Copenhagen – the compact, understated capital of Denmark – has long been a Nordic and European center for creativity and the arts. It’s rich, countercultural history is increasingly a backdrop to its booming art, fashion and architecture industries. The city trades on its reputation as the epicenter for an elegant Scandinavian minimalism – an aesthetic which feeds into every aspect of Copenhagen’s culture.
The Chart Art Fair, now in its fourth year, is a showcase for this Nordic contemporary aesthetic. The fair will bring many spheres of ‘creative’ Copenhagen together under the umbrella of Chart social – a program of cultural events involving the worlds of performance, architecture, design and gastronomy. A perfect excuse to get to know the city, Chart will introduce you to Scandinavian culture, and surprise you with unexpected perspectives on art you thought you’d already encountered.
An exciting young Nordic artist showing at Chart is Ilja Karilampi. Working with large installations and shiny, elaborate gestures, his art looks at global communication through a prism of branding, streetwear and underground culture. His work is cryptic, but rooted in symbolism. He has made works about 50 Cent, Dutch House, memes – while consistently somehow reflecting on America, and youth culture, from the perspective of an outsider. His vision is an almost satirical look at the modern concept of the moment – clickbait, emerging patterns of style, rebellion – which seems perfectly modern.
While Scandinavian artists are represented comprehensively at Chart, it will also features famous non-Nordic works held by Danish, Swedish and Norwegian galleries. Joseph Kosuth at Brandstrup is one to look out for. His work reminds will remind you that dialogue and intertextuality can make you feel something other than jaded exhaustion.
Also at Brandstrup is a selection of late work by Robert Mapplethorpe. The darkness of these cryptic, oblique images is startling, but with the same erotic pulse that ran through his more famous earlier work. To see them now is to revisit a sparse, dark period in the oeuvre of an artist whose lesser known works really need to be seen.
When the fair ends for the day, an exciting, oft – overlooked European capital awaits you. The town center and surrounding areas are small, but rewarding. To truly fall in love with the Copenhagen, rent a bike – the infrastructure that exists means even the most timid urban cyclist will feel perfectly at home on two wheels. Women ride in heels and flowing maxi dresses, and no one wears a helmet. It’s perfect.
After that bike ride, you’ll need a drink and something to eat. Small bars exist alongside the grandeur of 18th century townhouses and rococo mansions. CHART is located centrally in Kongens Nytorv with tons of options for food. New Nordic cuisine (a movement that prioritized a sparse, challenging approach to simple, local ingredients) has been the dominant theme in the Danish food scene for the past few years, but there are other options. Osteria 16, on Vesterbrogade, is a hyper-elegant Italian spot, with the odd Pakistani main thrown in for good measure. La Banchina, in the quiet Amager section of the city, serves unfussy, super-fresh seafood against the quaint backdrop of a barge filled canal.
If you want a taste of old world Copenhagen, Bo Bi in Klareboderne is the perfect place to experience old Copenhagen. Long frequented by the city’s bohemian creatives, the bar is darkly lit and filled with cigarette smoke, with boiled eggs and mustard for snacks and whiskey and Tuborg to keep you hydrated. Friendly, grizzled locals prop up the bar, so strike up a conversation with a Dane and drink away a night in this absurdly charming little spot.
For a city that feels so small, there is a vibrant network of bars and clubs for the more adventurous. Head to Vibes Apotek for some absinthe and a balloons filled with laughing gas. In the city’s emerging ‘Meatpacking District’ (Kødbyen) clubs and bars exist beside still functioning slaughterhouses. Jolene, a neon, in-your-face warehouse space, regularly has funk and grime nights and is somehow intense and glamorous at the same time.
Copenhagen is totally walkable to go exploring. Across the Oster Sogade, to the North of the city is Norrebro – a multicultural, sprawling neighborhood with small coffee shops, bike stores and fruit stands. An evolving part of the city, it is a departure from the studied, understated elegance of the city center. Grundtvigskirken, in Nordvest, is breathtaking, and an unusual example of a fusion of gothic and expressionist architecture.
Also to the North of the city is Superkilen – a sculpture park and interactive experience which aims to foster community cooperation through architecture. Everyday objects from all over the world – a slide from Chernobyl, English park benches, a typical Indian playground – coexist alongside palm trees and religious imagery. Set aside ten minutes and take in Copenhagen at its most diverse and surprising – a landscape architect’s wet dream in a multicultural part of the city.
When in Copenhagen, you will quickly realize just how seriously the locals take their style. Take on street wear like the locals and hit up stores like Wood Wood and Henrik Vibskov, defining an avant-garde style which has come to represent a global Danish aesthetic. Take a trip to Astrid Andersens, on Jagtvej – a small, strange store run by the poster girl for Danish street style. Illum is Copenhagen’s only department store, and is a thrilling, granite filled interpretation of Barney’s. Its perfume section is incredible – Nordic companies like BYREDO are on show, and prove that Scandinavian design is some of the finest in the world.
Chart is a new fair, and a welcome starting point as a tourist in a new city. In many ways, Copenhagen is an under-discovered capital. To find yourself in the city center, after an afternoon of art consumption is a gift. Begin your days with Mapplethorpe and Kosuth, and end them with the sun setting on a sculpture park or a Negroni.