Scandinavian Top Ten

This summer we travelled to Scandinavia, specifically to Denmark and Sweden. We began in Copenhagen, drove north through Denmark, took a ferry to Sweden and made our way to Stockholm.
I’d never been to this part of Northern Europe before, and it was incredible. We’ve been trying to maintain that holiday feeling by trying to bring little reminders of our trip back home, I’m lighting tea lights at mealtime, eating a homemade granola I developed after a fabulous hotel breakfast, and watching the TV series, Bron/Broen, which I highly recommend.
Of course, we did all the regular tourist things like canal cruises and castle tours, but we also hit art museums wherever possible, especially contemporary ones. Here are my top ten art highlights.
1. I wandered into the tiny Charlottenburg Museum in Copenhagen, simply because it was across the street from our apartment and I had a free hour. First I saw a local MFA show of mixed quality, but when I got to the top floor, there was an exhibition of two text artists: Simon Evans and Öyvind Fahlström.

If someone had told me I’d fall in love with an artist who used paper, ballpoint pen, scotch tape, and litter to make art, I would have thought they were nuts. But Simon Evans’s work is incredible. He balances obsessiveness, humour, and order to create incredible work. I could look for hours at his pieces; they look like the output of a creative genius locked in a cubicle with only office supplies. Unfortunately photos (and especially my crummy photos) do not do justice to his intricate works and he doesn’t seem to have a website, so google him and check him out.

A close-up, where you can see a dissected mouse and his intricately-taped paper.

2. The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, located just outside Copenhagen, is a gorgeous contemporary art space right on the water. We got to see a Pop Art and Design show, which was excellent. I’ve noticed that I’ve seen a lot of incredible American art while I’m in Europe, but I guess the best art transcends nationalities. At the Louisiana, I discovered the obsessive work of Tara Donavan, an artist turning things as mundane as drinking straws and nails into art.

This giant sculpture was made from strips of film.

My favourite piece at the Louisiana was the permanent Yayoi Kusumi installation, “Gleaming Light of the Souls,” which you enter into. It’s a mirrored room of glass, water, and lights, which both delighted me and took me back to the disco days of my youth.

3. At the National Gallery of Denmark, I wandered through the works of many interesting Danish artists I had not encountered before. Afterwards, I found that I could learn more about them from the excellent museum website. But I was particularly struck by this huge painting by Poul Gernes, because it reminded me so much of the circle paintings I’ve been doing, right down to the painted metallic surface. His was done in 1925-26, and I swear I’ve never seen it before!

4. I loved Your Rainbow Panorama at the top of the Aros Museum in Aarhus, Denmark. It’s a fantastic multi-coloured transparent tunnel by Olafur Eliasson. The city of Aarhus is all around you, reflected in different colours as you walk through.

From the Aros website, the wider view.
Me, in the purple and pink section naturally.

 5.Also in Aarhus, we saw the Sculpture By The Sea exhibition, which consists of more than 60 sculptures set along a walkway beside the ocean. Lots of humourous works, including a simulated car crash/landfill and my favourite: a giant message in a bottle. Since the Danes love to picnic outside in the summer, it was the perfect blend of cultural activity and sea breezes. The path was filled with Danes of all ages, and tourists like us.

It’s the scale that makes art pop.
Many international artists had to scrounge their raw materials, so lots of garbage was used.

6. Sometimes the building rivals the art inside. In Moderna Museet Malmö, everything was orange: the exterior, the interior, the furniture, even the elevator. But inside we did see the installation at the top of this post: Scandinavian Pain by Ragnar Kjartnsson. Originally a huge empty barn where the artist enacted the tortured lonely life of Nordic artists, here the barn was combined with the paintings of tortured Nordic artist, Edvard Munch.

7. Loved the modernist architecture of Malmo, Sweden. A huge area of the city has been redeveloped as modern condos, all with water views of the ports that were formerly shipyards. Also in this development is the famous Turning Torso building.

