The Shows to See in Copenhagen During Chart

With the fair now on, a guide to the best exhibitions to see in the Danish capital

BY Francesca Gavin in Critic's Guides | 29 AUG 19

‘Superflex’, 2019, exhibition view, Cisternerne, Frederiksberg. Courtesy: the artists and Cisternerne, Frederiksberg; photograph: Torben Eskerod

SUPERFLEX, ‘It is not the end of the world’
16 March – 30 November

Danish collective SUPERFLEX follow Jeppe Hein in the creation of an installation in the moist, dark recesses of Copenhagen’s fascinating former cisterns. ‘It is not the end of the world’, invites the viewer to enter a dystopian future set in a climate-ravaged city. Waterproof footwear is obligatory to enter the space and can be borrowed on site. The installation brings together two of the group’s recurring motifs: flooding as used in their 2009 film Flooded McDonald’s, and painstakingly recreated functionless copies of institutional toilets, here from the headquarters of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn, Germany. The work continues the collective’s fascination with structures of power, economy and globalisation, encouraging active intervention rather than passive observation.

Matthew Ronay, Succuloid, 2019, basswood, dye, gouache, flocking, plastic, steel, 58 × 41 × 38 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Nils Stærk, Copenhagen

Matthew Ronay, ‘Polypastoraline’
Nils Staerk
28 August – 19 October

Matthew Ronay’s fifth solo show with Nils Staerk focuses on a new series of basswood abstract sculptures. Ronay structured the exhibition’s title ‘Polypastoraline’ etymologically to allude to a multiplicity of rural references. His reinterpretation of the pastoral questions the bucolic serenity of the 17th century in the context of the more disturbing toxic environment of the near future, distorted rather than enhanced by human intervention. His assemblages resemble warped coral reefs in chemical hues, their curved and pitted forms worn and twisting from acidic influences. These organisms inhabit a place between the organic and technological, simultaneously inviting and repulsive.

Elmgreen & Dragset, Powerless Structures (8 doors), 2000-2002, installation view, SMK National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen. Courtesy: the artists and SMK National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen; photograph: Anders Sune Berg

Elmgreen & Dragset, There I Belong. Hammershøi
SMK National Gallery of Denmark
27 April – 1 September

Shahryar Nashat, ‘Start Begging’
SMK National Gallery of Denmark
29 August – 29 December

With their current exhibition at SMK, artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset pay homage to the melancholic, grey interiors of Danish 19th-century painter Vilhelm Hammershøi by contextualising his work alongside contemporary artists. Co-curated with the SMK’s Marianne Torp and Tone Bonnén, the show puts Hammershøi’s paintings in a detached, cold Elmgreen & Dragset interior installation, alongside works by Robert Gober, Monica Bonvicini and Louise Bourgeois amongst others. These works emphasise the silence, absence and emotional hollow at the heart of both Hammershøi and Elmgreen & Dragset’s own practice. Intimate and pained, tragic and alienating, the result highlights that a bourgeois home is not a happy one.

Concurrently at SMK, Shahryar Nashat is opening his exhibition ‘Start Begging’, a co-commission with New York’s Swiss Institute. The artist is transforming the gallery space into a fleshy, filtered pink environment. Within this bodily setting, an LED wall plays Keep Begging (2019), a pixelated video of the inner arm between the elbow and armpit shot in extremely close, hairy, pore-filled detail. This is accompanied by the papier-mâché sculpture sprayed with pink automotive paint Start to Beg (2019) and other sculptural elements. The kink titles and tension between material and the body are not accidental.

Tal R, Pokal, rosa maske, ugle, tirsdag og dådyr (Cup, pink mask, owl, Tuesday and deer), 2019, oil on canvas, 90 × 115 × 6 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Galleri Bo Bjerggaard 

Tal R, ‘Smukke dreng’ 
Galleri Bo Bjerggaard
28 August – 19 October 

The latest exhibition by Copenhagen-based artist Tal R, ‘Smukke dreng’ (Beautiful Boy), is routed in the artist’s own autobiography. The show focuses on a survey of 20 oil paintings and 50 drawings. These more private images depict stylised portraits of his family and friends within his home, and some of the objects he lives with. The paintings – all created within the last two years – reveal a move to a darker, moodier palette. There is a classicism to Tal’s work, in particular to his still lifes, with James Ensor-like objects like Chinese lanterns, masks and vases. Many of his figures are lying down, curled up on day beds and surprisingly intimate. This glimpse into his private life is emphasised by two films shot by his wife Emma Rosenzweig that show his children and the artist’s hands as he sets up a still life.

Wu Tsang, Into a Space of Love, 2018, video still. Courtesy: the artist, Frieze and GUCCI

Wu Tsang, ‘Diversity is Reality’
Copenhagen Contemporary
20 June – 10 November

‘Diversity is Reality’ brings together two films that top and tail Wu Tsang’s career, highlighting her shifting approach to identity, visibility and the appropriation of culture. The manifesto-like Shape of a Right Statement (2008) features the artist singing a text by autism rights activist Amanda Baggs to camera in a club context. Here the emphasis is on language and its limitations as a mode of real communication. Her later work Into A Space Of Love (2018) is a more essayistic examination of the underground house music scene in New York, focusing on the appropriation of house’s queer and black past and present. The music genre is positioned as a location for alternative and arguably spiritual communities. Performance in both these films becomes a vehicle to explain historical narratives and resistance.

Pipilotti Rist, Pixelwald (Mutterschiff) [Pixel Forest (Motherboard)] , 2016, installation view, New Museum, New York. Courtesy: the artist, Hauser & Wirth, Zurich/London/New York/Los Angeles/Hong Kong/St. Moritz/Somerset and Luhring Augustine, New York; photograph: EPW Studio 

Pipilotti Rist, ‘Open My Glade’
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
1 March – 22 September

‘Open My Glade’ is immersive artist Pipilotti Rist’s first retrospective in Scandinavia. Underlying the show is the artist’s desire to rethink the museum as an empathetic space to share emotion and knowledge. Here her sensory, psychedelic works move video into a more painterly space, with wall paintings, projection works and LED pieces including the jungle of hanging pink light chains that forms Pixel Forest (Motherboard) (2016). While the visitor actively has to move through the installation, the film 4th Floor to Mildness (2016) can be viewed while lying on a bed. The film leads us into the Rhine river where we can watch aquatic plants move in muddy water and listen to the mellow voice of Austrian singer Soap&Skin. The show extends to the museum garden with Hiplights (or Enlightened Hips) (2011) consisting of hanging lines of illuminated laundry that join Henry Moore’s public sculptures.

Main image: Wu Tsang, Into a Space of Love, 2018, video still. Courtesy: the artist, Frieze and GUCCI

Francesca Gavin is a writer, curator and Contributing Editor for Kaleidoscope and Twin, based in London, UK.