Exploring the Louisiana, a Danish Art Museum Immersed in Light and Nature
Just north of the Danish capital lies the elegantly designed Louisiana Museum of Modern Art – otherwise known as just the Louisiana. It has an impressive art collection, plus a sculpture park and other exhibitions.
This is a must-see for anyone visiting Copenhagen – more so, lovers of art, architecture and sculpture.
The museum welcomes roughly 600,000 visitors every year and is renowned for its floor-to-ceiling windows, simultaneously letting in copious amounts of natural light and offering unique views of the surrounding nature reserve.
Spoilt for choice, visitors to the Louisiana can view works by both modern and contemporary artists, such as Giacometti, Henry Moore, Yayoi Kusama and many more.
Norgangen seen from the Sculpture Park. Photo: Jeremy Jachym. Credit: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
HISTORY OF THE MUSEUM
The museum was founded in 1958 by Knud W Jensen (1916-2000), a Danish businessman and art collector, who was determined to ensure that the general public would have access to arts and culture.
He also, specifically, wanted to bring modern art into Danish museums.
The initial thought was to fill the museum with examples of Danish art and Danish modernism.
However, in 1959, Jensen visited documenta, the large-scale contemporary art exhibition which takes place every five years in the German city of Kassel. He came across works of international modern art there.
The collection he gathered continued to grow with the support of Danish foundations and sponsors, eventually evolving into a museum of modern art.
With a range of artists, the Louisiana’s collection has a particular focus on post-war, American, and German art.
Among the museum’s long history of exhibitions, an especially noteworthy show was held in 1981 when the Louisiana hosted a large exhibition with 400 works by Picasso prior to the opening of the Picasso Museum in Paris.
ARCHITECTURE AND NATURAL LIGHT
The original villa was built in 1855 by Alexander Brun, an officer and Master of the Royal Hunt, who married three women over his lifetime, and each one was called Louise.
The name stuck and Jensen decided to keep the name for the building’s new identity as a museum.
Jensen teamed up with two Danish architects, Vilhelm Wohlert and Jørgen Bo, whose designs were greatly inspired by German Bauhaus and California Bay Area architecture.
The new structure was designed in a way to work around the existing trees and incorporated a lot of windows, a characteristic that is considered rather impractical for a museum and art conservation.
However, by including plenty of windows, this ensures an ever-changing light in the exhibition spaces throughout the day and throughout the year, as the sun follows its course, the weather changes, and the seasons move from one to the next.
North wing - two-story exhibition space with sculptures by Alberto Giacometti. Photo: Kim Hansen. Credit: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.
‘THE WALKING MAN’
The famous sculpture The Walking Man by Giacometti, created in 1961 along with five other editions and four artist proofs, has become a symbol of the Louisiana.
This is due to the fact not only for its permanence in one of the exhibition rooms, but also for the museum’s objective to be in constant motion.
Whether by using natural light, as mentioned prior, that lets the visitor view the spaces and the artworks with a different perspective at each visit, or rather the idea to avoid being stuck in one place, the museum wishes to develop a continuous conversation between the artworks, the staff and the public.
The idea of change and movement is also demonstrated in the museum’s Sculpture Park, where the impact of the changing seasons is clear, from the change in the surrounding colours and temperature to the natural life cycle of the plants.
Sculpture Park. Photo: Kim Hansen. Credit: Louisiana Museum Of Modern Art
THE SCULPTURE PARK
Situated along the north Danish coast, the Louisiana and its adjoining sculpture park have tremendous views over the strait separating Denmark and Sweden called Øresund or Öresund, commonly known in English as the Sound.
Able to visit all year round, the sculpture park was modelled upon an English landscape garden, where there isn’t one viewpoint over the whole garden, instead, a labyrinth takes over as the visitor comes across a sequence of surprises.
The original design of the park was by landscape architects Ole and Edith Norgaard, later worked upon by Lea Nørgaard and Vibeke Holscher.
There are a total of 45 sculptures placed around the park, each one with its own relationship with its surroundings and the change in seasons.
An interplay between art and nature, the works interact with their surroundings from the museum’s architecture and garden landscape to the backdrop of the Sound. Among the works are sculptures by Henry Moore, Richard Serra, Alexander Calder, Jean Arp and Alicja Kwade.
Upper lawn in the Sculpture Park. Alice Kwade. Pairs Pro Toto, 2018. Photo: Kim Hansen
THE ART COLLECTION
Today, the Louisiana has accumulated an extensive collection of approximately 4,000 pieces, ranging in both modern and contemporary artworks from 1945 to the present day.