8. Did you know that Stockholm has a whole island of museums? I chose to visit the Moderna Museet, of course and it was amazing. There was a Niki de Saint Phalle retrospective, I always liked her big, bright female figures but I had no idea how dark and Freudian her oeuvre was. But the art student in me rejoiced as I got to see so many artworks that I had studied in art history like Tatlin’s Tower. 

And then this epic sculpture:

 Yes, Raushenberg’s goat! Amazing to see it, literally in the flesh.
9. Also at the Moderna Museet, I got to stand in the middle of four Gerhardt Richter paintings. For me, that’s better than drugs.

10. My favourite part of the many sights in Scandinavia was seeing the many and varied crowds enjoying the art. To see school kids laughing and pretending to bow down before an Andy Warhol painting, showed me they understood his importance in the canon. To see young families at the Louisiana, enjoying the art, and then playing among the Richard Serra sculptures on the wide green lawn. To see young men together, drinking beer, and wandering through the Sculptures by the Sea. It all showed that art is not elitist here.
And there is so much art! Vancouver and Copenhagen have the same populations, but where Vancouver has two art museums, Copenhagen has 10 art and architecture museums! Whenever I go to Europe, I am blown away by the sheer appreciation of art.

It’s like tag, except you have to wear a wolf mask if you’re it.

Turkish Delights

Whew! Five posts in five days. While that may not seem like much, I have trouble blogging monthly. It all began a week ago when Rachael Ashe told me that there are online challenges to blog every day for a month, so I decided to first see if I could even do five in a row. I’m proud that I’ve done five, and I think I’ll sign up for one of those challenges sometime soon. I’d like to plan it out first, and work on a theme like “The Business of Art” or “Expressing your Creativity.” Stay tuned for that.
And speaking of Rachael, she asked me, “When are you going to blog about your Turkey trip? I want to read about it!” So by request, here’s the art I saw in Turkey:

I love going to Europe, and luckily Patrick’s obsession with all things Byzantine has already taken us to Venice three times. However Constantinople was the true Byzantine capital, so we finally went to Turkey this summer. I found Istanbul to be much more of a European city than I had expected: the narrow cobblestone streets, the vibrant café life, and the cultural diversity. Indeed, Istanbul has a geographic foot in both Europe and Asia, balancing neatly in the centre.

When we travel in Europe, we spend the first days exploring the must-see attractions, in this case: Aya Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Dolmabahçe Palace, Topkapi Palace and Kariye Müzesi. All of these sites are magnificent in their own ways, and I was dazzled by the mosaics, the grand scale of the buildings, and most of all the strange evolution of many of these buildings in their conversions from Christianity to Islam, and then partially back again. As always I eventually begin to crave something bright and modern. At this point, I take over the itinerary and we head to the nearest modern art museum or exhibition, which happily every European city always has. 

In this case we went to the Istanbul ModernA former warehouse, right on the Bosphorus Strait, has been converted to an elegant art museum. The building has some great permanent art installations, like the suspended book ceiling on the lower floor and the chain link & bullet hole staircase. The exhibitions rotate, but there is an emphasis on modern Turkish artists, most of whom I was completely unfamiliar with. We saw a retrospective of Burhan Dogançay, who did a lot of paintings of urban walls, something I find very inspiring as well.

Usually when I visit a museum, there is one artwork I end up falling for, in this case it was Horrible Shark by American artist, Mark Bradford. From the first time I read about Bradford, I was very interested in his work because he uses an excavation process as I do. He uses found materials like the paper flyers torn from the walls of his neighbourhood or the perm papers from his mother’s beauty salon. I was not allowed to take photos at the Istanbul Modern, but I did find one online image of this painting. Unfortunately, I feel like the colours are not correct here, the pink was more vibrant and you don’t really get a sense of the depth of the work. The painting is huge and amazing, I could examine its details for hours.

