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At Denmark’s Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, one artist installed a real riverbed — complete with a stream running through it — in two adjoining galleries. There’s also an entire wing dedicated to kids, and it’s not unusual for visitors to bump into an Alexander Calder or Henry Moore sculpture around the grounds.
The museum is located some 24 miles north of Copenhagen in a suburban area called Humlebaek, about a 50-minute train ride from the city’s center. To the east is the Oresund sound, which separates Denmark from Sweden. The surrounding area includes rolling creeks, a large pond and forested areas.
The Louisiana — named after the three wives of the original owner, Alexander Brun, all of whom were named Louise — is the most-visited museum in Denmark and known internationally for its world-class collection of modern art dating from World War II. Artists represented include Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, David Hockney, Yves Klein, Alberto Giacometti, Robert Rauschenberg and Lucian Freud, among others.
The original museum was nothing more than a modest villa, but in 1958, the new owner, Knud W. Jensen, decided to expand it. The focus of the building today, built in the 1950s Danish modernism style, is on accessibility.
A current installation, “Gleaming Lights of the Souls,” by Japanese visual artist Yayoi Kusama, invites visitors to step into a mirror-lined room with hundreds of small colored lights. The popular exhibit gives guests the sensation of being in infinite space. Olafur Eliasson’s “Riverbed” recreates just what the title promises: a rock and gravel-strewn riverbed that visitors can walk on, albeit gingerly. The installation echoes one of the larger themes of the museum, which is to blend man-made works with the natural beauty of the outdoors.
In 2013, artist, singer and activist Yoko Ono celebrated her 80th birthday at the museum by presenting a retrospective of her work, complete with music, performance art and reminiscences about her life. At one point, an orchestra was slowly swathed in strips of gauze until it could no longer play, emitting only squeaks. Only then did Ono, in her signature sunglasses and a white hat, take to the stage.
Much of the museum’s happenings can be found online. Louisiana Live is a series of interviews and interactive activities with painters, writers, scientists, social commentators and more who talk about their work with the public in an outdoor venue. The Louisiana Channel has become a wide-ranging Internet channel with more than 1.7 million page views per year. New videos — on the visual arts, literature, design and architecture — are posted on the site every week. One recent interviewee was singer Patti Smith, who talked about her early days as a struggling artist in New York. Also available online are videos of chamber music concerts presented in Louisiana Museum’s concert hall, which was built in 1976 and still has pitch-perfect acoustics.
At the three-story Children’s Wing, kids ages 4 to 16 are encouraged to make their own art, often piggybacking off the museum’s current exhibitions. For example, during a recent showing of African art and architecture, children used paper, glue and their own imaginations to recreate some of the floating cities and buildings featured in the exhibit. Kids are taught to experiment with techniques used by artists featured in the museum — Danish artist Asger Jorn, for example, painted with strings, and children are given the opportunity to recreate his methods. There are also workshops for adults.
The grounds of the museum alone are worth the visit. Many guests like to spend the afternoon on the cafe’s outdoor terrace, looking out to the water below. It’s more like a park than a museum, but with the kind of hands-on experiences that Jensen probably had in mind all those years ago when he first decided to build it.
The museum is closed on Mondays. Admission for adults is about $17. Children under 18 are free.
Louisiana Museum of Modern Arten.louisiana.dk