Just like people, some cities are effortlessly elegant, with that special vibe that makes them recognizable without being extremely flamboyant or over the top. Copenhagen is exactly that, an incredibly elegant yet relaxed city, the quintessential example of the minimalist-chic style we so often associate with Scandinavian countries.
Its compact and enjoyable center, as well as its surrounding neighborhoods, are effortlessly cool and pack an unimaginable number of attractions. Museums and galleries for us contemporary art lovers, as well as Michelin star restaurants, designer boutiques, and cool bars and cafes, are just a small part of what Copenhagen has to offer.
Facing the strait of Øresund, Copenhagen is house to some of the most famous landmarks of Denmark and Europe, such as the cozy Nyhavn canal or the statue of Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. When it comes to contemporary art, the city has experienced huge investments in recent years, resulting in a growing number of public art initiatives, as well as private galleries and spaces displaying some of the most interesting contemporary art in Europe right now.
So without any further ado, here are four spaces (plus two bonuses) to enjoy contemporary art in and around Copenhagen.
Top of the list, despite being among the latest addition to the city’s cultural panorama, Copenhagen Contemporary (CC) is an international art center and one of the largest spaces for contemporary art in Scandinavia. Housed inside a former industrial building, it has over 7000 square meters of light-filled, high-ceiling halls and galleries to display the best national and international artists.
Located on Refshaleøen Island, a former military and industrial area, CC is primarily dedicated to installation art, video, and performance. Its massive spaces are perfect for large scale installations, which are presented both by well established and emerging artists. Since its opening in 2016, it has exhibited artists such as Anselm Kiefer, Bruce Nauman, Yoko Ono and Bill Viola among others. Being one of the most exciting and cutting edge spaces for contemporary art in Copenhagen, it also boasts an incredible program of collateral events, such as art talks, art walks, concerts, creative workshops for children, and a shop dedicated to Scandinavian design products. The district of Refshaleøen is a fast-growing reality, with numerous gourmet restaurants, as well as outdoor activities, a food market, a flea market, a theatre, music festivals, and several small bars and cafes to enjoy your time on the island.
Refshalevej 173A, 1432 København, Denmark
Info, opening hours and tickets:
It could be for its name, but Kunsthal Charlottenborg has always been one of the spaces in Copenhagen I like the most. Hosted in a Dutch-inspired baroque palace dating back to the XVII century, Kunsthal Charlottenborg is one of the largest and most beautiful exhibition spaces for contemporary art in Northern Europe. Originally opened in 1883, the exhibition building was designed specifically to showcase contemporary art and has served its purpose ever since its opening.
The center presents both Danish and international artists, through several different activities. The trendsetting exhibition program is supplemented with a large number of activities like artist talks, performances, concerts, and film screenings. Kunsthal Charlottenborg is also house to The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Schools of Visual Arts, presenting the annual exhibition by graduate students.
Located just steps away from Kongens Nytorv, Nyhavn and Papirøen, Kunsthal Charlottenborg is the perfect location for a quick contemporary art fix while browsing and wandering through the center of Copenhagen. Once a year it also hosts a contemporary art fair, CHART Art Fair, dedicated to artists and galleries from Scandinavia and Iceland.
Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art
The Den Frie Centre is an artist-run space in central Copenhagen. Hosted inside one of Copenhagen’s most interesting buildings, the primary purpose of Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art is to focus on “contemporary artistic communities, artists’ associations and experimental groups and networks”. With an active and engaged program of almost 10 exhibitions per year, the center serves as the main alternative to more traditional museums and galleries in Copenhagen. The main goal of the center is to show the latest in contemporary art, exhibiting both Danish and international artists, all of which reflecting on current issues.
Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art building is owned by the Den Frie Exhibition, an artists association founded in 1891, and created as an alternative to the juried exhibition at Charlottenborg. The building was originally built in 1898 following the design of J.F. Willumsen,
father of the Danish art nouveau tradition. It is surrounded by a beautiful and lush garden, opened in 2016 by the City of Copenhagen to follow J.F. Willumsen’s wish to create a sculpture-like space immersed in green surroundings. The garden is open to visitors of the center, guests of the café, and just anyone passing by.
Den Frie Udstilling
Oslo Plads 1, 2100 København, Denmark
Info, tickets and opening hours:
Faurschou Foundation is one of my favorite art institutions around the world. Their exhibition space in Greenpoint is one of my top 5 places to visit in New York City and their program is beyond amazing.
Faurschou Foundation was originally established in 2011 in Copenhagen, where they have its headquarters and primary exhibition space. The foundation is a privately owned art institution, whose aim is to “champion artists and foster cross-cultural dialogue and international exchange, in particular between the East and the West”.
The foundation was originally opened in 2011 by Jens and Luise Faurschou, former gallery owners with over 25 years of experience as gallerists and advisors. As stated on the website, the Foundation has two primary areas of activity: acquiring significant works of contemporary art for its private collection and organizing museum-quality exhibitions. The foundation currently has three venues, one in Copenhagen, one in Beijing, and the last one in New York, but also organizes temporary exhibitions in Venice on the occasion of the Venice Biennale.
Focusing primarily on the exchanges between East and West, the foundation has collaborated with some of the most important contemporary artists, such as Ai Weiwei, Louise Bourgeois, Cai Guo-Qiang, Tracey Emin, Anselm Kiefer, Ragnar Kjartansson, Liu Wei, Liu Xiaodong, Paul McCarthy, Shirin Neshat, Yoko Ono, Gabriel Orozco, Robert Rauschenberg, Bill Viola, and Danh Vo, among others.
Klubiensvej 11, 2100 København, Denmark
Open only by appointment, free entrance.
More info at faurschou.com
Take a short trip to Ishøj, just outside of Copenhagen, and you can enjoy one of the most amazing contemporary art museums in Europe. The ARKEN Museum of Modern Art was inaugurated in 1996 and soon became a focal point for the Danish cultural scene, both for its stunning collection and peculiar building design.
Situated along a sandy beach, the museum was designed by Søren Robert Lund with a project that resembled a giant wrecked ship. Both the exterior and the interior have elements that remind us of a ship and for this maritime-inspired architecture, the museum has gained international renown.
But the architecture is not the only reason to visit ARKEN. With one of Scandinavia’s finest collections, contemporary art is definitely the main reason to spend a whole day here. The museum comprises more than 400 artworks, mainly by Danish, Nordic and international contemporary artists, primarily representing the period after 1990. Here you will find one of the most comprehensive collections in Europe of works by Damien Hirst, as well as works by Anselm Reyle, Ai Weiwei, Olafur Eliasson, Elmgreen and Dragset, Jeppe Hein, and Tal R among others.
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
The second bonus, and major occasion for a short day trip outside of Copenhagen, is the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. It takes a 30-minute train ride to get to the museum, but rest assured it is well worth the time.
With World-class exhibitions and a well-established permanent collection, the museum is one of the top destinations in Europe for contemporary art and the most visited art museum in Denmark. But it is also worth a visit for its stunning position and surroundings. Placed on top of a hill overlooking the Øresund strait, you can see Sweden across the sea in clear days, or witness breath-taking storms over the North Sea.
The Louisiana Collection comprises over 4,000 works and covers the period from 1945 to the present, including almost every genre and medium. The collection is on display through rotating exhibitions both inside the museum and in the amazing sculpture park surrounding its premises.
The museum is famous for its Giacometti Gallery, the Asger Jorn Gallery, and Kusama’s installation Gleaming Lights of the Souls, as well as for its glass corridors filled with contemporary art masterpieces.
The buildings and corridors are balanced out by the park outside, where you can appreciate the fine design of the museum and how it blends with the surroundings. The Sculpture Park hosts 45 sculptures and it is open year-round.