In autumn 2019, Kunsten Museum of Modern Art Aalborg will present one of its most ambitious exhibitions to date in collaboration with the German artist, Carsten Höller (b. 1961). Since the early 1990s Höller has been radically exploring different aspects of human behaviour and perception with an approach that hovers between science and art. Carsten Höller’s works involve the viewer as a kind of artistic material, both physical and mentally, disturbing their senses and cognition. He turns the familiar experience of visiting a museum on its head, playfully leaving visitors in a state of doubt, awe and indecision.
For almost 10 years, Kunsten has actively focused on participatory strategies in the field of contemporary art. The first exhibition to kick off this initiative was in 2010, when Movin’ Space featuring the works of Thomas Saraceno invited visitors to the museum to climb on a cloud placed up under the ceiling of the Main Gallery. Then in 2011 came the acquisition of a fountain by Jeppe Hein, Water Pavilion, which year in year out brings joy to people of all ages in the museum’s Sculpture Park. The most recent addition, in 2013, Olafur Eliasson’s The Triangular Sky, also located in the Park, forms a setting for an artistic experience, in which visitors can experience a reflection of the immediate environment vis-à-vis their own bodies and movement.
Movin’ Space by Thomas Saraceno in 2010. Photo: Anders Sune Berg
Following a long period of refurbishment, the reopening of the museum in 2016 marked not only a revitalisation of Alvar Aalto’s iconic museum building, but also the launch of the Kunsten pARTicipate exhibition concept. This series of special exhibitions invites contemporary artists to create site-specific exhibitions, which innovatively deploy a variety of participatory strategies.
The ambition of the museum is to make art meaningful to as many people as possible. We believe that we can contribute to a positive change in terms of what many people regard as a traditional museum experience. Instead of being a venue, in which we passively observe artefacts, the museum becomes an active place, which highlights the sense of community that relates to art and in which art actually impacts our lives. In other words, Kunsten pARTicipate aims to help change the institution of the museum from within, so museums are no longer limited to displaying art as objects, but actively emphasise the effect of art: the potential of art to create opportunities and changes for people.
Since 2016, this mission has resulted in: Ernesto Neto’s Rui Ni/Voices of the Forest (2016); Roman Ondak’s History Repeats Itself (2017); and Tino Sehgal’s This Success/This Failure (2018). Now, in 2019, it is the turn of Carsten Höller, whose exhibition Behaviour is the result of a long period of collaboration with the artist.
In general, Carsten Höller examines how humans experience the world. But above all, like a scientist presenting possible truths, the artist aims to create doubt and uncertainty, thereby seeming to pose a fundamental questions that are hugely important to the age in which we live. Can we trust truths? Are fundamental doubt and uncertainty a basic condition of our lives? How as human beings can we tackle doubt?
We invited Carsten Höller to create a site-specific exhibition for the museum’s iconic Main Gallery, in which the artist aims to offer visitors a truly unique experience via a joint encounter with works from the museum’s collection and the artist’s own works.
The exhibition presents works that disturb and transform or, in the broadest possible sense, change our experience of art. The works incorporate light, sound, smells, mirrors, chemical substances, giant mushroom hybrids and more than 110 works from the museum’s collection. At the centre of the exhibition is a rotating hotel room, in which visitors have an opportunity to book an overnight stay via Airbnb.
Visitors can experience the fact that things are not quite the same as usual at Kunsten not only at night, but also during the day if they decide to give the Upside-Down Goggles a go. When you look through them, everything is turned upside down, thereby showing the ‘real world’ as it is depicted on the retina. In the exhibition, Carsten Höller explores alternative ways of perceiving our surroundings and especially our ways of viewing art.
For the museum, the exhibition is an important experiment, because we touch on a number of questions. What can a museum actually be in its encounter with its visitors? What meaning can we have for people? Yes, we preserve cultural heritage, but what effect does art really have on people? And what happens when art is suddenly something quite different from what we expect?
The exhibition Behaviour is a collaboration between Kunsten Museum of Modern Art Aalborg and Copenhagen Contemporary. The two interrelated exhibitions connect Denmark across the Kattegat and provide audiences with an opportunity to experience the work of Carsten Höller on a scale and with a level of sophistication that are not usually possible for a single institution. The two institutions have joined forces to present a comprehensive image of Carsten Höller, who has not previously been exhibited in Denmark. Whereas Reproduction at Copenhagen Contemporary tackles both human and artistic reproduction, in the exhibition at Kunsten Carsten Höller zooms in on human behaviour and its impact on our experience of art. Carsten Höller started life as a scientist and a common thread in both exhibitions is a universe located somewhere between cool analysis and engaging, immediate sensory experience. Together with the simultaneous exhibition at Copenhagen Contemporary on Refshaleøen in Copenhagen, this major event is the very first presentation of Carsten Höller’s work on Danish soil. We would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to our colleagues in Copenhagen for their excellent collaboration.
Carsten Höller: Gartenkinder, 2014. Gagosian Gallery – Frieze, London, 2014. Foto: Mike Bruce
There is never any exhibition without excellent, important partners. So we would like to warmly thank Det Obelske Familiefond, whose generous support facilitated the presentation of Carsten Höller’s work as part of the three-year exhibition programme, Kunsten pARTicipate (2018-2020). Without the substantial support of Det Obelske Familiefond, the museum could not realise exhibitions on this scale and of such an experimental nature. We would also like to thank the Spar Nord Foundation, which also chose to support the museum in its presentation of this major exhibition, and the Danish Arts Foundation.
Thank you too to all the those who have loaned works of art for the exhibition, including Chateau la Coste, Galleria Continua, Gagosian Gallery and Air de Paris. We owe a special debt of gratitude to Professor Povl Korsgaard-Larsen, who with great insight has shared his knowledge and loaned a work for the exhibition. Thank you also to our colleagues at the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi in Florence and Henie Onstad Kunstcenter in Oslo, both of who have presented Carsten Höller exhibitions in recent years and who kindly served as sounding boards in the context of developing this exhibition.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a free online catalogue, which will make the exhibition accessible to a large number of people. We would like to thank the American art historian Hal Foster for allowing us to reprint his 2008 article, The Confusion Machines of Doctor Höller, which covers several of the works featured in the two exhibitions, and the American art historian Caroline A. Jones for the essay she wrote in close collaboration with the artist, based on the exhibition at Kunsten.
Finally, a warm thank you to all the staff at Kunsten and the countless collaborators, who have put their all into realising an exhibition we hope will benefit and delight visitors to the museum.
Last but not least, Kunsten Museum of Modern Art Aalborg wishes to express a huge, personal thank you to Carsten Höller and the Carsten Höller Studio for recognising the potential offered by the Kunsten collection and Alvar Aalto’s modernist architecture: architecture that was created in a completely different age and for art that is totally different from that of which Carsten Höller is an exponent. It has been a joy for Kunsten to witness the transformation of the museum as a result of all the hard work, and we hope it will also transform visitors’ view of our museum.
Chief Curator, Kunsten Museum of Modern Art Aalborg