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KØS with Chiharu Shiota's red net. Photo: Hans Ole Madsen
KØS with Chiharu Shiota's red net. Photo: Hans Ole Madsen


Køge’s museum of street art

Copenhagen’s famous mermaid may seem innocent enough, but she’s an example of a work of art in a public space, and as a symbol of Denmark she’s had to put up with a lot over the years, as both the times and the audience have changed.

She’s had her head cut off (twice), her arm stolen, been blown up off her rock, and had paint poured over her. She’s also campaigned for equal pay, been dressed in a bikini, an anti-radiation gas mask, a burka, and a pink balaclava in support of feminist activists Pussy Riot.A model of Copenhagen’s famous mermaid at KØS. Photo: Lise Hannibal

She has also provided the inspiration for a Danish-Norwegian artist duo’s controversial shiny sculpture of a male figure at Helsingør harbor. Entitled He, it has been called everything from “gay” to “the city’s new landmark”.

The story of the mermaid’s fate is told at KØS in idyllic Køge, south of Copenhagen, which is one of the world’s few museums of art in public spaces. It’s devoted to the art that can be found on the streets and in the squares, both state-sponsored prestige projects and anti-establishment street art and performance art. It’s art that is familiar to us all, art that we can see in the places where we all go, and which most people therefore have an opinion on.

As the reactions to The Little Mermaid and He show, art in public spaces can boost both local pride and tourism, but it can also create a furor and generate political debate.

At KØS, they focus on the origins of the works and their later life and status in the public sphere. There are lots of interesting art stories to tell.

Older women with used car tires around their necks.

The collection contains 18,000 sketches, models, and preliminary drawings for public Danish art – from mermaids and equestrian statues to churches and art playgrounds. Street art phenomena such as HuskMitNavn and Mormor are also represented, as well as Kathrine Ærtebjerg’s sketches for the decoration of Frederik VIII’s Palace at Amalienborg and Bjørn Nørgaard’s tapestries for Christiansborg Palace.

Chiharu Shiota ar KØS. Photo: Lise Hannibal

KØS is not only home to Danish art, though. Until September 4, 2016, you can take in the work of four top Japanese artists in an exhibition entitled “In your heart, in your city”. Takafumi Hara, Tatsumi Orimoto, Chiharu Shiota and Yukihiro Taguchi use all of the public space in their art, with very different results: a house built from found materials, a huge web of black threads on which hang 3,000 letters of thanks, performance art involving bread, shoes, grandmothers, and car tires, and the lives of local residents translated into poetic drawings.


Text: Lise Hannibal

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