A while ago in February I went to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art for the first time. Located 25 miles north of Copenhagen (about 45 minutes by train) in Humlebaek, it’s a lovely mid-century modernist building set in the woodland overlooking the Øresund sound, the stretch of water that separates Denmark and Sweden. It’s a very peaceful gallery experience, connected to the landscape and elements outside. And it’s fast become my favourite art gallery in the world.
When I had visited Copenhagen previously I had never really had the time to get to Louisiana. But I really wish I had. It’s definitely one of those places that should be top of your list when you visit the Danish capital.
I went in February to see an exhibition on the Chinese architect Wang Shu. It was snowing outside and the gallery was a welcome retreat from the cold. The landscape outside looked bleak but beautiful, the large picture-frame windows framing views of the frozen lake on one side and the mysterious waters of the sea on another, as if they were a work of art on display.
The building was designed by architects Jørgen Bo and Wilhlem Wohlert and opened in 1958. It’s a low-rise, understated building that fits gracefully in with its surroundings. When the museum first opened, it consisted of several glass corridors and three discrete pavilions, connecting an old villa on the site to the cafe looking over the water to Sweden. One of them was the Giacometti Hall you see above, with it’s tall windows providing a vista outside.
In 1982, a second wing was built, buried into the ground to retain the building’s low profile. A further underground wing was built in 1991, which connects the exhibition route into a satisfying, circular form, so you can walk a complete journey through the museum and not have to go back on yourself. A children’s wing and shop was added in 1998.
Bo and Wohlert conceived the building so that visitors would feel that they were on a ‘covered stroll’ through the park. You wander along these semi-transparent corridors and are greeted with perfectly framed sculptures and viewpoints of the landscape. You’re walking through the woods, but have the advantage of being warm and sheltered. Ideal when it’s snowing outside!
The materials have a tactility to them – painted brick, whitewashed walls, wooden ceilings, exposed beams and red-brown floor tiles. The tones and textures seem to reference the landscape, while there’s a certain domesticity in the architecture which makes you feel right at home. Like, you’re having a tour of an art collector’s mid-century house.
The founder, Knud W. Jensen, sought to create a museum with soul, where the public could encounter artwork, not in a pretentious setting for the elite, with cold white-box galleries, but in a welcoming place with something for everybody.
Upstairs in one of the gallery spaces there is a stunning view across the sea. It feels almost like you’re on a boat and is a brilliant breathing space between exhibition rooms. So you can collect your thoughts and take in what you have seen, so different to being rushed around a gallery surrounded by hundreds of people in London.
The cafe is not just a place to gather sustenance, it’s a warm, inviting space to linger and stay a while. Jensen wanted to offer more than just art, Louisiana’s a meeting place too. In the winter, a big wooden fire is lit and there are candles on every table.
You may be wondering why the name Louisiana? Well, Alexander Brun, who owned and built the original villa on the site in 1855, named it after the three women he married, who all happened to be called Louise!
Louisiana hosts a really superb array of exhibitions on sculpture and painting – when I was there there was one on Louise Bourgeois. The collection comprises 3,400 works of international art, from after 1945 to the present day. There’s also Yayoi Kusama’s mesmerising installation Gleaming Lights of the Souls, where you step inside a mirrored room that bounces around light and colour. There’s also works by Andy Warhol, Lichtenstein, Picasso and Kandinsky. For me, the Giacometti gallery was the highlight, and not just for the view.
In the warmer weather, visitors to the museum can explore the 60 sculptures in the park.
Have you been to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, what did you think?
All images Cate St Hill
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Gl. Strandvej 13, 3050 Humlebaek. Open Tuesday – Sunday, Monday closed. For more information, see here.