Horrible Shark by Mark Bradford (Photo from the blog of Kileigh Hannah)

In addition to the Istanbul Modern, we went to some contemporary galleries along the main pedestrian mall, the Istiklal Caddesi. There was an amazing variety of work, and we particularly enjoyed the Erwin Wurm exhibition at Gallerist Tepebasi. Wurm is an Austrian artist who has a great sense of humour, and the small rooms with antique detailing set off his work beautifully.

Erwin Wurm at Galerist Tepebasi

The huge gallery building of  SALT Beyoglu was very impressive as well, a minimalist space full of cement and straight lines. We saw some interesting American photography there. One slightly disconcerting thing is that even the smallest galleries seem to have armed security guards. Security guards are more prevalent in Turkey in general, but having them in gallery spaces seemed to me to politicize the artwork in some way.

The lovely Misir Apartments building has been changed into a series of small galleries. The whole building has elegant architectural details and exploring it was a real adventure. We walked into one dishevelled gallery, where a middle-aged man dressed in a coverall sat in the middle of a trash-filled room. When I asked him if he was the artist, he barked something in Turkish and a hipster girl came running out to explain that he was only the locksmith. The show idea was that they were cutting gallery keys for anyone who wanted to come in and create art at any time. Since one of the hottest bars in the city is at the top of Misir Apartments, most of the art seemed to have been created in drunken stupor, but the idea was a brave one. Also in that building we saw these interesting paintings by a young artist who used faces taken from the newspapers for his subjects. Unfortunately I have lost my notes, but I will continue to search for his name.

Mystery portraits in the Misir Apartments

I love maximalism and there was one bravura exhibition which used colour, detail, and ornamentation to the max! Two artists, one Canadian and one Turkish, have created a multi-storey extravaganza of art. The show was called Revolution Revelation by Arkin (Mercan Dede) and Carlito Dalceggio, and I was able to take a number of photographs. The amount of work which went into the show was incredible and the whole experience was like a funhouse ride at the fair. You kept going up flights of stairs and finding more craziness. Rather than explain the complexities of this show, here’s a visual smorgasbord for you:

The studio where it all gets created.

Going Back to Planet Childhood

I had a moment of pure joy at the Portland Art Museum. Each time I visit, I enjoy some old favourites as well whatever new works they have on display. This weekend, I went to see two artists they were advertising: Francis Bacon and Gerhardt Richter, both of whom I like very much. The Bacon painting was a very good one, but sadly only one painting. The Richter works were very much in the grey tones, and not the huge squeegeed work that I love, so that too was a little disappointing. But when I went upstairs to the Modern Art area, I turned a corner into a darkened room and saw this:

Unbelievable!  The surprise and the sheer joy of seeing a colourful, brightly lit city in miniature made me squeal delightedly in the luckily deserted gallery. I walked slowly around the whole installation, while it was definitely a city, none of the buildings looked like anything realistic, the whole thing was more fantastical than representational. The work was made of translucent resin, LED lights, and colour, three of my favourite things.The title is City 0000 by American artist, Mike Kelley. According to the explanation in the gallery it’s based on the comic book city of Kandor, “ the home of Superman (that) was supposed to be have been miniaturized and stolen before the planet exploded.”
Kelley’s City 0000 definitely creates a sense of childish wonder and delight, everyone who steps into the space became instantly happy. The card in the gallery further explains Kelley’s influences as “populist childhood references to his fascination with Superman and Kelley’s oft-stated longing for a more perfect, rational life.”
As a mother, I noticed that my son, Sam, loved to draw when he was young, but his pictures were not representational as much as narrative. He would draw hundreds of tiny stickmen, armed or in motion, sometimes battling each other or sometimes journeying across a carefully mapped territory. His drawings were unlike anything I’d ever done myself, and when you looked at them he would carefully explain exactly what was happening in Sam-world. While at art school, I read about sculptor Claes Olenburg, and how as a child, he and his brother created a complete historical and geographical world of their own. I remember feeling that click of connection: Oh…they’re just like Sam. 

As artists, it’s a way to touch others, to pull from our common experiences of being young and full of imagination, that time in our times when our creativity is limitless and uninhibited.  And then like Mike Kelley, you can move people to joy with your art.

