Just a hop, skip and a jump from Copenhagen lies ARKEN Museum of Modern Art. With a vast collection of contemporary Danish and international art, a great café and a cool museum shop, ARKEN is always a fun visit – with or without kids. ARKEN is a modern and contemporary art museum with a collection of around 400 contemporary art pieces, including works by Damien Hirst, Olafur Eliasson, Ai Wei Wei, Jeppe Hein, Wolfgang Tillmans and Elmgreen & Dragset. ARKEN’s maritime-inspired building is a monumental landmark in the windy beachscape on the verge of the sea, and it’s hard to believe that the museum is only 30 minutes from central Copenhagen.
ARKEN has a great café and museum shop, as well as workshops for children every weekend. You jump on the A-train from Copenhagen Central Station and half an hour later you arrive in Ishøj, where the museum is located. ARKEN is known for its high profile exhibitions with artists like Frida Kahlo, Chagall, Picasso, Miró, Niki de Saint Phalle, Gerhard Richter and many more. ARKEN’s permanent collection includes a Damien Hirst room with glittering sculls, butterflies and cows in formaldehyde, a mirror maze by Jeppe Hein, several Olafur Eliasson pieces and a broad spectrum of Danish and international art. Every weekend it’s Family Sunday, and kids can get creative with inspiration from the current exhibition. ARKEN is just five minutes’ walk from the beach, where several outdoor artworks are placed within the landscape.
Whether you arrive by bus or on foot from the train station, viewing ARKEN for the first time is quite something. The maritime-inspired building looks like a giant ship stranded on 'The Island of Art' – the manmade island where ARKEN is located. In front of the museum stands Elmgreen & Dragset's ‘Powerless Structures, Fig. 101’, a giant boy on a rocking horse, to greet museum guests. The sculpture is popular with kids, who seem to enjoy the interplay between the childish motif and the monumentality of the piece. You enter ARKEN through the museum shop, which can be overwhelming – especially to little ones, who immediately want to buy everything. My girls are no exception, and on our way to the museum I told them no presents this time. This spring, ARKEN is showing a large exhibition of hyperrealist sculptures, and when I told the girls about Ron Mueck’s giant baby titled ‘A Girl’, they were immediately intrigued. Once inside the museum, we walked through the Art Axis - a long corridor connecting ARKEN’s different exhibition rooms. The space of the Art Axis is quite spectacular, and at the moment a large part of ARKEN’s collection is displayed there.
Gosh! Is it alive? is the English title of the current hyperrealist exhibition, and the museum has definitely borrowed some scoops: from Ron Mueck’s baby and his famous ‘Dead Dad’ to Patricia Piccinini’s ‘Newborn’ and several Duane Hanson pieces. The girls were excited and we spent a good while looking for movements in the uncanny sculptures – the girls couldn’t believe they weren’t alive. Olivia, my eldest, were especially fascinated with Sam Jinks' 'Woman and Child' (2010) - an old woman holding a naked infant in her arms. After the exhibition, we passed through the Damien Hirst room and the girls played hide'n'seek between his famous cows ('Love's Paradox') and I tried to take a picture of Bella in front of the famous diamond scull, but she was too quick. ARKEN is a wonderfully spacious museum, which is always a major plus in my book. It's much less stressful for parents with young kids when the exhibition rooms are large and the artworks aren't exhibited in small spaces. At ARKEN I can let my girls explore the art without having to strap them in a stroller or hold their hand all the time, and I think they also appreciate this sense of freedom. After counting Hirst's butterflies – luckily there's only twenty - we decided to join Family Sunday in the children's wing.
Generally I'm a big fan of museums that take children seriously. Danish museum are quite good at this and many of the larger ones have workshops, activities and guided tours aimed at children and families. Like Louisiana and SMK, which I have visited with my girls in past articles, ARKEN has an entire wing dedicated to children: it's free, fun and even educational. This weekend the workshop was about the current exhibition, and I really liked the angle of it. The workshop was called Make a sculpture friend and after an inspirational tour in the exhibition, the idea was for the kids to make a friend for one of the humanlike sculptures. Olivia wanted to participate in the workshop, but her little sister Bella couldn't stay focused and wanted to color, so I promised Olivia that we'd return another time to make a sculpture friend. Family Sunday is free for kids and their families and materials are provided by the museum. The workshops are quite popular and since you don't need to sign up for them, they can sometimes be a bit crowded. In the children's wing there's also the opportunity to just sit quietly and color as we did or read a book. It's really nice with an entire space dedicated to kids like that and my girls always enjoy it.
As all parents know, hungry kids and art don't mesh very well, so from the children's wing we continued to the café, which is a light and inviting room with large windows overlooking the windy beachscape outside. The girls shared a vegetarian tapas plate and I got to eat the stuff they didn't want. ARKEN used to have a really nice 'sildetallerken' - a spread of picked herring (Danish delicacy) on rye bread, but unfortunately they changed the menu. We ended our visit in the museum shop, which has a lot of cool toys and design objects, and we couldn't resist buying a children's book called 'Caca Boudin' by French Stéphanie Blake - the titel means something like 'poopoo sausage' and is apparently something French kids to say to tease each other.
I once again had a great time at ARKEN with my girls. They had fun, looked at great art, saw something new, were creative and had a nice, healthy meal. All in all a pretty good day, I would say. ARKEN is definitely worth the train ride from Copenhagen, and in the summer you can go to the beach behind the museum after your visit. What's not to like?