Louisiana MuseumArt & architecture on the Danish coast
In contrast to the city centre locations of its cousins Tate Modern and MoMa, Louisiana is in the middle of a well to do suburban neighbourhood. All aspects of the museum, from location to design and environment, embrace the Danish concept of hygge – or 'cosiness'.
If you happen to be on a long weekend with friends or a significant other in the Danish capital Copenhagen, it won’t be long before you’re advised to take an afternoon trip to one of its national treasures; the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, located a half hour north of the city by train in Humlebæk.
The museum opened in 1958 under the direction of Knud Jensen, with architects Vilhelm Wohlert and Jørgen Bo. Their 33 year collaboration on the museum’s design accounts for all additions with the exception of the later South Wing. In contrast to the city centre locations of its cousins Tate Modern and MoMa, Louisiana is in the middle of a well to do suburban neighbourhood. All aspects of the museum, from location to design and environment, embrace the Danish concept of hygge – or ‘cosiness’. Despite common stark Scandinavian minimalism in interior design, hygge is a must for all homes, restaurants and social areas in this particular Nordic capital. Hygge is epitomised by a chilly autumn evening by candlelight in a well designed room with comfortable furniture, good friends and a bottle of wine. A stroll through the museum offers sufficient demonstration.
Upon entering the grounds of the sprawling museum (well, sprawling for Denmark, less than half of the size of the UK in area), one is quite literally greeted by Louisiana. The white entry building, with its ornate porch lattice and long draped windows, could almost sit at the center of a southern plantation – sans Spanish moss. The first few galleries, quite small in size, allow an intimate view of the works, such as the metamechanic Tinguely sculpture still in operation. These initial galleries give way to narrow hallways with paneled staircases – like entering someone’s basement game room – which develop into long transitional passageways flanked by floor to ceiling windows. I could not help thinking that the architects of these passages cherished the surrounding grounds of the museum, wanting every visitor to feel as if they were still walking outside, though protected from the Scandinavian elements. The experience is reminiscent of Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright, where despite the comfort of the room and interior beauty, one’s focus is constantly drawn to the beauty of the outside environment.
These 1960s designed passageways that function as hallways and galleries eventually lead to some of the museum’s most prized acquisitions – the Giacometti standing figures. The figures are strategically placed so one can promenade and feel their grandeur. The familiar saying ‘location, location, location’ fits this well suited arrangement of the artist’s textured works against the softness of the weeping willows outside, which fill the large windows. Again, elements of nature are important to the experience inside, which alludes to another aspect of the Louisiana experience – that there is no right or wrong way to meander about the grounds.
While in the West Wing, don’t pass up a visit to The Lake Garden, located outside of the Giacometti room. The garden consists of a series of paths which wind around garden houses. In Denmark, these houses, comparable to small sheds, called kolonihave, are small summer houses with communal gardens and common areas, where Copenhageners go away for weekend living. The handful of artists whose work is presented in the garden, give their impression of the summer houses, and in true Louisiana fashion, take the charming surrounding nature into consideration and challenge conventional views. There is a real sense of fantasy in the secret garden, especially the horizontal tree bridge.
Though the East wing of the museum, completed in 1992, allows museum goers to completely circle the grounds while indoors, it’s recommended that you satisfy your curiosity to be outdoors when sparked, and hopping around is encouraged. A walk through the central yard will highlight prominent sculptures, as of those by Henry Moore, Louise Bourgeois, Max Ernst, and Jean Arp. Go further down towards the coast, and the small wooded areas reveal hidden sculptural and architectural delights, such as Gate in the Gorge by Richard Serra, or a Self Passage by George Trakas. The latter leads one along a cliff to a stunning view of Sweden and an alternative entrance to the South Wing. Trakas truly captures the spirit of the setting, with symbiotic melding of landscape and sculpture. Often, children will be innocently running through the wooded area, and pursuant parents accidentally stumble upon these inconspicuous, but noteworthy, installations. At this point, a well deserved break at the cafe is due, and maybe you’ll indulging in a Carlsberg, just because you can. But regardless of beverage choice, your respite will allow you views of a serene coastline, and three massive Alexander Calder sculpture/mobiles, appropriately called Calder Terrace, that play against the spanning northern sky.
As you roam through the four wings of the museum, many well placed benches and exquisite light fixtures welcome you as audience for impressive collections (such as Art of the Pacific Rim, with entry through a circular glass hut), and galleries holding the contemporary masterworks of Warhol, Rauschenberg, and Lichtenstein, all in atypical non-threatening spaces. The newer south and east wings of the museum usually host rotating exhibits, which are curated with thought provoking cleverness. Past exhibitions include David Hockney: Me draw iPad, Ai Wei Wei: Fountain of Light, and Women of the Avant-Garde. In addition to the galleries, Louisiana has a quaint concert hall, regularly hosting musicians and writers. As of recent years, summer weather has allowed for dance performances to be held in the pseudo-amphitheatre area where Louisiana meets the sea. This place is especially popular amongst artists, sketching or painting by the coast.
Louisiana’s original concept was to be a museum containing only Danish works, but as the elaborate plans for the grounds proceeded, the founders knew that it had to become a platform for international contemporary art. It thrives as one of the most exceptional experiences of architecture and visual art, and yet leaves all the associated austerity of the like at the front step. You can even swim in the sea! But remember – you won’t be able to enter back in to the museum after exiting to the small beach area, so be sure that you have seen all the collections and had your smørrebrød for the day.