Nordic nuance

The Danish are beautiful and dirty rich. And they work hard to make art a fabulous experience

The sheen of the wooden flooring at Copenhagen airport is an apt introduction to Denmark’s well-scrubbed capital, the blonder and more chikna cousin of its European counterparts. But it is the art scene that makes September the season to engage Danes at their most evolved.

Importing the Edgy

There were hushed rumours at The National Gallery of Denmark of Bob Dylan coming to inaugurate his suite of paintings, The Brazil Series. But to distract one from this stardust, a haunting exhibition more than made up for the fact that Bob Dylan never really arrived. British artist Lindsay Seers’s customized cathedral of personal loss and colonial intrigue was hypnotic. The installation was housed in a large room, built like a miniature version of an impregnable slave fortress.

You enter a veranda in a dark room and peer into an ominous porthole screening a documentary, It Has To Be This Way 2. The artist’s mother abandoned her to marry an Englishman in Ghana, who, Seers later realized, was a diamond smuggler. Her stepsister, with whom Seers shared a kink for the occult, moved to Rome to pursue further studies, only to disappear after being embroiled in a relationship with a darkly enigmatic Swede named ‘S’, who also is later declared dead or missing.

Lindsay Seers has recreated the ravaging and disconcerting account of not one but two losses: a mother who deserts her family to set up home in the dark, colonial cesspool of West Africa; and the disturbing repercussions of the unsolved vanishing of her stepsister, all with imperial corruption as a bleak backdrop. Her mother’s raspy baritone as the voiceover further lends a chilling, Hitchcockian edge to this gothic misdemeanour. Nobody missed Dylan.


An hour’s drive from Copenhagen takes you to Louisiana, a superbly landscaped museum of modern art, which overlooks the placid bay that separates Denmark from Sweden. Louisiana is so charming that many Copenhagenites make a day trip of it; with posh cafes serving world-class cuisine and seminal art works carefully curated by its erudite staff, this is the picnic to plan if you visit Denmark.


Separated by undulating swathes of lawn were exhibitions featuring the works of American brat Andy Warhol, German superstar Anselm Kiefer and French femme fatale Sophie Calle. Recalling the horrific excesses of the Third Reich, Kiefer’s canvases are magnified mechanisms that invoke the melancholic aftertaste of Armageddon and xenophobia. The riveting canvases seem composed of the debris from the human proclivity to self-destruct: it makes for essential viewing in our troubled times.

Sophie Calle, in turn, uses personal details from her life to make art. When her lover broke up with her via a letter, Calle printed this letter and took it to 107 female professionals (dancers, psychologists, handwriting experts, even a clown) to interpret what he might have meant. The result is a massive exhibition in a sprawling room chock-a-block with photographs, reports, videos and graphics, which collectively amplify this breakup into a private holocaust that Calle has publicly conquered with remarkable poise.

Your martini is mine

The meat packing district of Copenhagen was once its most notorious, with the usual star cast of hookers, pimps, junkies and lags. But a massive restoration initiative over the past two decades has made it one of the coolest hangouts in town, with artists and upwardly mobile professionals shifting to this hip neighbourhood, nestled in which are some funky bars and cutting-edge art experiences.

Karriere Bar is one such marvel of how political will can transform even the roughest quarter into a cultural hub. Founded by artist Jeppe Hein and his sister Lærke Hein, the bar believes in making art a part of a social space shared by a broad audience. Everything here, from the lamps to the toilets, is a concept designed by acclaimed artists. Sample this: to facilitate socializing, for instance, the bar at Karriere actually moves like a conveyor belt, albeit at a much gentler pace.

So if you leave your drink unattended for 10 minutes, it will have shifted to the next person! “This facilitates an automatic conversation between patrons, adding to the friendly cheer. Because you can’t just ask a person, ‘Can you give me my drink back?’” says Jeppe Hein.  Make sure you plant your martini next to a dishy Dane. Because in wonderful Copenhagen there are many.

Posted in Mumbai Mirror on 26 September 2010.

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