Curiosity in Copenhagen
Tony Cohn is currently engaged in a Virtual Internship with the Smithsonian Office of Communications and External Affairs (OCEA) while he is studies abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. He writes about some of his experiences here.
The best museums leave me with more questions than answers. That’s the nature of my relationship with the Smithsonian; with each new speech I draft, each new detail I research, my interest in that area escalates. Imagine my excitement, then, when I received an email asking if I would visit Copenhagen’s myriad museums and write about the experiences during my semester abroad. (Excitement in this case translates to a celebratory fresh squeezed orange juice and Skype call to mom). An entire city filled with artistic, historic intellectual institutions! I picked up the phone and buzzed the expert: Nicoline.
As an 8th grader, I attended an international boarding school in Switzerland for a semester. It was there I met my first Danish friend, Nicoline. When I decided to study abroad in Copenhagen I immediately sent her a message. After settling into the city she gave me the inside scoop on which museums to visit. So, recently I found myself with Nicoline at the Louisiana— Copenhagen’s premier contemporary art museum.
I love art, but am no art wonk. For a speech I drafted last January, I explored the Smithsonian’s multiple art galleries. The museums totally spoil visitors with their variety and scope of art. That research started my fascination with Nam June Paik, a multimedia artist featured at the Smithsonian American Art Museum who specialized in 1960’s American culture, but that’s fodder for another blog. With the exception of that assignment, I was walking into the Louisiana a blank canvas.
Standing outside the Louisiana was like being at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. The building’s form follows function. Wooden pillars cascaded down a flat steel roof, complimented by lush greenery and snaking vines. I immediately started thinking out loud with Nicoline, trying to figure out the meaning behind every minute detail. We scanned our Louisiana pamphlets and headed to the Yoko Ono exhibit.
Going through museums is an odd mix of silence and discussion. I stopped for a while to stare at a line of half-filled mason jars. Each four-inch container had a name scribbled on it. Yogi Berra. Oprah Winfrey. Charles Dickens. Some I recognized, others I did not. I stood in silence for a bit just thinking. What does it all mean? What’s the message? Questions, questions, questions. I scanned the crowd surrounding the piece, understanding the curiosity inching up their faces. At the end of the display was a poem that read, “We’re all water in the end.” Nicoline and I started chatting. An odd mix of silence and discussion.
I had more questions as we continued through the main wing. A coarsely textured ladder leaned against a wall. The word “Hope” scrawled across the ceiling. A video of a fly on a human eye. A doorway that became increasingly smaller as we walked through so we had to inch our way out. What did everything mean? What did it say? We gazed at an oil painting of a child reaching toward the base of a tree. “Maybe he’s trying to get back to his roots?” I wondered out loud.
Crossing the central courtyard we spotted a willow tree. Paper tags dangled from its branches. In a way it was eerie; in a way it was beautiful. As we drew closer, Nicoline translated the Danish on a nearby oak plaque. Each white slip featured a wish from a Louisiana visitor. Throughout the fall, they’re collected periodically and transported to a sister museum in Reykjavik, Iceland. How many people can say they have a wish hanging out in Iceland? I thought hard and strung my thought from a nearby limb.
I hugged Nicoline goodbye and left the Louisiana. I’d seen one of countless art museums and wanted more. I couldn’t stop thinking on the train ride home. My mind raced with questions. And the strange thing was, there weren’t necessarily answers to calm that. Only a heightened curiosity.