KØS Museum of Art in Public Spaces
KØS Museum of Art in Public Spaces is one of the world’s only museums to be specifically dedicated to public art. Working with the overarching concept “KØS to-go”, the KØS Museum takes a strategic approach to creating exhibitions and activities in public spaces beyond the museum, for example by arranging outdoor art trails where artists create new works for specific sites or for public institutions. These events are always part of research-based exhibitions.
The themes addressed by KØS so far have included: contemporary art in church, involving contributions from Tracey Emin and Gerhard Richter; street art, involving twenty-two international street artists who created a 2km street-art trail; and Japanese contemporary art, placing particular emphasis on participatory art in urban spaces.
By positioning our exhibitions in public spaces we engage and interact with new audiences and new demographics, presenting them with art and various materials that support their experience.
One of KØS’s most radical and extensive projects was a nationwide initiative launched in 2014–15, focusing on a classic, but now somewhat overlooked genre of public art: memorials.
For this project KØS took to the road, under the heading The KØS Tour of Denmark. Equipped with a mobile stage, the museum visited nine monuments in locations all across Denmark, meeting people visiting the memorials, in the streets around them, in urban spaces where people live out their everyday lives.
At each site a famous Danish journalist hosted a discussion session, and over the course of the tour more than forty invited guests stepped onto the stage to sit on our panel.
Here we discussed the relevant memorial while located in a public space, thereby connecting with new audiences. The discussions involved local residents, users of the memorial, politicians, stand-up comics, artists and writers.
KØS arranged the project as a nationwide networking effort, and at each of the sites the museum entered into collaboration with a local cultural institution – such as a library, local history archive or community centre – drawing on its staff for insight into the memorial itself and the local audiences.
One example of the nine monuments visited by KØS was a recently erected memorial and burial site for homeless people at the Assistens Graveyard in Copenhagen.
For this panel discussion KØS invited a homeless person, the chief city architect of Copenhagen, the head of the cultural centre at Assistens, and an artist working with socially marginalised and vulnerable citizens.
The discussion touched on many subjects: does having a monument as a meeting place make any difference to the homeless? And how do we ensure that the socially marginalised can be accommodated in our shared urban space?
One of the highlights of the discussion was the account offered by the homeless person on the panel: a poignant description of how much it meant to him to have a place where he could remember several friends who now lay buried there.
The discussion was followed by a brief concert, and food was served from a street kitchen that usually supplies food to homeless people. The event was attended by street people, local politicians, local residents and passers-by.
A research firm carried out a number of qualitative interviews with users on the subject of memorials.
Their findings demonstrated that KØS had very successfully connected to a new demographic, and that audiences in general saw the KØS Tour as a unique way of bringing art out to the people, presenting engaging, relevant discussions that focused on the people’s voice and on personal, relatable narratives and anecdotes.
All events on the tour were documented on film, and the edited footage was later shown at the international, research-based exhibition Power Monuments People – Memorials Today at KØS from September 2014 to January 2015.