Appreciating the modern: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

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After I booked a trip to Copenhagen for Reading Week only two weeks in advance, I kept the spontaneity going and didn’t plan anything ahead of time, with one exception: the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.

I know, modern art often inspires a “I could’ve done that” reaction. A museum full of modern art didn’t inspire much hope, but every person I spoke to before the trip immediately blurted out: “you have to see this museum!” So my friend and I took the half-day journey north of the city to see what all the fuss was about.

The museum itself feels like its in the middle of nowhere. Only a half-hour train ride separates it from downtown Copenhagen, but the crazy cyclists and herds of tourists are nowhere to be seen. 

Louisiana Museum is designed in a circle surrounding an outdoor sculpture garden. The hallways between exhibits are wall-to-wall glass so you’re always able to see the massive sculptures just outside. 

The grounds sit directly on a cliff, with the gardens pouring over the edge. The back half of the museum is underground, leaving the view from the sculpture garden unobstructed towards the sea. Looking at a map later on, we realized that the small shadow on the horizon was Sweden.

There were three main exhibits on display when we visited. As we followed the circle, we were brought into the stories of each artist. 

We started at William Kentridge’s Thick Time. Kentridge is a South African artist known for his drawings, sculptures, and multi-media performances in opera and drama productions. The exhibit brought us through his life’s work.

The theme for the exhibit was how time impacts and changes us as human beings. Beautiful cast-iron sculptures of windmills, water pitchers and workers at the beginning of the exhibit cast harrowing shadows on blank walls. A section of hand-made books showed photographs of Kentridge’s production process, but provided context for the images with quotations such as “Give us back our sun.”

My favourite piece in the exhibit was called More Sweetly Play the Dance. It was a room filled with massive screens, upon which were projected images of a moving procession. A band and South African dancers led the procession, playing high-energy music, but were slowly followed by slaves, people hooked up to IV drips and tired workers. 

The multimedia piece illustrated the consistent political undertone in Kentridge’s work. The exhibit often made me feel dread, but also reminded me of the passage of time and hope for change that comes with it.

The second exhibit we reached was the Amateur Architecture Studio. The exhibit is a series that will continually feature different architects, and we were able to see the first: Wang Shu. 

At the top of the exhibit, we began in a room covered in Shu’s quotes regarding architecture. He is of the unique mindset that architecture should follow tradition and pay attention to the environment that a “house” — he doesn’t consider his pieces to be buildings — is to be built in.

Shu’s exhibit was two stories. We descended into the bottom filled with building materials that we could touch and engage with. The top floor overlooked the materials from a catwalk, and concluded with his completed designs and the historical landscapes that inspired them, such as an ancient Chinese tapestry.

Although a very grand exhibit, we walked through it quickly. After going through the emotional ride that was Kentridge’s exhibit, the more subtle meaning of the architecture was lost on us.

From Shu’s mostly underground exhibit, we ascended a spiral staircase into Louise Bourgeois’ Cells. Bourgeois has been frequently featured at the Louisiana, but this exhibit focused on a different time in her artistic career.

Cells is comprised of 25 ‘cells’. At first glance, they’re large vintage doors or cages in a circle. When you look closer, inside the circle — or cell — is a visual representation of a moment in the artist’s life.

The cells took up the majority of the exhibit, with only a few in each room. My favourite was a room of two red cells. 

Peaking inside the first, intended to represent her childhood, I saw a red playroom with tangled tapestries. The second represented her parents’ relationship. It encircled a red bed and dresser, with a little pillow that said “J’taime”. 

At the end of our tour around the Louisiana, my friend and I wanted to see more. Each piece of art exceeded our expectations of what modern art was. We both came to the conclusion that no matter the piece, we definitely couldn’t have done that.

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