Your experiences with art and travel

I love to travel and I love to see new art when I travel, and it seems I’m not the only one. In this blog post are the answers to the May/June contest question, “What was your best art experience while travelling?”
I was amazed at the detailed answers I got, the question seemed to stir up the wonderful trip memories. Emi wrote that she made the subject the topic of a dinner conversation and I got three great entries as a result.
Some people had their best encounters with art in Europe, where treasures of art exist both inside and outside the museums.
Amy wrote:
My best art experience while traveling was my very first art experience while traveling–and maybe my first real art experience ever (I don’t count being dragged to art museums during field trips, because no one ever pays attention during field trips). My sister was studying abroad in Spain during my junior year of high school, and I went to visit her for two weeks. It was my first big solo trip traveling anywhere at all, and I was excited to go to Europe. My sister and I spent several days in Madrid, and she took me to the Prado, Reina Sofia, and Thyssen museums. While I was just wandering aimlessly around the Prado, not really sure what I was looking at because I was just seventeen and surrounded by surrealism, I saw Máxima Velocidad de la Madonna de Rafael. I loved it because it was like I was looking at Raphael’s painting, except it had been painted over with some blues and some spheres of other colors. For me, it was the perfect mixture of the realism in Renaissance paintings with something new, bright, and different. I must have looked at that painting for at least ten minutes, trying to absorb every detail and facet of it. I bought a postcard of the painting in the gift shop and tucked it away inside my photo album of memories from that trip to Spain. Every once in a while, I’ll pull it out and look at the image again, and I find it as equally mesmerizing as I did then–almost ten years later. 
Salvador Dali, Máxima Velocidad de la Madonna de Rafael

Emi wrote:
I was visiting the Czech Republic where a girlfriend of mine worked for Mitsubishi Steel in Prague in 1994. We went north of Prague into the countryside. The countryside was populated with razed denuded mountains that had been mined but the place we visited was pastural. We visited a former film-maker and his wife who host a sculpture event annually where people gather and created installations that take advantage of the natural landscape. For example, creating sculptures and patterns from the earth and metal sculptures through which through the woods behind could be admired – pieces that integrated natural landscapes and were intended to make a counter statement to the destruction of the nearby exploited natural environment. It was fascinating to walk around and admire these sculptures, some of which were naturally decaying with time. Down the road, we came upon a wonderful glass exhibit in an art gallery, which had formerly been a castle. It seemed amazing to find such a rich exhibit in the middle of an isolated countryside. My mother had just begun working with glass in Japan and I was keen to appreciate the medium better. The gallery was called Klenova Castle and is located in Janovice. It is apparently one of the most famous art galleries in the Czech Republic now. Later that night, we wanted to watch a world soccer cup game but there were few pubs or restaurants in the area and they were closed. We could see a few tv screens in private homes. Instead, we sat with glasses of wine and our host shone film spotlights onto the trees above us, creating beautiful shadows, natural entertainment, and art.

PW wrote:
Seeing Guernica at the Reina Sofia in Madrid made me think differently about the power of art to create cultural touchstones. The painting was constantly surrounded by a crowd about 50, almost all of them Spaniards. People would look on in respectful silence for a few minutes and then move on. They already knew what the painting meant because their parents and grandparents had lived through those terrible times. It was if they weren’t looking in order to understand the painting but instead were using it as a reminder of what can happen when we lose our capacity for empathy. I think that this kind of secular worship gives a culture a moral foundation that surpasses any flag waving or anthem singing.
Picasso, Guernica

