Everyone and every guidebook/app will tell you that the journey to the small seaside town of Humlebæk to see Louisiana is a must. It being a modern art museum and rated one of the most beautiful museums in the world, there was no question of my not going.
Situated 30 km north of Copenhagen along the Strandvejen (also known as the Whiskey Belt for its wealthy residents’ penchant for the drink), Louisiana Museum of Modern Art is an entity unto itself. Nestled between trees and the beach, it houses art, gardens, a lake, a sumptuous café, lawns and a dream-like atmosphere I did not ever expect from Louisiana nor any art museum.
Very appropriately for my first visit to Denmark and the museum, its current temporary exhibition is New Nordic. It explores Scandinavia’s architecture and identity and how the two influence each other. Artists, fashion designers, writers, architects, musicians and many more have been invited to describe what it means to be Nordic to them. Boxes – no bigger than the ones a new pair of shoes comes in – have been decorated and filled with everything from wool to wood and photography and videos to video games by people from all over Scandinavia, including Greenland and the Faroe Islands.
In another room, four houses have been designed – one from Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Norway – to epitomise aspects of each country’s essence and style of architecture. One can view photos of architectural feats in the region’s most impressive landscapes. The Norwegian Wild Reindeer Centre Pavillion in Dovre, Norway being one of the most outstanding. Just another piece of the museum’s magic was New Nordic’s Bark Room: the walls, floor and ceiling completely made of bark. You can walk in and over the bark, touch the walls and feel cocooned and safe in the darkness.
My pause in the børnehus was a peaceful hour (the children I shared the workspace with were apparently well trained) of making my own modern art using paper, cardboard, matchsticks and glue guns. Downstairs another art room provides lots of paint and aprons for the kids – tea and coffee for the parents. Out of the art room through glass doors you come out into the lake garden. This garden is wilder and more unkempt, giving it an exciting feel and making the art pieces hidden in the undergrowth even more interesting. One work includes a blue shed, accumulating cobwebs, you can walk right in to and re-live your childhood days of adventure.
Clamber up the slope back to the museum and you find a steep and curvy slide – great fun to zoom down, even if you are an unaccompanied adult. Make your way back in, either to the café or to Giacometti’s sculptures and later the café, which also displays framed artwork. If the food and patisserie were Lousisiana’s only offering, it would still be worth the visit: the strawberry tart made with a chocolate covered ground almond base seriously enhanced the view of the lawn – dotted with relaxing visitors – the beach and out to sea. From the café inside you can peer down into a wood panelled concert hall, also adorned with some magnificent paintings.
Back outside down the impeccably kept and sloping lawn you come to a cluster of trees where you can hide yourself and get a closer view of the beach. Clamber up some steps to come to another wing of Louisiana that houses all the ancient pots and ceramics – not my scene at all so I hopped on through the Picassos, Warhols, Richters, Francis Bacons and Jackson Pollocks. Travel further and you come to some video installations, the most memorable of which is Marilyn Minter’s Green Pink Caviar. Disgusting, weird, erotic and sensual: it is mesmerising. And you can view one minute’s worth here.
Taking it up a level of bizarre and into the terrifying, cue Ed Kienholz’ Five Car Stud. Go down some stairs and you leave present day Denmark for 1960s American desert. Five cars point into a terrifying scene of five grotesque White men torturing a Black man. The models are hideous and huge and you can walk in between them and get as close to this horrifying scene of racist violence as you feel comfortable with. The floor is covered in sand, the only light comes from the vehicle headlights, there is music from the era playing softly from the cars and even old photographs scattered on the dashboards. Chilling and spectacular.
Louisiana’s layout means that there is not “set” route through the exhibitions – no exhausting thoroughfare like your average museum – and so visitors have to explore and find their own meandering way around the halls, woods and gardens that make up the site. This gives it an amazing calm and sleepy feeling: everyone is on their own trip here, and you are left to feel magnificently free. The shop – calling it a gift shop would not be doing it justice – has all the useful-gorgeous home items Scandinavia does so well as well as jewellery, clothes, accessories and toys from Nordic designers. And, of course, you can buy prints from the temporary and permanent exhibitions.
Louisiana is the highest calibre and stunning museum I have ever visited. Its closest rival may be the much larger Leeum Museum in Seoul – the Gucci of museums owned by the Samsung dynasty (don’t let that put you off!) – but the latter has none of the calm and natural beauty of this Whiskey Belt beauty.