You should all go visit the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. Four days ago, Knud W. Jensen, the man who founded it, died. He was 84. 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.
At first the museum housed only Jensen's collection of Danish art. It was a beautiful, garden site, but Jensen was roundly criticised 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 twentieth century art to fill them. (In fact, he lived in one wing of the museum until his death.) 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.
As exceptional as the collection might be, the museum itself, while carefully designed not to compete with the art (as happens all to often 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, nineteenth 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. 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 forty-two 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.