In the Red Corner
“An aspiring young artist (with mask) stood outside KE – the Artist’s Autumn Exhibition held at Den Frie 1) during the Opening and painted a picture. The Scottish/Danish multi-artist explains why.”
Hekla Hekla 2)
On the 11th September I remember back to last year when I submitted five biographical portraits to KE. Everything I submitted was rejected without the possibility of feedback. I greatly regretted that I had given my confidence and my precious money to a ‘blind’ jury panel. I was angry and deeply disappointed. In 2013-14, I spent over 200 hours painting the best and most challenging portrait I might ever paint. The portrait is of a previously rejected Danish artist, now very well known and with increasing respect from the art scene. The painting alludes to many of his quirky ideas and character traits carried down to the smallest detail, as also he did it. His mischief and stubbornness were caught in his gaze. The painting’s reverse was also used as a canvas, because it was in his spirit to do something like that. It’s the kind of portrait you cannot paint unless you have love, understanding and a great enthusiasm for the subject. I could not resist the temptation to try one last time; to enter KE on the basis of this work.
It is the 18th Sep – Scotland’s Referendum on independence, and I’m sitting in Edinburgh well aware that the whole world is watching us to see what the next hours will mean for Britain’s future. It is also the day I hear KE’s verdict on my work. I log on to their website with butterflies in my stomach. But that which meets my gaze is yet another sorry, faceless, hostile red dot! Not a single judge recognizes my work. I am curiously empty of real anger, because now that my back is against the wall I’m ready to fight my corner. I will not accept the outcome this year. My brain is churning with ideas on how I can turn the disappointment into a new and suitably creative response – and proof that traditional painters can of course handle a more spontaneous, modern expression if necessary.
Today, the 24th September a family member in Denmark refers me to an article journalist Nils Thorsen 3) has written, about rejection. It inspires me further to implement my idea. I will confront KE as anonymously as my own rejection was, and I therefore make a plaster mask.
Clockwise from top: Protest painter outside Den Frie, The Frelloist details, Painted letter done outside Den Frie.
I cast a thought in Peter Smeeth’s direction for his painting “The Artist’s Fate” where demons surround him wearing white masks while they gut him of everything he has. I make a copy of my own ditched painting, with the intention of hanging it up outside KE on the opening day.
On Oct. 3, I’m back in Copenhagen. I meet up with a friend who helps me prepare. He suggests that I take the title from Thorsen’s article; “No thank you, Not for us. Try Again” – and write it in large letters above my rejected painting. I also make a letterbox where people can send their contact information if they want to join me in starting something new – now that the difference between The (once) Frie and Charlottenborg no longer can be detected.
Kl.16: 40. My friend drops me off outside Østerport Station opposite Den Frie. My suitcase hides my protest material, easel, canvas, boiler suit and mask. I look around and see a beggar sitting at the exit to the Station. I have long wanted to work with those who use the street, so I ask him if he would hang the painting and the mailbox up for me on the road sign outside Den Frie if I paid him. He most definitely would and rushes off before I have time to give him the final instructions.
Kl. 17:30. My new colleague also guards my suitcase while I take a quick trip around KE to see the exhibition. It seems to have a little of everything. There is a kind of business stand called Guilty, there is painting, photography, film and installation, but the standard does not intimidate me.
Kl.18:00. I cannot really concentrate on the show, because I do not belong there. On the way out of the building, I see that the protest material has been removed. “Well, they didn’t like that did they? – and if anyone gave me their contact information, they’ve probably been scrapped now.”
But the protest is not over. I find a quiet corner at the train station, get changed, put on my mask and force myself over the central reservation to the outer edge of the pavement in front of Den Frie. I begin to put the easel up among the bikes, but am quickly stopped by a tall man with a slender earring. He begins to ask me what my intention is, and whether it was me who hung the painting up. Technically, it was not, but the mask prevents me from responding. I mime that I need a piece of paper to write on. The tall man gets frustrated and asks me then to go further away, as it is not fair on the exhibited artists that I come and steal the show. I thank the mask for the help and turn my back on Den Frie – and cross the road once more stopping at the central reservation where I apparently belong.
Kl.19:00. Some KE guests are curious to see what is happening outside. A woman takes a picture of me with my brushes woven between my fingers and red and white lights in the background. More red dots – how appropriate.