The collection comprises almost every genre, with an emphasis on painting and sculpture in particular. Naturally, due to the vast size of the collection, the artworks are shown in rotating selective presentations, offering new perspectives on both the works themselves and the spaces in which they are shown.
However, certain works and installations are constants within the museum, such as the Giacometti Gallery, the Asger Jorn Gallery, and the 2008 installation Gleaming Lights Of The Souls by Yayoi Kusama, a favourite for photography opportunities with its infinite starscape.
Communication - Art experience in Yayoi Kusama's 'Gleaming Lights of the Souls'. Photo: Bjarke Ørsted
The Louisiana has four guiding principles in relation to the collecting process.
The first principle states that “[the museum tries] to plug holes or create transitions in the historical part of the collection”.
Secondly, “[the museum supplements] artists who are already represented with new works or works from periods of the artist’s production that are missing”.
The third principle states that they “continue to build the museum’s collection of contemporary art. [The museum tries] to add major works to the collection that represent today’s most important artists and contribute to the story of the metabolism between humanity and the world that distinguishes so much of the art in the Louisiana’s collection”.
In the fourth principle, “[the museum tries] to have the exhibitions leave permanent traces in the collection, weaving the exhibition history into the museum’s artistic identity and not just leave them standing as a series of external events”.
FOCUS POINTS OF THE COLLECTION
Within the museum’s large collection, there remains a discourse surrounding several focus points, these include Europe After 1945, America After 1945, and From 1990 Until Now.
Within the first focus, there are works by artists such as Danish painter Asger Jorn, Francis Bacon, and Italian sculptor Alberto Giacometti, who is a key figure of the collection.
One will notice a focus within a focus, with many works deriving from German artists, including Joseph Beuys, Anselm Kiefer, Georg Baselitz, Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke.
The second focus, America After 1945, celebrates various Americans and the prominent art movement of pop art.
Artists include Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Claes Oldenberg and Roy Lichtenstein. Other American painters within the collection are Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Ryman and Morris Louis.
As a Danish cultural institution, the museum continues to support native artists, many of whom are already known internationally.
Names such as Per Kirkeby, Superflex, Elmgreen & Dragset, Olafur Eliasson, Per Bak Jensen, Ann Lislegaard and Tove Storch.
South wing. Photo: Kim Hansen. Credit: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
CURRENT AND FUTURE EXHIBITIONS
There is an exhibition (running until April 10) dedicated to American painter Richard Prince (born 1949), who was an integral member of the Pictures Generation.
Prince manipulates existing images from entertainment and consumption culture to create new and strange forms. This is the first retrospective of the American artist in Scandinavia with 89 works on display.
Installation view. LOUISIANA ON PAPER. RICHARD PRINCE - SAME MAN. 17.11 2022 - 10.04 2023
Other upcoming exhibitions include the photographic works of Gauri Gill (born 1970), who captures daily life and its activities in rural India. This opened on Jan 26, 2023.
There is also an exhibition dedicated to American figurative painter Dana Schutz (born 1976), which was opened on Feb 9.
Dana Schutz. The Interview, 2020. Oil on canvas, 148.5 x 198 cm. Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Donation: The Garcia Collection © Dana Schutz
HOW TO GET TO THE LOUISIANA
The museum is located on the coast of Humlebaek, in the rural landscape directly north of Copenhagen. From the city, it is only a 30-minute train ride or approximately 40 minutes by car, either way, the trip is worth making.
During the week from Tuesday to Friday, the museum is open from 11am to 10pm, making it possible to visit the exhibition spaces after dark, while at the weekend the opening hours are from 11am to 6pm.
The entry cost and more information regarding booking tickets before visiting can be found on their website.
Look out for special discounts, for example, if you travel by train to visit the museum, it is possible to buy a combined museum entrance and return ticket giving a 50 percent discount on admission.
For more on the world's most impressive museaums, read:
- Exploring the Museion Museum: Bolzano’s Answer to Contemporary Art
- Sight And Sound: How Museums Use Music To Draw In New Audiences
- Beyond Borders: How The Music Industry Achieved A New Globalism
- Bucket List Travels: 8 Music Museums Around The World
Cover: North wing - two-story exhibition space with sculptures by Alberto Giacometti. Photo: Jeremy Jachym. Credit: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.
Writer | Glesni Trefor Williams
Glesni Trefor Williams is a Bologna-based art journalist/translator from North Wales, who focuses her writing on contemporary art and interlinked exhibition spaces. She writes for Lampoon, Spinosa Magazine, and is an arts contributor on BBC Radio Cymru. @glesniw