Experience art in Copenhagen with Peter Amby
This is Peter Amby
Work: Owner of the Last Resort Gallery
What he has done: Law student, nightclub founder, PR firm owner. Opened his gallery in 2014.
Peter Amby arrives in style at his Last Resort Gallery on Borgergade – on a rusty old Raleigh bike. It’s in keeping with the location. Many people have been puzzled by the decision to locate the gallery on a dingy back street instead of the nearby gallery area on upmarket Bredgade. But Amby, one of the hottest young gallery owners in Copenhagen, knew what he was doing.
“Copenhagen is such a cute city,” says the 32-year-old. “I chose Borgergade because it’s one of the few ugly streets.”
Even when you find your way to Borgergade 2, you still have to hunt for the entrance. The anonymous metal door is hidden away in the courtyard.
“I want people to come here because they are interested in the art,” Amby says.
“When I worked at Galleri Christina Wilson, which is on a fancy street, people showed up for the usual Friday vernissages to kick off the evening. We have ours on Saturdays instead, so only close family show up.” He’s laughing, but not entirely joking.
Opening up to kitsch and colour
The Last Resort Gallery is all about the inner experience of the work. Even the office, which more resembles a relaxed living room, is carefully arranged to give visitors the right feeling.
“Galleries can feel daunting,” Amby says, “which can inhibit interaction and conversation – things that are just as important as the art itself.”
There’s a well-used Danish sofa by Fabricius and Kastholm. In the center of the room is a large plywood dining table that Amby has designed himself. Around it are chairs by designers such as Le Corbusier, Gerrit Rietveld, Harry Bertoia and Charles Eames. But no more Danish design is in sight and Amby speaks enthusiastically about the kitsch and colorful style of the Italian Memphis design group of the 1980s – the antithesis of functionalist Scandinavian modernism.
“The Danish art and design world has always been rather protectionist and self-righteous. But my generation is a little more outward looking. Now we even exhibit work by Swedes,” Amby says with a wry smile.
The thinking behind the art important
The gallery’s program of exhibitions comprises Danish and international contemporary art in almost equal measure. Amby says a good proportion of domestic work is necessary for its survival.
“Collectors here would rather buy the work of a Danish debutant than something by a well-known international artist. During the 2013 David Horvitz exhibition, for example, nothing was sold at all. Instead, the pieces went on to an exhibition at the New Museum in New York.”
When Scandinavian Traveler visited the gallery, there were only paintings on display, but Amby is just as happy to work with installations, photography, and video. He’s a fan of conceptual art and an admirer of Seth Siegelaub, the gallery owner and curator who played a key role in establishing the genre in the late 1960s.
“The most important thing is the thinking behind the art,” Amby says, “not the genre the artist has chosen to express the idea.”
As it turns out, the paintings adorning the walls are not part of an exhibition. Amby’s father is throwing a 70th birthday lunch at the gallery, and the artwork is intended to create a cozier atmosphere instead of blank white walls.
Not that the paintings necessarily give one a cozy feeling. Take Michael Bevilacqua’s work depicting a run-down apartment building with a large black cross in the middle of the facade. It was here that Joy Division singer Ian Curtis hanged himself in 1980.
Amby’s not worried, though. It would take a lot more than a few paintings to rattle his father, Christen, who was a well-known left-wing radical in the 1970s, founding Denmark’s Friendship Association with North Korea. He met Kim II Sung several times before thinking better of it, leaving politics and becoming a tax lawyer.
Los Angeles next?
Family is important to Amby, and it’s one of the reasons for his interest in art. As a boy, he spent much of his summer vacations at the Copenhagen studio of his older brother, artist Balder Olrik, who suggested he try running a gallery.
But Amby didn’t want to sit alone in a gallery all day, waiting for people to come in. Instead, he enrolled in law school. He was a good student, but never really enjoyed the law. He distracted himself with other activities, such as opening the Fahrenheit nightclub together with some friends.
“One night a week we rented the exclusive NASA club, where the likes of the Crown Prince used to hang out. We had drag queens on the door instead of the usual bouncers. What a time that was!”
Amby also found time to start a PR agency and got into art, making deals from his home. After graduation, he decided to go all in. In 2010, Amby entered into partnership with gallery owner Christina Wilson before opening his own gallery a year later. In 2014, he teamed up with Andreas Henningsen and the Last Resort Gallery was born.
The gallery takes its name from an American TV show that was canceled after one season. But for Amby, this is just the beginning.
“My greatest dream is to open in Los Angeles,” he says. “Forget Berlin – there are hordes of artists there but no collectors. LA is home to both great artists and great collectors. If that doesn’t work out, I might just open another nightclub.”
Text: Dennis Dahlqvist
Published: January 29, 2016