Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Adventures in Aarhus: ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum

Last week my friend Bronwen and I packed up our tiny hand-luggage bags, wrapped up warm and got on a plane to Aarhus, Denmark. The aim: to visit our dear friend Ellie, who is studying the first of her two year Master's course out there at the moment. Not only was it a chance to see her after months apart, but it was an excuse to experience a new country and to take a four day break away from our new jobs - my last holiday being over two years ago!

After having planned our trip two months ago, the hotly anticipated day arrived, and I traveled up to London to stay with Bronwen after work. Due to our travel plans, we only had time for an hour's nap on a sofa before we were up and out in the cold, ready to begin our adventure. After catching two night buses to Victoria Station, and falling asleep (finally) on the coach to the airport, we left Stansted at 7am on Friday 22nd November, satisfied by a breakfast of raspberry doughnuts, Starbucks hot chocolate and savoury croissants...of course!

After watching the sunrise about the clouds and forgoing sleep due to a heated debate in the seats in front of us, we landed in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere. Aarhus airport was, it seemed, a shed in the middle of a field. Bronwen said it looked like 'the sort of place you'd expect to see Yogi Bear' - and she was right. Evergreen trees surrounded the big empty airfield, and no signs of city life could be seen. As we walked through the airport we grew more and more excitable, and couldn't wait to experience a new place.

Our arrival in Aarhus was followed by a long bus journey into the centre of the city, before we reached our home for the next three days. We admired Ellie's student accommodation, which she had decoated with pictures of loved ones, candles and rugs, before we promptly took a long nap. Our first night in Denmark was filled with catching up with Ellie and attending a party held at her university to celebrate a project she had led. This meant meeting all of her friends from all over the world, and experiencing a pure overload of Europop! It was a great start to our trip, and we couldn't wait for our next full day.

Aarhus is a beautiful city, with its streets branching out into little side-alleys full of colourful cottages, cobbled roads and bicycles and wiry plants. The Christmas lights sparkled even in the midday winter gloom and the paths were smooth and grey with the remnants of that morning's rain.

If you’re anything like me, the first thing you want to do in a new city is to absorb the culture. You’ve already seen on this blog my trips to the British and Natural History Museums, so you’ll know I’m a huge fan of exhibitions and the arts. It comes as no surprise to you, then, that one of my absolute favourite moments of the weekend (though I really can’t choose, to be honest) was our trip to the ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum (art museum) on our first morning.

The museum itself is a strange mixture of tradition and modernity which sits proudly high above other buildings not far from the river. At ten storeys tall, and being named as one of the biggest art museums in northern Europe, we knew this was going to be a very worthwhile visit. The first thing we noticed was the incredible rainbow section on top, and after seeing figures moving inside and being told we’d be able to go up there, we couldn’t contain our excitement! 

The building is designed with ‘hell’ at the bottom and ‘heaven’ at the top (hence the rainbow walkway). As we walked in, a huge white spiral staircase dominated the building, emphasising the idea of ascent and descent.  After purchasing our tickets and leaving our coats and scarves in the free cloak room, we made our way right into the depths of the gallery to find the first exhibition of many.

The first exhibit we saw was the ‘Nine Spaces’ which is a series of installation art in rooms of pitch black. The nine, we were told, refers to Dante’s nine circles of hell in his Divine Comedy, with each room being developed every year or so. Here we saw various fascinating ideas; a huge projection of a disembodied face in a ‘tank’, sitting like a giant, terrifying specimen. There was also a fascinating concept where a large white obelisk was connected to a telescope in Japan which recorded the death of a star; every time a star died, a light would flash and fade on the sculpture, creating a beautiful and serene pattern, combining science and art. There was also a mirror room which was great fun and very disorientating. 

Other exhibits included work by Tal R entitled ‘The Virgin’ involving brightly coloured, childish and playful works of art, including collages and patchwork quilts, and an exhibition of art by the Danish royal family (which I admit we found a little odd!) One of my favourites was Kay Christiensen’s ‘The Eternal Fairytale’, which featured ethereal art which focused on dark settings featuring pale, ghostly figured. I found it eerie yet beautiful, and loved the fact that it was by a well-renowned Danish artist, and therefore not what I would see in London, for example. We were able to really take our time around the building, and explored each of the ten floors in their entirety, really making the most of our chance to see some really unique art.

A peek into the work of Danish artist Kay Christiensen
One of the main attractions was a giant statue of a semi-naked boy. I have never seen anything quite like it! It is an installation called 'Boy' by Australian artist Ron Mueck, and weighs over 500kg; a truly gargantuan work of art. Apparently it is the symbol of the art museum and understandably attracts a lot of attention. I couldn't believe the detail in the piece, with all folds of skin, wrinkles and hairs precise and life-like. It was, I admit, slightly creepy. Some of you may recognise the sculpture from its original home in the Millennium Dome, before it found it's home in Aarhus.

The detail of the sculpture was astounding.
When we made it to the top of the building, we headed towards the rainbow walkway, which is in fact an installation entitled 'Your Rainbow Panorama' by Ólafur Elíasson. It was absolutely stunning and a lot of fun. We were able to see the entire city whilst enjoying the colour changes. It put a new perspective on city life and added a very playful element to what would have otherwise been a pure tourist attraction. It was one of my main highlights of the whole trip, and the photos I took just don't do it justice:

We drank in the view of the city, combined with the stunning colours that changed as we made our way around the roof. As you can imagine, we took our time; it was somewhat dizzying to be up so high with only a wall of glass to protect you!

Having made the most of our time at the museum, we made our way down the winding drizzly streets of Aarhus to find a coffee shop where we could mull over the day’s experiences with a hot chocolate and pastry in hand.I couldn't remember the name of the coffee shop we found, but their hot chocolate was rich and fresh, and the strawberry and rhubarb pastry was perfect for a chilly afternoon snack.

If you are ever in Aarhus, for any reason, I really recommend visiting the museum. It is one of the city’s pride and joys, and for good reason. It was so good to see art from a new perspective, and I felt that there were so many pieces that you wouldn’t find in the UK. It was the perfect introduction to our time in the city.

After our cultural education and pastry treats, we visited a few shops before our stomachs grumbled. We were ready for dinner – but I'll save that for another blog post!



  1. Looks like you had a great time and wow at that statue - I actually thought it was real until I had that it was fake, it's so so detailed!

    1. It was fantastic. I know, we couldn't believe it! We stared at it for ages! Incredible xx