Written in March 2018
To get to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, you have to take a train from Copenhagen Central Station, which will take about thirty minutes, and then walk for another ten to reach the museum on the shores of the Baltic Sea. One could think that art did a favour to this windblown corner of land by making it one of the most acclaimed museums in the world. An easy mistake corrected as soon as you enter the light and airy rooms of Louisiana, named after its funder’s all three wives.
I have seen art by Picasso and Giacometti many, many times. Giacometti, notably, has been featured in several retrospectives. I remember recently discovering his drawings or tiny busts with amazement. However, as time passes, I find it hard to be moved endlessly by his walking men. I have been looking at this work since my A-levels ten years ago. I remember we had to write a commentary about art in space and instead of writing, I chose to write a comic strip where sculptures responded to each other, the Demoiselles d’Avignon squashed up in their window and the walking man ironically immobilised by his cast bronze step, anchoring his elongated body forever.
The large windows shed another light on Giacometti’s sculptures, which did not exist in a vacuum anymore. This time the man was moving, he seemed to be walking away from the light, inside the building, and, on the day I visited Copenhagen, from the park, covered with snow, surrounding the museum. The view of the lake and the sun through the window made the sculpture into a silhouette, all height and bones. The sublime experience of bronze against ice, of that fragile sculpture in a building on the seashore, of the elements pressing me to look at it, replaced the sensual one of seeing Giacometti’s fingerprints on the clay. I am sure that had I visited the museum on a summer day it would have been yet another revelation, but I fell in love again, as the maritime winter revealed Giacometti to me as never before.
The garden of the museum features sculptures you may have seen before, Barbara Epsworth, Alexander Calder or Joan Miro. Yet you probably have never seen them with the Baltic Sea, and the shores of Sweden further away, as a backdrop. It is human-made beauty against natural beauty. The emotion I felt while looking at “Little Janey-Waney”, by Calder (1964-1976) could not have existed in a closed room or an urban setting. The big curvy man by Joan Miro looked like it was guarding the hill. Richard Serra’s “The Gate in the Gorge” (1983-1986) is a site-specific sculpture, and yet I noticed many visitors missed it as it was below a bridge leading to the cafe. It made for the beauty of it, this sculpture vanishing in the landscape, when others, such as those mentioned above, were exposed by it.
« Little Janey-Waney » Alexander Calder
It made me reflect on the dialogue between an artwork and its location, how both reveal themselves, in an almost chemical manner, by coming into contact. Helsingor is only three train stations away. As sure as Hamlet became himself in his castle overlooking the strait, the bronze and the iron objects developed textures and nuances against the white sky and sea. On the train back to Copenhagen, I wondered whether the artworks even existed before they came to Louisiana.