A collection of works by seven Danish artists is currently on exhibit in the Willard Wankelman Gallery in the Fine Arts Center. Titled “2-D or Not 2-D: Danish Artists Flirt with Space,” the paintings in different ways explore the notion of surface and dimensionality. Two of the artists in the show, Elsa Ploug Isaksen and Bodil Sohn, were in Bowling Green recently, learning about small-town, Midwestern life and connecting with students and faculty in the School of Art.
The show, which has drawn visitors from as far away as Cleveland, offers a rare opportunity to see work by some of Scandinavia’s leading artists, all of whom have exhibited extensively—several in New York and internationally. For others, the exhibit is the first time their work has been shown in the United States.
The other artists include Leif Kath, Bodil Nielsen, Jan Skovgård and Milena Bonifaci, as well as BGSU’s Mille Guldbeck, art. The exhibit will be up through Sept. 19.
The group show has been a tradition in Denmark for the past 100 years or so, Sohn explained, and was a comfortable “fit” for the artists. In addition, Isaksen gave a presentation as part of the School of Art’s ARTalk series.
Co-curated by Guldbeck and Isaksen, “2-D or Not 2-D” also represents a reunion of friends and former classmates. The three attended the Jutland Fine Arts Academy in the early 1980s, and Sohn and Isaksen have since worked collaboratively. They reconnected with Guldbeck when she was in Denmark last year for a grant-funded stay. Both Sohn and Isaksen also teach.
“It’s so nice to find out that you’re still working in art and that though we’ve been apart, we still feel familiar,” Sohn said. “We’ve also discovered we have a lot in common.”
Bringing the show to BGSU has been a satisfying achievement for Guldbeck. “In addition to supporting my own painting, a big part of my grant—which was similar to a Fulbright—was to make lasting connections with artists in Denmark,” she said. (Visit www.bgsu.edu/offices/mc/monitor/08-14-06/page22879.html)
She and Isaksen jointly chose the theme for the BGSU show. Isaksen’s help was crucial in choosing the artists for the exhibit, since she is more familiar with the art scene in Denmark today, Guldbeck said, as well as in obtaining a $15,000 grant from the Danish government to pay for shipping the works to the United States—a cost that in itself often prevents artists from showing their work.
“I really enjoyed being part of an exhibit with a topic,” said Sohn, who approached the 2-D theme through the concept of mirrors, with paintings as reflections of the viewer’s “longing for seeing and watching ourselves from another point of view. I enjoyed thinking about the concept and how I meet it in everyday life.”
Isaksen’s paintings combine elements of photos, colored surfaces, and grids that interrupt the eye and cause the viewer to shift focus. “There’s a sense of layers of depth, and you’re thrown to and fro between them,” she said.
Sohn and Isaksen each work individually in both painting and photography but “it’s in photography that we can mingle our work together,” Sohn said. “You cannot take them apart and tell which part is mine or hers. We have found that in this medium we can work together in a very inspiring and interesting way.” To see their interactive Human Sites project, visit www.humansites.dk.
They savored the experiences they had during their visit and said they expect that their work when they return home will reflect them. “To be in Bowling Green and to live with Mille in her house by the cornfields has been wonderful,” Isaksen said. “To hear the cicadas and the train sounds in the distance—you don’t get that in the cities; it’s very special.”
Added Sohn, “And to walk around the city, not as tourists, and on campus. We are both teachers, and to be able to talk with the students and the professors has been very good. We have been accepted, and that makes us feel welcome.”
The two artists have used their explorations of the area—from Bowling Green to Weston to Grand Rapids and as far as Chicago—as the basis for another collaborative artwork. As Isaksen photographed the sites they visited, Sohn photographed her. The pairs of photographs will be shown side by side. “We are always viewers and yet we can only ever see a portion of anything,” Sohn said.