Click on photos to enlarge.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

At first glance, the Louisiana MoMA strikes one as an upscale suburban home.
You should all go visit the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. The man who founded it was Knud W. Jensen. In 1944, Jensen took over his father's cheese wholesaling business. Twelve years later, in 1956, he decided he was tired of being a cheese salesman so he sold the business. Two years later he bought a stately estate where he founded his own art museum. But before everyone decides to charter a bus and head south, it might be better to charter a jet instead and head north; for you see, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art is located some twenty miles north of Copenhagen. Yes, the one in Denmark. Louisiana was merely the name of the estate, dating from 1856, overlooking the narrow Oresund Straight between Denmark and Sweden.

Out back however, overlooking the Baltic, the Louisiana MoMA exhibits a
restrained, yet surprisingly contemporary aura.

Part of the underground passageway
housing prints and photos.
At first the museum housed only Jensen's collection of Danish art. It was a beautiful, garden site, but Jensen was roundly criticized in art circles for setting his museum so far from the Danish capital. It was feared no one would come. But in the best "Field of Dreams" tradition, Jensen built...and built...and built, in eight different phases, world-class facilities and a remarkable collection of late 20th century art to fill them. (In fact, he lived in one wing of the museum until his death in 2000.) Today over half a million visitors a year, almost half of them foreigners, browse through the 7,500 square meters of exhibit space to enjoy the art of Francis Bacon, Max Ernst, Robert, Rauschenberg, Picasso, and Warhol, to name just a few. Works range from Pop to New Realism, a collection quite different in its contemporary emphasis from many museums of its kind around the world. One might even consider it a museum of post-modern art.

The museum map gives some idea of the sprawling size of the museum as
well as illustrating the lengths architects Bo and Wohlert have gone to
retain the environmental integrity of the site.
As exceptional as the collection might be, the museum itself, while carefully designed not to compete with the art (as so often happens in such cases), may be one of the most extraordinary in the world; if for no other reason than its restraint and respect for the natural beauty of the estate. Glass exhibit passages arch around in either direction from the original, 19th century villa to form a semicircle. These wings house the majority of the permanent collection. In meeting the challenge of ever larger, taller, more open exhibition space for modern floor installations, the South Wing is half buried into a hillside with a sloping roof mimicking the natural slope of the land itself. Finally, connecting the two wings, is the totally underground Graphics Wing, placed so as not to block the view of the ocean from the historic main house while providing windowless protection for the highly light sensitive photos and prints it was designed to house.
Purposeful understatement would best describe the
museum's architectural relationship to the art within.
Architects Jorgen Bo and Vilhelm Wohlert were quite young when Jensen first commissioned them to remodel the original villa into an art museum. In fact, it was their first commission. In the 54 years since, they've grown with the museum, adapting it to the changes in contemporary art as well as modern museum design standards. In many ways, it could even be said that they've helped set those standards themselves, in evolving one of the most popular museum of its kind in all of Europe.
Few museums anywhere in the world can boast a more beautiful or
carefully preserved site that the Louisiana MoMA.


  1. Nice switcheroo -- the front view looks very plausibly Louisianian of the Baton Rouge variety.

  2. Michael--
    Yes, being build in 1856, I would imagine the main house was intended to evoke a Cajun ambience, especially given the name. I have to wonder if maybe the builder might not have been an American from the deep South. I suppose that's not out of the realm of possibility, though it seems a little odd in a place like Denmark, which, so far as I know, has no association with that part of this country.

  3. Dear Jim Lane / USA.
    Maybee this story will have your interest: The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art have now this week decided,to remoove Mr. Knud W. Jensen's original building,so thay can sell the country to an investor,who will build about 9 traditionel houses on the land.They claime,they need money,because of the international economic crises.How can we start an international protest aginst this madness...? Thank you,and B.R.

  4. Even in 1858, a person could choose a name with tongue firmly planted in cheek. According to the Museum's own web page, the name derives from the three wives (one assumes serial monogamy and nominal monotony) of the property's original owner, Alexander Brun. His wives were all named Louise, of course. Surely he had heard of Louisiana across the sea but other than that, the Old South likely had little or nothing to do with it, being largely irrelevant to an estate in Denmark.