My first encounter with Copenhagen’s Nicolai Wallner gallery was at Zona Maco a few years ago. I was immediately impressed not only with the works shown, notably a piece by the artist team of Elmgreen and Dragset, but also by the open and engaging attitude of the gallery representative. who seemed genuinely interested in an interchange of ideas. Apart from that I was unfamiliar with the gallery which I soon learned is an impressive gallery representing some extremely important contemporary artists including not only Elmgreen and Dragset, but also r Olafur Eliasson, Michael Land, and David Shrigley, among others.
I bring all of this up because this year is their 20 year anniversary and in honor of that they have issued a free catalogue ccelebrating their 1993 beginning. It can be picked up at the gallery or for the rest of us downloaded for free here, and clicking on the news tab.
What I find particularly relevant are the essays detailing the situation in Copenhagen in 1993. It was a time of great social, political and cultural discontent-many experimental artists were being shut out of commercial galleries and the traditional museums. There was a desire to create different kinds of art which reflected the turmoil around them, and to experiment with wildly different formats. To do this many artists opened up small artist run spaces, but couldn’t really run a business and focus on their art simultaneously. Does any of this sound familiar?
So Nicolai, who was still in high school, first set up a gallery and mail order catalogue which proved sufficientl;y successful that he later set up the eponymously named gallery to not only represent artists, but to take part in creating works, often site-specific installations, as well as creating a community including active spectator participation.
Much of this might now seem old hat and somewhat obvious, but I think there are some key points here. The artists obviously wanted to communicate and involve the community at large, they were also obnviously willing to commit to the gallery and the gallery was committed to actively promoting and building a community and a market for the artists, rather than simply being a space where artists could show their work. This might seem blindingly obvious to anyone who has worked or visited a traditionally run gallery, but I have to say the concept seems to be surprisingly foreign to too many people here on the border. There is also the obvious difference that Copenhagen was the capital of Denmark while El Paso/Juarez is often viewed by outsiders as some sort of bastard stepchild of both countries, but nevertheless much of the catalogue seems not only worthwhile reading in and of itself but also for some insight into a way forward for artists here. In addition to giving some idea of what else is out there.-david sokolec