Pint-Sized Copenhagen is Overflowing with Art
It takes about 35 minutes to cycle across Copenhagen—a compact, winsome Scandinavian city edged by the cerulean waters of the Øresund strait. Thronged by fellow bikers (almost 40 percent of Københavners mount bicycles as a means of daily transport), an especially ambitious route might take you past no less than 20 museums, 15 Michelin starred restaurants, and a smattering of trees, canals, and harbors flanked by thoughtfully designed public space (think Danish modern, burst open and en plein air).
Having been named the most liveable city in the world two years running, it’s no wonder that Copenhagen is making a name for itself when it comes to creative output. The people are happy, the government is supportive, and the museums, galleries, artist-run spaces, and residences—not to mention a transcendent culinary scene—are plentiful and multiplying.
On the eve of CHART, Copenhagen’s three-year-old art fair set to host a strong showing of Nordic galleries in the palatial Kunsthal Charlottenborg, we map a city brimming with artistic potency. Below, Peter Amby, founder of Last Resort gallery; Jens-Peter Brask, curator and collector; Marie Kølbæk Iversen, artist; Mathias Ussing Seeberg, curator at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art; and Maria Kjær Themsen, curator and critic, lead us through their favorite art haunts and watering holes, neighborhood by neighborhood.
Indre By/City Center
Copenhagen’s center, Indre By, boasts the city’s highest concentration of museums, galleries, restaurants, and cultural treasures, all nestled between a string of lakes to the west and a harbor to the east.
At the heart, and just at the base of the district’s picturesque Nyhavn Canal is Kunsthal Charlottenborg, one of the capital’s most loved contemporary museums. Built in 1672 for the illegitimate son of Denmark’s King Frederik III, the sprawling space now houses a program of progressive exhibitions along with CHART. This fall Charlottenborg hosts TRUST, a much-anticipated project spanning five revered institutions, all reimagined by curator Sonia Dermience. “She has given the institutions new names during the exhibition period,” said Themsen. “I think the Copenhagen art scene will experience something it has never before seen,” with works by contemporary artists from A Kassen to Nina Beier to Ilja Karilampi to Atalay Yavuz on display in the five-part show.
When on a trip to Charlottenborg, don’t miss Atelier September for breakfast, lunch, or an artfully composed coffee. Owned by Frederik Bille-Brahe, formerly of Saison (the now-shuttered hub for the culinary elevation of the vegetable) the young, dashing chef brings the same rapture for simple ingredients to his new project. Or grab lunch just down the road at Holberg No. 19, “a great corner café with good coffee, tapas, and lunch, and quality wine all served in a cozy and laid-back atmosphere by its owner, New York actor Tom Hale,” according to Iversen.
After lunch, swing by one of the neighborhood’s many galleries. Among them is Amby’s Last Resort, a small, luminous space, which serves as a platform for an international set of emerging artists. (Look out for projects with L.A.’s Michael Manning and New York’s James Viscardi this fall.) A short walk away, visit Andersen's Contemporary for work by globally recognized Danish artists like Olafur Eliasson and Albert Mertz, along with creatives working outside Scandinavia—a show of German painter Thilo Heinzmann’s new work opens mid-August. For a rich sampling of work by primarily contemporary Danish artists, don’t miss Galleri Susanne Ottesen, Martin Asbæk Gallery, and Galleri Tom Christoffersen.
For a design fix, head to Etage Projects, a gallery-cum-workshop where exhibitions are complemented by lectures and publications in support of an interdisciplinary approach to design. Up now is Danish artist/designer FOS, who crafts surrealist, biomorphic furniture and fixtures, followed by a presentation of Stockholm-based Fredrik Paulsen’s new collection. Up the road, visit Galleri Feldt for Danish modern and, this month, work by early 20th-century cabinetmakers A. J. Iversen, Thorald Madsen, Niels Vodder, and Christensen & Larsen. Circling back to the center of town, Designmuseum Denmark houses an extensive collection of Danish design and applied arts in a stunning Rococo building that was once King Frederik’s Hospital.
As a post-art pick me up, take a seat at Sing Tehus, a favorite of Kølbæk Iversen, for “matcha tea and fermented Korean herbal infusions.” Or, for an early evening glass of wine (all biodynamic), settle down at the subterranean Den Vandrette Vinbar, a few steps off Nyhavn canal.
