Wednesday, 24 March 2010

What to see: The contemporary art at Amalienborg

In connection with the renovation of Frederik VIII’s Mansion at Amalienborg, the foundation Realdania has presented Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary with a collection of contemporary art to decorate their new residence. The idea supposedly originated with their Lord Chamberlain, Per Thornit, who did not think one could just buy paintings and hang them on the walls. These contemporary works of art are instead integrated in the building, making it one big “Gesamtkunstwerk”.
This is a bold move, but it still feels absolutely right. Royals have always been the most prominent patrons of art, a tradition Queen Margrethe II, an artist on the throne, perhaps understands better than any of the other current European monarchs. During her reign this has resulted in interesting contemporary artworks such as the new tapestries at Christiansborg Palace and the commissioning of hers and Prince Henrik’s sarcophagus, both incidentally the works of Bjørn Nørgaard.
Most of Europe’s palaces were at the time of their erection decorated by first-class artists of the age. Few palaces are built today, but through the new artworks decorating Frederik VIII’s Mansion, the building has come to reflect the talents of some of Denmark’s best artists of 2010. This is entirely in keeping with royal tradition and gives the mansion an added significance.
The way the contemporary art has mostly been “confined” to the private and semi-official rooms also means that it does not come into conflict with Koch’s neoclassical interiors, but rather compliments them in an interesting way. The artworks have also been executed on large canvases, meaning that they can be easily dismantled and thereby they are not permanent alterations to the rooms.
Two of the artworks had yet to be completed when I was at Amalienborg last week. As earlier mentioned John Kørner decided to start all over again when his first work did not meet with approval, and Signe Guttormsen’s decoration of the terrace has been delayed because of the unusually cold winter Copenhagen has just seen the end of.
Among my personal favourites is Kaspar Bonnén’s painting “Rummet kan aldrig lukkes – helt” (“The room can never be closed – entirely”) on the wall of the Family Dining Room (first photo), which invites the beholder to enter a labyrinth of figurative and non-figurative motives.
I also greatly liked Jesper Christiansen’s “Verdensrummet” (“Space”) in the large ground-floor vestibule, a part of which can be seen in the second photo. Christiansen has decorated the walls with huge maps – the whole world, Denmark, Tasmania, the world upside down etc – and interspersed it with items representing “public secrets” of the Crown Prince’s and the Crown Princess’s life. Behind the maps are black and white perspectives of the room in which the paintings are found, which in a very interesting way draw the lines back to the perspective painting of the rococo and the era when Amalienborg was built.
The third photo shows Erik A. Frandsen’s “Blomster. Fælledvej” (“Flowers. Fælled Road”) in the Crown Princess’s office. Frandsen is the only artist who has decorated two of the mansion’s rooms. In the Official Dining Room he has created five huge mirrors of steel decorated with flowers, situated between the room’s pillars (fourth photo).
The only ceiling decoration is done by Eske Kath in what will be a meeting room on the first floor (fifth picture). The painting shows the sun as the centre of the universe, something which is supposed to remind royals and others that they are only small pieces of an endless universe. Personally I thought this symbolism a little too unsubtle, but seen together with the light colours of that room’s walls, the painting has the interesting effect that the room almost seems to be turned upside-down.
The new, narrow staircase running through the mansion has been decorated by Olafur Eliasson, who wants to create the impression that one is under water and moves towards the surface. Thus there are “water bubbles” on the walls and in the ceiling far up there is a plate of steel made to look like the surface of the ocean (sixth photo).
In the heating kitchen on the first floor one finds Kathrine Ærtebjerg’s “Jagt” (“Hunt”) (last photo). At first glance it looks quite idyllic, almost like something from a Disney movie, but on closer inspection one notes that there are actually hunters ready to fire at the animals. The artist has however turned reality upside-down in making the animals, and the humans standing with them, larger than the small hunters. Like most of the artworks, this has been executed on the spot and Ærtebjerg has spoken of how that has influenced the outcome, thus strengthening the idea of the “Gesamtkunstwerk”.
There are also works of art, not pictured here, by Morten Schelde and Tal R.
The renovation has brought back lost grandeur to the mansion at the same time as the contemporary art which now decorates some of the rooms has given it a new lease of life. The combination makes Frederik VIII’s Mansion one of the most interesting royal residences in Europe.

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