In a new exhibition at the SMK National Gallery of Denmark, the artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset explores the idea of ‘home’ while taking their starting point in one of their great sources of inspiration: the Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi.
Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset have long been fascinated by the works of Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864–1916), whose works occupy a central position in Danish art history and in the SMK collection. The artist duo has a particularly abiding interest in some of Hammershøi’s most iconic recurring motifs from the painter’s own home: interior scenes depicting half-empty rooms arranged en suite, full of open and closed doors, painted in melancholic grey tones.
Now, Elmgreen & Dragset have joined SMK’s curators Marianne Torp and Tone Bonnén in organising the exhibition: There I Belong. Hammershøi by Elmgreen & Dragset, where Hammershøi’s paintings of nineteenth-century homes are re-contextualized with the positions of a number of international contemporary artists.
‘Hammershøi is often described as an artist who is concerned with intimacy and the homely. But when we look at his works, we feel they are pervaded by a sense of absence. There is little liveliness in Hammershøi’s paintings, and there is not much to suggest that home is a place where one can happily and freely live out one’s true desires. There is a sense of silence in his motifs, which is certainly poetically poignant and wistful, yet also ominous. It feels as if the residents are almost reduced to being props on the same level as the furniture in these subtle interiors, where everything appears perfectly arranged and aligned, but where life itself seems to have come to a halt. These perfect bourgeois homes seem to hold stories of miseries lurking underneath the neat surface. It is as if today Hammershøi’s paintings tell us the tragic story about how all our efforts to fit into such idealised domestic settings may drive us to resignation – or madness.’, Elmgreen & Dragset state.
For the artist duo, the empty homes and the many doors in Hammershøi’s paintings speak of an ambivalent state of both openness and exclusion. There is a sense of alienation, of not fitting in, that challenges conventional ideas about the home as a safe and comfortable setting. The exhibition There I Belong. Hammershøi by Elmgreen & Dragset highlights these psychological loaded undertones of Hammershøi’s interiors by showing them alongside contemporary works selected in co-operation with SMK.
In addition to works by Elmgreen & Dragset themselves, the exhibition includes a new painting by Njideka Akunyili Crosby – based on Hammershøi’s work and especially created for this exhibition – , as well as works by Monica Bonvicini, Louise Bourgeois, Robert Gober, Annika von Hausswolff, Liliana Maresca, Ugo Rondinone, Thomas Ruff, and Francesca Woodman.
Top photo: Vilhelm Hammershøi, Interior in Strandgade, Sunlight on the Floor, 1901. SMK
SMK has a tradition of inviting contemporary artists to explore and engage with the museum’s extensive collection spanning 700 years of art. The objective is to let these artists’ eyes, voices and stories penetrate into the core of the museum – into the large collection of works that the institution is not only charged with preserving for the future, but which it must also keep relevant to contemporary audiences.
For the exhibition There I Belong. Hammershøi by Elmgreen & Dragset, a number of Hammershøi’s masterpieces are retrieved from their usual context and placed in the company of international contemporary art, thereby seeing them through the lens of other approaches to the concept of ‘home’.