Plague, cholera, tuberculosis, AIDS and corona. The National Gallery of Denmark
invites visitors to follow a themed trail through the museum collections, telling the story of how epidemics have wrought great changes through the ages of the world and of art alike.
On 12 March 2020, much of Danish society shut down, and since then Denmark and the world has not been the same. The corona pandemic has changed our everyday lives, our ways of being together, our habits, our thoughts, and perhaps even our dreams for the future.
Responding to the current state of the world, the National Gallery of Denmark now presents an all-new initiative under the heading A Changed World. The museum invites visitors to go on a themed trail through its vast collections, unfolding stories of how past epidemics have changed societies and forced humanity to imagine the world anew.
Epidemics have changed Europes history and shaped the Nordic welfare state. Epidemics have weakened Western mans faith in God and strengthened our confidence in science. Epidemics have killed people, but have also helped prolong human life expectancy by prompting the rise of hygiene movements and vaccines.
Art history too has been shaped by epidemics through the ages. In art, mankind has been able to process the old world and create images of a new one. Epidemics have given art new subjects to address, paved the way for new modes of expression, new roles for artists, and even new ways of living.
Follow the epidemics
The large SMK collection and the museum building itself are full of traces left by past epidemics, and A Changed World allows visitors to follow them with ease.
Launched on 8 September, A Changed World offers a themed trail that takes audiences through a collection spanning more than 700 years of art. Along the way, you will be presented with a range of pandemic-themed stories, information and anecdotes that present the collection in a new light. The trail also stops at 25 selected works of art, each of which says much about how epidemics have shaped history, art and individual lives through the ages.
The trail will take visitors past a range of historical events, including the Black Death of the fourteenth century, cholera in in the 1850s, tuberculosis around the time of the Modern Breakthrough, the Spanish flu coinciding with the end of World War 1, and the AIDS epidemic around 1990.
The trip also makes detours exploring some of the experiences, dilemmas and questions prompted by the corona pandemic, pointing ahead to the as-yet unknown future.
A Changed World frames SMKs huge collection in a highly topical context, offering new avenues of approach to our present, past and future. The corona crisis gives us cause to see historic works with fresh eyes, and by viewing them in the light of epidemics past and present they actually take on a very different feel from what were used to, says SMK director Mikkel Bogh, adding that:
At the same time, art from the past can provide new perspectives on the times of crisis we are facing right now. A time when we do not yet know what changes the corona pandemic will cause, but where art may help point to what comes after and how we can learn to live with that.
Extensive event programme
In addition to the epidemic trail, the A Changed World initiative includes a comprehensive event programme that delves into some of the themes represented by the 25 selected works of art. The events take place at the museum every Wednesday evening from 8 September to 22 November.
The events include a conversation (in Danish) between Rune Lykkeberg, editor-in-chief at Information, and Mikkel Bogh, director of SMK, about the role of art in times of crisis. Visitors can also enjoy a combination of readings, concerts and live interviews featuring writer Hanne-Vibeke Holst and musician Bisse, who have both addressed epidemics in their own artistic practices.
Every Wednesday afternoon, the museum will offer a guided tour based on the epidemic trail. Here, the guides will take a closer look at the SMK art collection through the lens of epidemics.