Kl. 19:40. Not long before closing time a man comes over to me. He has a rocker hairstyle but a friendly nature. He asks politely if he can take a picture. I nod. “Are you one of the censors?”, I ask him before he slips away again. “Yes, I am, but it’s not me who is in charge of … look if you want some feedback I can give you that,” he says in a slightly flustered manner. I am not aware that he offers feedback without my painting in front of him, and I ask instead whether he will help me get my confiscated items back. What a pest it would be to have to climb the stairs wearing a mask and with a huge suitcase in tow, I think to myself. The man and a female colleague come back with my stuff shortly after. I thank them for their help using hand gestures, since I cannot smile. The censor, who I later understand is called Torben Sangild, seems even more bashful now than before, and avoids my masked gaze. She tries to pierce me with hers. Torben and the woman quickly leave again, and the possibility of feedback vanishes. But can I stand in the middle of my demonstration and listen to him tell me why my painting wasn’t quite what they were looking for? To hit the censor’s taste is a bit like trying to feed a person blindfolded. You know roughly where their mouth is, but you run the risk of hitting the eye. I’m not interested in trying to hit the mouth. My involvement has given me the necessary proof that no matter how accomplished it is, there are clearly certain genres that are being repressed by the Danish art scene. Furthermore, it is generally accepted by artists too. No longer me. I demand that KE are held accountable for their censoring method.
Kl.0:30. There is a strange restlessness in me tonight. The prelude to my protest began on September 18th on Scotland’s referendum for independence. Today I declared myself independent of the contemporary art scene. And neither do I want to be controlled by a commercial gallery. I am right there in the central reservation.
On October 22nd, one can go to Den Frie to hear some art connoisseurs talk about their favourite works at KE. If there is something important to know, I want to know. The artworks in the exhibition gets feedback from the panel such as: “I like that one has to add loads to it oneself” and “who thinks of pushing a potted plant into clay, hanging it on a wall and call it a painting? That is original.” Another from the panel likes the simplicity or the brushstrokes or fragility of a work. “It is a bit tame this”, I think, and am actually disappointed. But Thomas Skovgaard and Søren Mühldorffs business stand seems interesting. ‘Guilty, we’ll take the blame’ is a fake business that takes responsibility for your wrong actions – a kind of ‘Jesus’ business, maybe. The idea is pretty funny and simultaneously brings to our attention our need to wash our hands of all blame. Concept with meat. I would like to see more of that.
Afterwards I get chatting with one of the exhibiting artists. She figures out that it is me who was behind the protest. “I read about it at least once” she says. At home, I find a few references. Hekla Hekla, who took the masked photo commented on KE’s Facebook page; “… I have been allowed to see the anonymous artist’s rejected work and must say she is, in my opinion, a talented painter with an ability to tell a story – about another rejected artist from our common heritage, who now is highly reputable. Is KE then a selection of the best talent in the Danish art scene, or just a snap shot of a Committee’s taste? And there remains the eternal discussion: What is talent? ”
The question comes up even more when I see the title of an article in kunsten.nu, which also mentions the protest, bravely entitled “Taste Judgement”. Sangild has written it. In the last section; Prize and Protest, he has written about our conversation, and provides an explanation of why the submitted works are evaluated the way they are. I just wonder how these creative people cannot find solution to a judgment method that, according to Peter Michael Hornung 4) has produced an average quality exhibition. He says “part of the explanation is probably that many full or part-time artists, never send works into KE, because they do not want to be censored.” It sounds very likely I think, because I have now entered for the last time.
The 1st. November Morten Bo 5) encourages me to continue to cause a stir after reading Torben’s article. There is obvious gene deficiency in the inbred and self-indulgent dialogue that has reached its climax in England at Hayward Gallery 6), London. Here the ’emperor’ incredibly has been allowed to exhibit all 50 of his invisible new clothes. It costs £8 to ‘see’ them. Have we artists become the laughing stock of our time? In Denmark, we are also on the path towards nil and are clearly stifling those who are heading in a different direction by this highly offensive and superior judgment method used by KE – and KE is far from unique. Could we soon see ‘AND’ art? That is art that has an original idea AND craftsmanship AND content. Said in another way; art that uses the craft in a creative and original way to communicate a message, question or challenge. Imagine if respect for art’s voice came back and serious artists could proudly challenge the world around them with a tool that can achieve what politicians and money cannot? My portrait spoke one man’s case, my protest spoke 372 rejected artist’s cases, but there are plenty of topics that are screaming for the artists’ attention – not corny shock art, but intelligent exploratory art that promotes dialogue in a self-indulgent world. I am calling for a fresh start with a new philosophy of art. Den Frie/The Independent was the answer to Charlottenborg. Where do we find the answer to Den Frie? Maybe in the street among the people. Maybe right there in The Central Reservation?
1) Den Frie or The Independent – started by artists Rohde and Willumsen in 1891 – houses the Artists Autumn Exhibition (KE).
2) Hekla Hekla – author, power coach and amateur photographer – with an artistic past.
3) Nils Thorsen – writer and journalist at Politiken.
4) Peter Michael Hornung – art historian, art critic, writer and editor at Politiken.
5) Morten Bo is an award-winning photographer and writer, and director of the Danish Art Photography School Fatamorgana
6) A gallery that exhibited a collection of unseen artworks this year, ‘made’ by well known artists.
7) Contact North if you want to know more.