The National Gallery of Denmark, or the SMK as Copenhageners call it, is located in central Copenhagen, just five minutes’ walk from the nearest station. Due to its location, and a pretty great event program, the SMK is a popular art destination – for locals and tourists. With its spacious rooms and special exhibitions for children, it’s also a great place to bring kids.
The National Gallery of Denmark, or in Danish Statens Museum for Kunst (SMK), is one of the largest and most popular art institutions in Denmark. The museum is based on the extensive art collection of the Danish monarchs, and boasts more than 250.000 individual artworks – from painting and sculpture to works on paper and a large collection of plaster cast figures.
The museum consists of two main buildings. The original building from 1896 houses the museum's older collections of Danish and International art, and the modern extension from 1998 is home to the collection of Danish and International Art after 1900.
It is rare to see a national gallery which houses both an old and a modern art collection in one location – most countries have split their collections into different museums – like Louvre and Pompidou in Paris or National Gallery and Tate in London. The fact that The SMK offers its visitors almost 700 years of art in the same location is quite extraordinary, and really gives visitors a good idea about Danish art history – and the international art movements that have influenced it.
The SMK calls itself Denmark’s largest collection of art experiences. In addition to the permanent collections, The SMK shows about five special exhibitions a year, and has an extensive event program. Seven times a year, the museum turns into a huge lounge area with food and music, art talks and performances at the SMK Fridays – an event series that is extremely popular with young people and students.
The SMK also has special exhibitions for children, as well as guided tours and workshops where kids get to explore the collections in creative ways.
All in all The SMK represents a wide selection of art related experiences in the heart of Copenhagen, and the museum is definitely one of Denmark's most beloved art institutions.
Even if you have never been to the SMK, it's easy to spot – the monumental main building is very recognizable and whenever we pass it by bus or bike, my kids scream 'SMK!' I have taken my girls (Olivia 6 Y/o and Bella 4 y/o) to the SMK since they were very young, and they have always loved it. There's so much to do, and room for kids to have a good time and for parents to relax and let the little ones roam relatively free.
My girls have been to the SMK enough times to have a little routine of their own: When we get there, we get rid of jackets and bags in the wardrobe, and then we hurry towards the large stairs in the middle of the museum's 'Street of Sculptures', which connects the old and the new building. After a few times up and down the stairs – them, not me – we decide what to see. This time we decided to take a look at the current special exhibition Fleeting Moments – Drawings by August Rodin. After Rodin’s delicate drawings, we’d explore the collections a little before having a bite to eat in the café.
When I take my girls to an art exhibition, I usually start a conversation with them about what we are seeing. Initially I might give them a little bit of background on the artist. Upon entering the Rodin exhibition, I told them that Auguste Rodin used to live in Paris (where they have been many times), that he loved to paint with watercolors (like they do), and that he had a really big beard. They liked the beard detail. I find that a little information about what we are seeing helps spark their interest and get their imagination going.
The Rodin exhibition was quite wonderful – lots of pretty pastel watercolors and sketches of women in motion - and my girls really seemed to enjoy it. At one point my youngest, Bella, spotted a series of drawings of young women in very creative and Rodin-esque positions. She asked me “mom, why are they doing that?” I told her that sometimes positions like that was more fun and challenging for the painter to paint. Two seconds later, Bella hitched up her skirt like the girls in the drawings, and I had to tell her several times to please keep her skirt down. A group of elderly women thought she was downright adorable, which only encouraged her, and I quickly suggested we move on.
When at the SMK, I always want to swing by the museum shop, so after Rodin, I suggested we go there and have a look. The shop has a wide selection of beautiful posters, frames, art books, T-shirts and much more. We picked up some postcards, and made a little game of trying to locate the paintings on the cards in the permanent collection upstairs. The girls went for a combination of flowers and animals, and we took the lift to Danish and International art before 1900.
The permanent collection at the SMK is quite spectacular, from Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi’s monochrome interiors and J.F. Willumsen’s chunky portraits, to famous Gauguin, Modigliani and Picasso paintings, as well as pieces by contemporary art stars like Tomàs Saraceno and Danish SUPERFLEX. Without kids, I mostly go for the modern part of the collection, but the girls prefer to explore the old collection. They even have favorite pieces, like Adriaen Pietersz Van de Venne hipster owls, Peter Land's long-legged guy in pajamas and Tomás Saraceno's Biosphere, which they have nicknamed ‘the big soap bubble’.
After exploring the collection and taking lots of photos of the girls looking cool in front of art, we headed for the café.
We never leave the SMK without a visit to the café, which is very kid friendly and has drawing pencils and coloring sheets available. On the weekends, the café offers a great brunch buffet, which is popular for birthdays, dates and for meeting with friends. Art and great food is truly a wonderful combination, and I’ve often taken friends there – with and without kids.
After a light meal in the café, the girls took a few more times up and down the large stairs - and afterwards they played for a little while in FOS' 'Fuck the Danish Aktiverings Police - USSR' which is an old trailer that used to be a meeting spot for homeless people in Copenhagen. It still smells a little homeless inside, but the girls love it. I love the fact that they are allowed to play inside the artwork – and I always make sure to tell them to treat everything with respect. Actually this goes for the whole museum.
What I like about the SMK is how user friendly it is. With so much to do, and so much space, it's the perfect museum hangout spot for families. On the weekends the museum has children's workshops where kids can paint, sculpt or whatever's on the agenda – a great opportunity to let them be creative, and there's always a real artist present to help inspire the kids and answer their many, many questions.
When I ask the girls which museum is their favorite, they always answer The SMK. It takes us fifteen minutes to get there, we sometimes stay up to three or four hours and we have an annual pass to visit as often as we like.
So if you're ever in Copenhagen with kids and need somewhere cool to hang out, try the National gallery of Denmark. It's definitely one of the coolest spots in town.