Some people love to travel and find local artists, then bring home art as a lovely souvenir of their trip. Souvenir in French means to remember, and what better memory of a trip could there be than an artist’s vision and your remembrance of meeting the artist?
Caroline wrote:
Sometimes you can find the most beautiful things where you don’t expect them. So my best art experience isn’t a famous one. When visiting The Forbidden City I encountered a local artist who spent his days painting there. I was struck by a painting of a detail of a gate, a handle shaped like a dragon head. I ended up buying it. 
I don’t travel much unfortunately but whenever I travel and something catches my attention I buy it. On a trip to Wales I bought a lithography which depicts the local beach, by coincidence the one I visited, covered in snow. The first snow that part of Wales had seen in years. They’re better memories than pictures to me.
Liz wrote:
Oh this is easy ;). While traveling in Italy years ago I found out there was a little gallery in Vernazza. We ventured upon it after hiking the Cinque Terre and found the owner to be a most charming gentleman. To this day, the paintings that I purchased from him are my favorite reminders of his gorgeous little town and our trip to Italy with our kids years ago. Those are the paintings that I would retrieve first if God forbid my house was burning!

Others found inspiration closer to home, back here in North America.
James wrote:
When I was on duty in Ranklin Inlet in 1983 as a peace officer, I watched Adam Totalik sculpt soapstone carvings. I realize now I should have bought a sculpture but hesitated at the time because they were $90 apiece!
I also remember watching a group of 10-12 men sculpting wood figurines (elephants, giraffes, zebras) for 45 minutes while in Namibia, Africa. They were quietly focussed, occasionally sharing a joke he didn’t understand. I enjoyed the energy of their purposeful work and watching the sculptures take shape.
Eiko wrote:
In 1961, when I first came to the US from Japan, I saw a Thai art exhibit in the Seattle Museum of Art. It was not the exhibit that was significant but who I met. I was introduced to another woman, who was going to go to the same school with her and we hit it off right away. Marion and I fast became best friends and were roommates at Yale School of Design.
Marianne P. wrote:
I have had so many unforgettable art experiences abroad but the one that comes immediately to mind is one I had close to home in Victoria at the Gallery there. I found myself completely alone in the little room devoted to Emily Carr. As I looked at her work and read the information I found myself in a complete state of emotional overwhelm. I was grateful to be alone as if anyone had peered in they would have observed me with tears streaming down my face. I suddenly had this deep feeling of understanding. That’s really the only way I can describe the experience. It was so profound. Oddly enough, when I was much younger I was always very uncomfortable around her work as it evoked a feeling of fear and dread in me. Now 35 years later I feel a quiet sense of wonder.

Emily Carr, Dream Picture
Thank you for sharing these lovely and thoughtful answers. From a random draw, the winner is Amy, congratulations.

What was your best art experience while travelling?

“Study for the chimpanzee” by Francis Bacon. As usual, the reproduction colour is not right, the canvas is actually a gorgeous red/pink.
My daughter, Julia, is backpacking her way through South America right now. On her very first day, she went to an art museum in Bogota and saw some Botero and Bacon. (Try saying that quickly three times!) Obviously, my parenting work is done here, since my kids love art even when not being nagged about it.
I have so many great memories of art I’ve seen while travelling. I couldn’t take my eyes off an extraordinary Francis Bacon painting of an ape on a bright pink background at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice.  I saw a huge Ed Ruscha retrospective at the Whitney in New York City that made me fall utterly in love with his charming and intelligent work. And I went to Palm Springs just to see a show of Wayne Thiebaud work, where his confectionary colours and lush paint application seemed to fit perfectly with the artificiality of an oasis city in the desert.
However I think that my best art moment came 10 years ago in Milano. After touring through Italy and seeing the wonders of ornate cathedrals and dark Renaissance masterpieces we were drawn to a strange anomaly: a Whitney show of American art which had travelled to Italy. We wandered through the bright lights and white walls which contrasted completely with the dark spaces we had been touring. The kids laughed at giant Oldenburg food sculptures, while Pat contemplated a Lee Krasner work that vengefully dwarfed the Jackson Pollock beside it. I recognized artist after artist that I had been studying at art school, this was a greatest hits collection of the rich period of American art in the 50’s and 60’s.

