Denmark: Double Agendas

By Hansen, Malene Vest | Art Journal, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

Denmark: Double Agendas


Hansen, Malene Vest, Art Journal


Denmark could be described as a small kingdom, a fairly homogenous democratic society with 5.3 million inhabitants, and a welfare state in which women have had "equal" rights for years and in which access to education, healthcare, and pensions is free and universal. However, change is taking place. People from other cultures have become a more visible part of society, and their presence has brought into focus cultural values. The growing importance of the European Union, of which Denmark is a member, has challenged notions of democracy and national identity. And everyday life has been transformed with the influx of the international media, especially television. But in spite of the internationalization of Danish culture and society, a certain notion of the particular is still evident-a particularity produced by the fact that the population is small, that the language has so few speakers, and that there is a continuous oscillation between the sense of being both at the center of a specific local culture and on the periphery of global culture in general.

In Copenhagen, the center of the Danish art scene, international developments are more accessible than ever through exhibitions, publications, and personal contacts. Like their colleagues in other countries, Danish artists experiment with a range of mediums (video is especially popular) and have tended to shun the creation of aesthetic objects for private contemplation for projects that investigate social and psychological issues and engage in institutional critiques. Nevertheless, exhibitions such as The Scream (i996), with its Nordic focus, and The Louisiana Exhibition (1997), with its regional one, have more or less openly asserted the relevance of a specific local point of reference (fig.1). Although some artists do work with local references, the question of the existence of a local dialect is a subject of debate-a question addressed in more detail in the two conversations that follow. The first is with Lars Nittve (Swedish by nationality), currently director of the Tate Gallery of Modern Art in London and formerly director of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art near Copenhagen, an institution that has framed generations of young Danes' first encounters with modern and contemporary art. The second is with the artists Niels Bonde, Joachim Koester, and Ann Lislegaard (Norwegian by nationality). Both Nittve and these artists share an outlook that is both local and decidedly international in scope.

Lars Nittve

Vest Hansen: As the director of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, you presented very contemporary international art in exhibitions such as NowHere (I996). And in exhibitions such as Louisiana Udstillingen: Ny Kunst fra Danmark og Skone/The Louisiana Exhibition: New Art from Denmark and Scandia (1997), which inaugurated a new regional quadrennial, you focused on contemporary regional art. Why did you make this new commitment to regional art?

Nittve: I see the quadrennial as a service for artists and viewers in the region. The contemporary art infrastructure here is relatively weak. There are some good, but small and short-lived, galleries run by artists and a few commercial galleries. If you are interested in contemporary art, it isn't easy to see what is happening right now. That's why we decided to inaugurate the quadrennial. The museum didn't do so until recently because previously there had not been a serious interest in regional art.

Vest Hansen: The museum's current interest in the regional reflects a broader trend.

Nittve: The idea of an "international" language of art has been contested. This language never really was international. It was always dominated by a certain tendency, be it French or American, which set the agenda and defined the international. But now the strong center, Paris and then New York, has lost importance to a series of local centers. However, whether it is possible to be local or regional as a visual artist in the international arena is a difficult question. …

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