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Gammel Holtegaard's autumn exhibition invites you into the circus ring
Miriam Bckstrm, 'The Opposite of Me is I', (2011). Courtesy the artist & Nils Strk. Photo: Malle Madsen.

HOLTE.- This autumn’s exhibition at Gammel Holtegaard explores the central role of the circus in art history, from the period known as the modern breakthrough in Scandinavia to contemporary art today – from Toulouse-Lautrec to Tal R.

Welcome to the circus! Gammel Holtegaard’s autumn exhibition invites you into the circus ring with works by historical and contemporary artists from Denmark and abroad. With walls covered in red and white stripes the big top has taken over the galleries at Gammel Holtegaard. The stage is set with dramatic spotlights focusing on the spellbinding ups and downs of circus life.

With CIRCUS Gammel Holtegaard sheds light on circus themes in art from the late 1800s to today. As a symbol of modernity and city life, the circus was a major source of inspiration for avant-garde artists in the early 20th century. Depictions of circus horses, clowns, acrobats and backstage life became popular subjects for experimenting with expressive form and imagery. In one astounding act after the other the circus turned the world upside down – just like the radical transformations wrought by industrialisation during the same period. Artists portrayed the absurdities and social deprivation of circus life, from neck-breaking performances in the ring to the insecurities of life on the road. Right up until today artists’ depictions of the circus have been inspired by the absurd and grotesque, as well as virtually mythical tales of circus life.

Visitors encounter the first work in the exhibition in Gammel Holtegaard’s ring-shaped forecourt – a 4.5 m high sculpture by Danish artist Henrik Plenge Jakobsen (b.1967) commissioned specifically for the exhibition. The work Ye are many - they are few / Mary (2019) takes the form of a scarecrow, a socially critical, punk take on the circus clown with a raised pitchfork. An entertainer, but also a revolutionary figure ready to lay into the bourgeoisie whose tastes are symbolised by the Baroque architecture and history of Gammel Holtegaard.

In CIRCUS old and new works are installed side by side, tracing circus themes throughout art history. Under the theme Backstage, for example, we see the grotesque spectacle of Pauline Curnier Jardin’s (f. 1980) video work Teetotum (2017), where she uses a chilling Bmovie aesthetic to depict the rigorous discipline of circus training killing child performers. The work is installed next to Storm P’s (1862-1949)1940 painting of a nervous green clown peeking out at the ring from the darkness of the wings. The juxtaposition of the works brings aspects of circus life not usually in the limelight to the fore, at the same time as charting the development of the genre in art history.

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