When it comes to dinner in the center of town, Amby’s favorite is Pluto: “I call it my living room and if you visit it is very likely that you will find me there. Their food is delicious and it is also a good place to go for drinks, later in the evening.” Or try the recently opened Taller for mouthwatering, gorgeously composed Venezuelan inspired plates. “I am almost certain that they will get a Michelin star,” predicted Amby.
For post dinner drinks, try Balderdash, a nook where “a New York bartender puts his own spin on cocktails in Copenhagen, in a space that embodies hyggelig (the Danish philosophy/pursuit of coziness),” said American-born, Copenhagen-based chef Nick Curtin. For a more casual drink, stop by the city’s favorite dive—in local parlance, a “bodega”—Palæ Bar, where the smoke is thick and young, creative types teem.
around The King's Gardens
Stroll through the King’s Gardens, on the north side of Indre By, where you’ll find the national museum, Statens Museum for Kunst (SMK), situated within the perfectly manicured oasis. In October, a retrospective of Danish golden age artist Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg’s radiant paintings headlines the program. Also keep an eye out for SMK’s X-rummet, “the museum’s experimental venue for contemporary art, curated by the savvy Marianne Torp,” hinted Kølbæk Iversen.
Down the park’s flower-lined paths, visit the Botanical Garden and Geological Museum, a source of inspiration for local artists. For a midday break just outside the park, drop by Coffee Collective, boasting the city’s best baristas and “probably the best coffee, period, end of sentence,” said Curtin. “Incredible sourcing, roasting, and brewing with zero pretense. Three locations—but it isn’t enough. When you leave Copenhagen, you will beg for a Coffee Collective IV drip.” Or try at taco at Hija de Sanchez, where former Noma pastry chef Rosio Sanchez offers up “freshly made masa tortillas, classic fillings (with the occasional, subtle spin), and a list of rotating guest chefs that would make the Michelin Guide blush,” advised Curtin.
After lunch, take a turn around the lakes, “one of Copenhagen’s oldest topographical features, dating back to the Middle Ages, when they were built as motes for the city’s defense, and now attracting hordes of joggers,” said Kølbæk Iversen.
Around Slotsholmen and Tivoli
On the Southern end of Indre By, spend a day touring a diverse array of museums. On the contemporary end, explore Nikolaj Kunsthal, focused on socially and politically driven work, or Kunstforeningen GL STRAND.
A short walk across a small bridge leads to Slotsholmen Island, where you’ll find the Christiansborg Palace and its sky-high tower, Tårnet, “one of the best places to get an idea of the size of Copenhagen and its beautiful architecture,” noted Brask.
A stone’s throw from there, the transportive Thorvaldsens Museum, “a mausoleum for the most famous Danish artist ever, Bertel Thorvaldsen, is one of the best and most overlooked museums in Copenhagen,” noted Ussing Seeberg. Afterward, make your way to Ny Carlsberg Glyptoteket, founded by Carlsberg beer’s Carl Jacobsen in 1888, where you’ll find a trove of antiquities and the best of Danish and French art from the 19th and 20th centuries—including a unique slice of Man Ray’s output, currently on view in “Human Equations.”
For a plate of traditional Danish fare, try Grøften in Tivoli Park. Or for an updated take on Nordic cuisine—and wide angle views of the city—ride the elevator up to Alberto K, “on the top floor of the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, which was designed and fitted by famous Danish designer and architect Arne Jacobsen in the 1950s,” noted Kølbæk Iversen.
Just a short walk from the city center is Vesterbro. Once the red light district, it’s now the stomping ground for Copenhagen’s creative set. In factories where beer was once bottled and prime meat was packed, artists, designers, and chefs hobnob at shared studios, galleries, and cafés.
In Meatpacking, a small subsection of Vesterbro, some of the city’s best galleries and restaurants sit cheek to jowl. One of the Copenhagen’s oldest commercial spaces, Galleri Bo Bjerggaard, moved from Indre By to the up-and-coming district in 2007, towing work by the likes of Tal R and John Kørner—and encouraging others to follow. Just across the street, V1 Gallery shows contemporary artists from across the globe, and this fall presents new work by Danish artist Rose Eken in “Tableau,” where she has crafted the diverse trappings of artists’ studios completely in ceramic. Follow a gallery tour with a burger at Juicy Burger or local seafood at Kødbyens Fiskebar.
