If you are interested in art and find yourself in Aalborg, the fourth most populous city in Denmark, make sure to visit Kunsten. Housed in a striking modernist building designed by the renowned Finnish architect Alvar Aalto with assistance from his architect wife Elissa Aalto and the Danish architect Jean-Jacques Baruël, Kunsten is a museum of modern art displaying both travelling exhibitions and pieces from their collection comprised of more than 4000 works of art by domestic and international artists.
When I by chance made my first visit to Kunsten about two weeks ago, three exhibitions were on display, all of them still running today: Let’s Match!, Let’s Get Lost, and Ernesto Neto’s Rui Ni/Voices of the Forest.
Let’s Match! and Let’s Get Lost are two separate exhibitions with much in common. Not only are they both mostly made up of works from Kunsten’s collection, they are also organised in unconventional ways. In Let’s Match!, pieces of art from widely different periods in very different styles – you’ll find everything from a biblical tableaux by Niels Larsen Stevns to shoes made into sculptural insects by Kaarina Kaikkonen – have been grouped together according to theme or likeness. In other words, it’s not chronology but affinity that’s the guiding principle. A fresh take indeed!
In Let’s Get Lost, the 20th century art on display – including pieces by such diverse artists as Pablo Picasso, Niki Saint Phalle, Nam June Paik and Asger Jorn – is presented in a big labyrinthine construction. No route is given nor implied. Instead the visitor is encouraged to make up their own itinerary and to choose their own approach. “If you want to get lost along the way you do that, if you want to lose yourself in details you do that, if you want to sprawl on one of the sofas you do that, if you want to know more you read the signs”, a printed text at the entrance approximately reads. I found such a stance incredibly liberating and, judging by the behaviour of my fellow visitors, I was not the only one. Not that other museums force their visitors to carefully study all of their art in a strict routine, but by spelling these directives out, Kunsten really sets a relaxed yet invigorating tone.
The same atmosphere pervaded “Rui Ni/Voices of the Forest”, a brand new work created especially for Kunsten by Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto (b. 1964). Neto, considered one of the greatest in the contemporary international art scene, is known for his large and soft biomorphic installations that people are allowed to interact with. You certainly get a taste of this in “Rui Ni/Voices of the Forest”. Occupying all of Kunsten’s Main Gallery, the work – primarily made up of colourful fabrics and big crocheted structures – looks like a mix between a jungle, a hatching-site for aliens or mutated spiders, and a kindergarten playground and invites everyone to respectfully explore it to one’s heart’s content. Musical instruments are placed here and there throughout. When I delved into “Rui Ni/Voices of the Forest”, I was lucky enough to have a fellow visitor sensitively playing the acoustic guitar amidst the work. That definitely added to the enjoyment of the installation, as did observing the other ways visitors interacted with it.
Unfortunately I didn’t have time to see everything Kunsten has to offer. I never entered the library, I only gave the gift shop a glance, and I just scratched the surface of the sculpture park. Even so, I saw enough to know this is a place to visit and revisit. The current exhibitions are pleasing and the bright and beautiful building and the welcoming and playful atmosphere will most likely be an asset for whatever art Kunsten chooses to exhibit in the future.