Mark Rothko, in living colour
Afterwards, as we relaxed in an outdoor patio with fizzy Italian drinks, we compared notes. “What was your favourite painting?” is a question I often ask the kids.  Amazingly, Pat, Julia and I all liked the same painting: an absolutely luminous Mark Rothko. I can’t even remember exactly which one it was, but the yellow on the canvas glowed so brightly, you were drawn to it from across the room. We all agreed, it was the best painting we had seen that day.

I remember being impressed that we could all love a simple abstraction so much, and also shocked that a painting I had seen in books could be a thousand times more beautiful in real life. Even now, looking back, I remember a certain happiness, perhaps at seeing something new and yet familiar, something simple and  modern after so much ornate history, or perhaps just a connection to North America while we were so far from home.

Bacon, Rothko and….me? Yikes.
This brings me to the May contest.  I wanted to know, what was your best art experience while travelling?
I have the appropriate prize for this contest, a painting using the topographical maps I got through the kindness of Natural Resources. However this photo shows a work in progress, I’m not quite finished the painting yet, so it will still change, hopefully for the better…but who knows. 
It measures 8” x 8” or 20cm by 20cm. Anyone can enter, even if you’ve won before. You can enter in the blog comments, on facebook, or send me an email at, I will summarize the comments at the end of May and have a draw for the map painting then. 
One question came up about why I’m running contests, and I’m not trying to promote anything; I just wanted to give a little art to people who want it. Good luck!

L.A. Trip

Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park #79

Some people have a bucket list of places to see and things to do before they die. I have a list of artists I want to see, not just one painting, but a decent retrospective, and I’m ready to travel to do this. I’ve gone to Palm Springs to see Wayne Thiebaud, and I went to Seattle to see the Leipzig painters. This month I crossed another artist off my list when I went to Los Angeles.

Richard Diebenkorn is an artist I’ve admired for a long time. I admire the way he moves between abstraction and representation, his subtle use of colour and most of all I admire his Ocean Park series. Plus, he was mentioned on Gilmour Girls, which used to be the peak of pop cultural acclaim around here.  I kept reading about planned Diebenkorn shows, but when this show finally materialized, I booked our flights to California.

The cheery woman at the front desk of our L.A. motel remarked that she had never heard of the Orange County Art Museum, and certainly the directions she gave us resulted in endless circles in an unpromising office park. When we finally found the museum, it was well-hidden in a business complex, but thanks to a Target-sponsored family day, admission was free and the place was packed. Can I say how happy it makes me to see a museum full of people of all ages enjoying good art? Can I also say how much I’m looking forward to Target finally coming to Canada, not only for the shopping, but since they seem to be big supporters of the arts?

On to the show, which features Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park paintings, as well as the prints and works on paper of the same period.  Diebenkorn’s studio was in nearby Santa Monica, and he was inspired by the intense light of Southern California. The Ocean Park paintings are huge at 8 or 9 feet tall, seeing them in books gives you no idea. And you can see the layers of paint, where Diebenkorn considered and then obliterated what went before, as contemplation was a big part of his process. He uses oil paint in a very flat, thinned way, creating opacity rather than the shiny impasto I usually associate with the medium. And his judicious use of bright colour with neutrals was beautiful.

Diebenkorn smoked cigars and used the box tops as another painting surface.

I was particularly fascinated by some tiny paintings done on cigar box lids, which were mainly personal gifts. He managed to make the composition of a 5” x 5” painting as perfect as something 20 times larger. I’m vowing to spend more time sweating out my compositions in the future. Seeing great art is simultaneously discouraging and inspiring, but I have yet to see a great artist who didn’t work his/her butt off to create, regardless of circumstances. If you can’t get to the show, here is video of the show when it was in Texas. 

So who’s next on the bucket list? There’s a Mark Rothko show in Portland I’ll be seeing next month. And I’d love to see Gerhardt Richter, Peter Doig, and Beatriz Milhazes, and I keep adding artists to my list. Does anyone know a good way to see what shows are coming up and where they’ll be? Because I’m very willing to travel to see art, and enjoying new cities are just a wonderful side effect.