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Abandon the Parents: Artist Henrik Olesen organizes exhibition at Statens Museum for Kunst
Judith Scott, Untitled, 2003. Photo: Anders Sune Berg.

COPENHAGEN.- How do you form your own identity, and what role might art play in that process? That is the question addressed by the internationally acclaimed artist Henrik Olesen in his first major exhibition in Denmark. Together with two collaborators, he has curated x-rummet’s new exhibition Abandon the Parents. Through a range of approximately 250 artworks and artefacts the exhibition explores and interprets the process of self-empowerment that adolescents may (or may not) go through when leaving their parents and looking for a new set of values.

The Danish artist Henrik Olesen has invited two of his long-standing collaborators, friends, and gallerists – Daniel Buchholz and Christopher Müller – to co-curate the exhibition Abandon the Parents. Together, they present a lot of very diverse artists, voices and materials, not only visual artworks like sculptures and paintings and drawings, but also literature, letters and historical documents as well as more performative contributions like sound, music and films. These artistic proposals follow various narrative threads around the process of departure: from family, institutions, adventure, trompe l'oeil, sexuality, and portraiture.

The works are on loan from the three curators’ own collections, from the SMK collections, from artists, and from various other private and institutional owners. Together, the many works create a collage where the new combinations of elements establish new links and offer up more narratives.

A personal point of departure for a universal narrative
The exhibition presents works created by Henrik Olesen’s colleagues, friends and artistic role models such as Andy Warhol, Ariane Müller, Judith Scott, Lutz Bacher, Jean Genet, Richard Hawkins, Albert Mertz, Dieter Roth, Zoe Leonard, Lili Elbe, Arthur Köpcke, Kristian Zarthman, Wolfgang Tillmans, Hannah Hoech, Henriette Heise and Gerry Bibby. They have all served as important beacons for his artistic practice, acting as identificatory and artistic sources of inspiration and thereby shaping his own “abandonment" of his parents. This personal approach does, however, open up to a more general narrative about the mechanisms and searches underpinning all identity construction.

By inviting Daniel Buchholz and Christopher Müller as co-curators, the focus of the project is expanded from the narrowly subjective to become a multi-voiced statement drawing on three interwoven homosexual autobiographies. The present exhibition thus tries to frame a space that contextualizes artistic production and self-organization, addressing the decisive moments in the construction of an identity.

Creating a space for self-empowerment
However, “abandon the parents” is also a metaphor for leaving conventional thinking behind. Throughout his artistic endeavours, Henrik Olesen has investigated and challenged the mechanisms of power and the way in which our common history is written, and the ways in which identity can be constructed. In particular, he has been exploring how homosexuality is represented.

Thus, the theme of “abandonment” is not exclusively concerned with the act of leaving home and creating your own identity; it is about daring – as an artist and as a human being – to leave society’s ingrained notions and conventions, using art to expand the space for the kind of identity that it is possible to create for yourself.

Challenging conventional museum practice
The exhibition can also be regarded as a challenge presented to the SMK. The curatorial choices in this exhibition are based on subjective criteria transcending the conventional genres and categories usually applied at the museum. Thus, all works are equally important; they are all significant components in the narrative unfolded in the exhibition. With this move, the exhibition challenges the criteria that art museums often take for granted in their practice.

Henrik Olesen
Danish artist Henrik Olesen was born in 1967 in Esbjerg, but has been living in Berlin for the past 20 years. Throughout his career, he has worked with a nuanced perception of identity politics as viewed from a gay man’s perspective.

Henrik Olesen is a graduate from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Städelschule in Frankfurt, Germany. He has exhibited his work at a number of galleries and museums including MoMA, Malmö Konsthall, and Kunstmuseum Basel. Now, he is featured at the SMK with the x-rummet exhibition Abandon the Parents.

x-rummet is the SMK’s experimental venue for contemporary art. Twice a year, one or more artists are invited to create an exhibition specifically for x-rummet. Potential contributors may be Danish artists who have not yet presented a major exhibition in Denmark, or international artists who have not previously been presented on Danish soil.

Currently x-rummet is hosting an exhibition series that covers a three-year span and explores and challenges the museum construction in the 21st century. Here, a number of different artists will explore aspects of classic museum practices and seek to expand those practices by selecting, arranging, and presenting objects in new ways. Henrik Olesen’s exhibition Abandon the Parents is the second instalment in the new x-rummet series.

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