales of Krasnapolsky and towards the conceptual role of the bar as a meeting place for artists and an extension of their studios. Certainly, Toubro is not bound by actual history – neither Martin not Barney ever drank at Krasnapolsky. Instead, these allusions to art history are playful, if a little arbitrary perhaps, and stop short of explaining why these particular artists are cited or what, if any, influence such bars may have had upon their practice.

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Mathias Toubro, ‘Showers’, 2024, exhibition view, Lagune Ouest, Copenhagen. Courtesy: the artist and Lagune Ouest, Copenhagen; photograph: Malle Madsen

In the past, Toubro has used painting as a vehicle to explore this same subject, quoting famous hangouts like Antico Caffè Greco in Rome (Cigarettes, Beads, Matches (Antico Caffè Greco, Rome), 2022) and Les Deux Magots in Paris (Au Deux Megots, Spring in Paris 3, 2023). There are four new paintings at Lagune Ouest, all Shower Suite (2024), which are displayed in makeshift booths. They subtly reference details from Krasnapolsky: close-ups of metal beer taps, stacked ashtrays and kitchen pans in found photographs that Toubro has cut up and reassembled then layered with paint and physical elements to create sculptural reliefs. The result is an amalgamation of reality and painterly illusion, punctuated by a greyish mist that binds these elements together. The fog, like a steamed-up bathroom mirror, creates a marked distance between viewer and painting that – in contrast to Ventilator – plays into the mythology of Krasnapolsky and the reverie of the artist bar.

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Mathias Toubro, Shower Suite 4, oil, bees wax and MDF on photo paper mounted on wooden board, 69 × 102 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Lagune Ouest, Copenhagen; photograph: Malle Madsen

In his 2002 essay ‘Modernism, Postmodernism and Steam’, T.J. Clark argues that depictions of steam in 19th century painting represented the vestiges of ‘power and possibility’ that quickly becomes antiquated. ‘It is a figure of nostalgia,’ he continues, ‘for a future, or a sense of futurity, that the modern age had at the beginning but could never make come to pass’. In its purposeful obscuration, Toubro’s nebulous mist casts its own sense of nostalgia over Krasnapolsky, accentuating the artist’s apparent resolve to not actualize creative spaces but, rather, to leave hints of their importance hanging in the clouds. The question is whether this subject provides rich enough conceptual ground to sustain our interest beyond the romantic haze.

Mathias Toubro’s ‘Showers’ is on view at Lagune Ouest, Copenhagen, until 17 February

Main image: Mathias Toubro, Shower Suite 4 (detail), oil, bees wax and MDF on photo paper mounted on wooden board, 69 × 102 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Lagune Ouest, Copenhagen; photograph: Malle Madsen

Alice Godwin is an arts writer, editor and researcher based in Copenhagen, Denmark

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