A ship-shape new home for Copenhagen Contemporary

A ship-shape new home for Copenhagen Contemporary

It started as an ambitious experiment, and two years on, Copenhagen Contemporary is one of Denmark’s largest and most dynamic art spaces. While its previous waterside location on Copenhagen’s Paper Island already covered a vast 3,400 sq m, its new home on the historically industrial Refshaleøen is double the size, inhabiting what was once a welding hall for the Burmeister & Wain shipyard.

The size is unrivalled in the city. ‘It is great to be able to offer opportunities to artists that not all institutions can,’ says the recently appointed director of the enormous new premises, Marie Nipper, who is no stranger to large institutions, having worked at both Tate Liverpool and ARoS Kunstmuseum. ‘Vast spaces definitely hold great potential in the sense that they allow the artist to think big,’ she continues, ‘but large spaces also require a great deal of the artworks as the scales need to match – and of course it requires more funds and is often technically challenging to create these immersive installations for large space.’

Copenhagen Contemporary’s programme will continue to be devoted to large-scale, interactive installation art from around the world, with an emphasis on introducing important works to a Danish audience. ‘It is easy being seduced by the possibility offered by large spaces but we always have to remember that it’s about the quality of the work, not its extent and spatial dimensions,’ adds Nipper.

Burmeister & Wain’s former welding hall and the new home of Copenhagen Contemporary.

Burmeister & Wain’s former welding hall and the new home of Copenhagen Contemporary. Photography: Katrine Jungersen Hansen

Dealing with this unique challenge of showing art that can fill a room of this scale and still speak to the heart – and minds – of visitors, Nipper has invited Danish collective Superflex and American artist Doug Aitken to open. Familiar to anyone who visited the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall earlier this year, the brightly-coloured swings of One Two Three Swing! reappear in an entirely new configuration created for Copenhagen Contemporary.

Elsewhere, Aitken’s 35-minute video installation, SONG 1, takes over Hall 3, structured around The Flamingo’s hit song from 1973, I Only Have Eyes for You. Nipper explains: ‘We believe that this is a work that resonates with many people and city-dwellers today as it points to the contemporary condition that many of us experience in the big cities of today; the feeling of being lonely in the vast crowd, of searching for belonging and connectivity in what can at times feel like a fluid and intangible world.’

Copenhagen Contemporary has itself been part of the complex, gentrifying urban landscape, and in Refshaleøen – now home to a mix of world-class restaurants (including Amass), markets, and independent businesses – it sticks to its principle of collaboration and community, reflected in these two major artworks by Superflex and Aitken. ‘The special quality of this area is defined by its industrial history: it is raw and green and brimming with initiatives issuing from progressive creative forces,’ says Nipper. ‘Here one will glimpse an aspect of Copenhagen vastly different to that of the inner city.’ §

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