Den Frie Udstillingsbygning is an art institution established in 1891 by a union of artists with the concerted purpose to provide an alternative to the aforementioned censured Forårsudstilling at Kunsthal Charlottenborg. Characteristic for the artists was that they had the courage to revolt against tradition and the existing art world, and soon, Den Frie gained a reputation as an experimental lab for young and progressive artists as well as a venue, where one could experience Danish art at its best.
Recently, Den Frie hosted the Carnegie Art Award 2008 exhibition, where 26 Nordic artists presented 65 pieces, mainly consisting of oil on canvas, photography, sculptures and film. Winner of the prestigious award is Swedish Torsten Andersson, who works with two-dimensional configurations of three-dimensional objects. Thus, he has created his own language within art, where the two-dimensionality steps out of the flat paintings and enters into a close proximity with the viewer. Runner up is Danish Jesper Just. Just has especially received acknowledgement for his narrative films charged with a seductive and magic imagery, which explores the scopes of identity and human relations. The narrations take place in diverse settings, paying homage to different film genres such as the musical, drama and film noir. Jesper Just perennially succeeds in creating a dense and intimate atmosphere as well as a distinct area of tension between subject and object. Third prize winner is John Kørner, also Danish, who, with his open attitude towards painting and its traditions, primarily works within the world of painting. His characteristic and expressive paintings are often incorporated in complex installations or orchestrations, which includes the viewer within the piece.
Other interesting works in the Carnegie Art Award exhibition, which will be on view in Iceland from June 19, are Danish Ellen Hyllemose, who challenges the meeting between the everyday and the exceptional. Her exhibited works are montages of medium-density fiberboards, painted and covered with richly colored lycra, laying a filter between the work and the gaze of the viewer. Remarkable is also Danish Allan Otte, who employs a special technique including tape and spray paint to create oddly realistic landscape paintings. His points of departure for the motives are images found online and then digitally processed. Otte’s settings are empty, however still include the trace of human activity. And then there is Danish Ferdinand Ahm Kragh, who, a bit like Parson the New School for Design in New York-student, Lars van Dooren, works with formal compositions and drawings of a difficultly defined space. His drawings, which consist of parallel, thin lines, drawn with pen or pencil and a ruler on paper, either center on a utopian architecture, an abstract, futuristic landscape or a visualization of sound. Ahm Kragh’s works seem flawless, but when you take a closer look, you’ll see that all lines aren’t perfectly linear, which adds energy to the works.
Ferdinand Ahm Kragh is also represented in the current exhibition at Den Frie, The Soft Shields of Pleasure. It is, according to the curator, an exhibition, which centers around the relation between culture and subjectivity and which asks the viewer to take a closer look, to consider and question the present works and their content. Interesting and exhaustive in its description, however I found it difficult to see, what was in and behind the exhibition – and whatever I finally dragged out of it did not touch me at all. The Soft Shields of Pleasure also focuses on the relation between work and space, a focus, which indisputably dominates the entire exhibition: Most of the large, white and polygoned rooms only hold a single piece, a condition, which might seem like an attractive extravagance, but which really made me feel cheated. Thus, when I entered the largest space in the center of the building – a large, white octagonal room, all that was exhibited was one and a half Frisbee on a pedestal! Simply not enough to pique my interest – far from even! Most interesting at the exhibition was Gardar Eide Einarsson (who participated in the Whitney Biennial 2008) and Mathias Faldbakken’s I Am Alive and You’re Dead, 2005. The work consists of to piles of posters showing the artists masked as zombies. The viewer is allowed to freely supply on the posters, and I took one of each, soothing my disappointment over the exhibition just a bit.
Having seen yet another dissatisfying exhibition on a cold and windy summer day, I must state that it appears that the contemporary Danish art scene is keeping very low key – or that it simply has gone south, accompanying the good weather, which, for now, is also non-existing. Maybe both have shiftet to Paris, once the breeding ground of considerable innovation, but which also has been accused of falling helplessly behind with regard to producing and showcasing the latest contemporary art. But at least three of the artistic femmes fatales: Louise Bourgeois, Sophie Calle and Cao Fei, have exhibited there during the past months.
The Carnegie Art Award 2008 will be on view in Reykjavik until August 10 and then travel to Stockholm, London, Gothenburg and finally Carros before it closes in April 2009.