A sprawling campus of 19th-century factories that, until 2008, housed the Carlsberg breweries now provides the framework for a strong network of studios, galleries, and experimental spaces. “I work in my studio at the former Carlsberg breweries,” said Kølbæk Iversen, “now home to a host of artist-run initiatives including OK Corral, New Shelter Plan, and my personal favorite, Officin, a combined publishing house, exhibition space, and workshop, founded and run by my long-time friend and collaborator Louise Hold Sidenius.”
Around the corner, Nils Stærk and Nicolai Wallner are housed in large-scale warehouse spaces that encourage ambitious exhibitions. “When it comes to the galleries, I always attend Nils Stærk’s gallery—he has a conceptual, minimalistic style I really like,” noted Brask. “He also represents my all time favorite Danish painter Michael Kvium, who was the first artist I bought for my collection.” At Wallner, look out for Alexander Tovborg’s new paintings in “myten er en tilstand (myth is a state),” opening mid-August.
Frederiksberg/Bispebuen, Nørrebro, and Østerbro
A fast expanding creative community calls for new frontiers, and the Bispebuen district in Frederiksberg is being hailed as the city’s newest art district. This fall, galleries David Risley and Christian Andersen move to spaces in the area with inaugural shows by Spencer Anthony (a pseudonym of Ryan Gander) and Allan Nicolaisen, Robert Kjær Clausen, and Steffen Jorgensen, respectively.
In Nørrebro, don’t miss Retna’s towering mural, one of three scattered throughout Copenhagen in a project organized by Brask and unveiled this summer. Next summer, look out for Kenny Scharf’s contribution to Brask’s ongoing mural effort.
While you’re there, amble through Assistens Cemetery, where Copenhagen’s best and brightest are buried—among them, author Hans Christian Andersen, physicist Niels Bohr, and philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.
Christianshavn and Holmen
Just across the narrow harbor from the city center, arrive in Christianshavn by water bus and start your day at The Apartment, an art and design showroom that resembles the Airbnb of your dreams—a deftly curated medley of modern and contemporary furniture, rugs, and objets d’art trims the space. After, spend an hour at Edition Copenhagen, a lithographic workshop that has been producing special edition prints with artists since 1959, or stop by Overgaden, an institution focussing on experimental solo shows by contemporary artists, where another facet of TRUST opens this fall.
Take an afternoon dip at Harbor Baths—the water of Copenhagen’s harbor is so clean that swimming is encouraged—then head to Copenhagen Street Food, a consortium of food trucks serving up locally sourced fare by the water’s edge.
Or, for a more refined meal, head to Noma, widely considered to be the best restaurant in the world. “The success of Noma has made a ‘food revolution’ here,” explained Amby, “and Michelin restaurants are popping up everywhere, run by ex-Noma staff.”
Walk off the five-star feast with a tour through Freetown Christiania, the self-governed, green, car-free community (some call it a commune, some call it utopia).
Just a short drive or train ride away, you’ll find even more museums that shouldn’t be missed—first and foremost, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. One hour by train from the city center, an airy, Bauhaus-inspired structure built in 1958 perches on a cliff overlooking the sea. Outside, Calder sculptures dot the expansive skyline and announce the cache of superlative Picassos, Lichtensteins, and Giacomettis arranged behind Louisiana’s floor-to-ceiling windows. Contemporary work by international artists is also on view. On deck this fall: “Peter Doig,” “Louisiana on Paper: Terry Winters,” “Africa: Architecture, Culture, and Identity,” and a Yayoi Kusama retrospective set to include several never-before-seen works.
Other progressive institutions include Malmö Konsthall, in Sweden, a brief train ride across the strait; ARKEN Museum of Modern Art, an institution known equally for its contemporary art collection and its stunning maritime-inspired architecture; ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum; and HEART Herning Museum of Contemporary Art.
Lead image: photo by Jacob Schjørring & Simon Lau, courtesy www.copenhagenmediacenter.com.