Recently, I met more than a few travelers who enjoy going to places but purposefully skip museums and art galleries. I respect them; but for me, art has always been a reason to visit a place, a city, a country. It’s hard to imagine London without the Tate or Madrid without the Prado.
I’ve always had a passion for art, having studied art history in both high school and university, and maybe that’s why I sometimes take holidays specifically for art: “art weekend trips.”
Winter is the perfect time for planning an art weekend trip. In winter, you’re already expecting to spend a lot of time inside, whether cafés, museums or shops. And what better place to spend it then in a museum where you can almost always get all three!
You don’t have to spend your entire museum time wondering around the halls, but if and when you stumble on something special, just stay. Sit or stand in front of the art, turn off the outside world and escape to somewhere new.
For my art weekend trip to Copenhagen and Malmö, the SMK or the National Gallery of Denmark was my first stop, a huge museum with collections from European classics from the Renaissance to contemporary Danish and Nordic art.
The admission is free for the permanent collections where you can see famous works by Cranach, Rubens, Picasso and Matisse. Temporary exhibitions have an admission. During my December visit, there was a compilation of works from a Danish painter, C.W. Eckerberg, with paintings representing everyday scenes and natural phenomena.
Eckerberg painted a lot of clouds and boats on the sea, but for me, his best works were a series of nude portraits (big surprise, I know!), in which you could see with great detail the complexity of our human bodies.
On my second day, I decided to finally accept that I was a tourist and visit the Little Mermaid. I’m a bad tourist on occasion, because from time-to-time when something is so so so popular like the Pyramids in Cairo or the Manneken Pis in Brussels, I tend to be disappointed.
However, the Little Mermaid, created by artist Edvard Eriksen and inspired by his wife Eline, really conquered my heart. I didn’t expect to like it and I was surprised about the overwhelming sadness I felt when I walked up on her.
The mermaid, my friends, is an expat, a refugee, an immigrant. She leaves her own world behind to go to explore a new world, and as many of us who travel and live abroad, she’s anchored in this struggle between old and new, between happiness and melancholia.
After the Mermaid, and because you can simply walk the Kastellet (a star fortress) to get to the other side, I visited the Designmuseum Danmark. I was hoping to join the free English tour they have on Sundays, but it was Saturday (I know, I know, dates are complicated).
So, after spending some time in their museum shop, I walked around and learned a bit more about Denmark’s history in fashion and furniture design. The museum has little information in English but it’s a nice experience if you’re willing to dedicate a couple of hours to learn about things you use everyday, but items you don’t normally consider as “designed.” (Sorry, that’s the graphic designer in me speaking.)
But, the best stop during my trip in Copenhagen was an entire adventure because it requires you to take a train to the other side of the coast, a little city called Humlebæk on the Øresund strait. The Louisiana Museum is named after the three wives of the first owner of the property, Alexander Brun, all of them named Louise. Without a doubt, this is one of the best museums I’ve ever visited. In the temporary exhibition, I fell in love with the work of the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, the queen of the polka dot.
As an artist, Kusama explored everything from body painting to room installations. Her work feels alive and full of energy. Even the entrance of the museum featured her huge pumpkin sculptures. But it was her room installations that had me silent in thought, lost in my mind.
These room installations use lights and mirrors to transport you from a museum room to a place where you float in the middle of the universe…a place where water flows around you and a calm, silent darkness practically inviting you to dream. The permanent collection of the museum includes works by Giacometti, Hockey, Miró and Moore.
Louisiana is open late during the week and closes at 18:00 in the weekends. The museum has a good restaurant on the site, with a terrace and garden filled with sculptures. On a nice day you can see Sweden across the sea.
Maybe it was this image that made me take a train the next day and go to Malmö, just on the other side of the Øresund strait, 30 minutes by train from Copenhagen. In Malmö, I had only one stop because after three days of visiting galleries and museums, my mind was tired.
Too much amazing. However, the amazing Moderna Museet in Malmö, part of the same collection from Stockholm, is small but full of surprises. The museum is designed from top to bottom, from the submarine-like toilets to the yellow lockers named after famous painters. I chose Roy Lichtenstein, because I was feeling a little bit pop that day.
The best exhibition in the museum was a series of tapestries created by artist Hannah Ryggens, a pacifist Scandinavian feminist weaving the world during the Second World War. Her work depicted comical images of Mussolini and Hitler with her own interpretation of fascism visible in every carpet. She was a retrospective artist who created her own materials and dyed her own yarn.
Sometimes, when in the middle of a gallery, watching the art and the other people in the museum, I wonder what’s happened to art today. Where are all the artists? Being an artist today can’t be easy. To spend the time and have the discipline working on a project for years. And with what financing? Maybe our world moves too fast for art like we used to get.
There’s something special about dedicating yourself to art or to a museum, whether it’s for an hour, a day or an entire weekend trip. This escape from the right now, an escape into another world. Art weekend trips are all about this, about the use of your imagination and the conquest of beauty.
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Planning an art weekend in Copenhagen and Malmö? I stayed at the Radisson Blu Scandinavian–a tower near the harbor which had a picture-perfect view out over the city and was conveniently located between the main tourist sites and the alternative areas near Christiana.
In Malmö, I stayed at the Park Inn Hotel, a brand I’ve used repeatedly throughout Europe because it’s almost always convenient and affordable. Even though the Malmö hotel was a little further from the city center, it was located in the business district, near Scandinavia’s largest building, the architecturally cool Turning Torso.