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Friday, June 12, 2020

The Danish Academy: Modernist Treasure, or Cold and Sterile?

"I hear you knockin' but you can't come in."  We're opening with a lyric from Little Richard (RIP) because we love Little Richard and find the line descriptive of life under Covid-19. You can knock on the door of the Danish Academy [Accademia di Danimarca] (or of any other academy in Rome), but you can't come in--and may not be able to for quite a while. So what better time to explore an academy, virtually of course, through a few photos taken (some of them surreptitiously, if I recall) at Open House Roma, just a year ago.

(Open House Roma, an annual weekend jam-packed with tours of buildings and sites usually closed to visitors, [and of which we always take full advantage; see one of our many posts on our OHR discoveries here] would have been May 15-16. This year. of course, it was cancelled.)

The entrance to this academy is forbidding: up a long stairway to an immense, low, metal, black door. We were forced to wait outside until the last minute when a select few with reservations (that included us--we've learned our OHR lessons well) were invited in and asked to supply IDs.

First 'vista' when one walks in. 

Inside, a rectangular entry with a low ceiling opened up onto what could be described as an open-air sculpture garden, if it were a garden and had more than one sculpture in it.  The block of granite was carved in the early 1970s by Soren Georg Jensen (1917-1982).

Like many of the academies that dot the Rome landscape, Denmark's Academy was founded in the post-World War II Era--in 1956--to develop and nurture cultural and scientific ties, in this case between Denmark (Danimarca) and Italy. Its first incarnation was located in Palazzo Primoli, near Piazza Navona and then, in 1967, transferred to a new building of modernist design on via Omero, off Piazza Thorwaldsen, where several other academies are located (we refer to it as "Academy Gulch" in our first Rome guidebook).

The new building (funded by the Carlsberg Foundation, whose brewery founder died in Rome in 1876) was designed by Kay Fisker (1893-1965), known both for monumental forms and modernist inclinations, and was inspired by the Scandinavian architectural tradition. It is considered Fisker's "last masterpiece" (he died before it was completed), and an archetype of Danish functionalist form, in contrast to baroque Rome. Structurally, the design consists of three cubes--one for the Director and administrative offices; a second to house the "borsisti" (scholars, fellowship holders); a third containing the library--set on three sides of a grand terrace, overlooking a garden, and with a view to the West. It was restored most recently in 2014-15 under the direction of Danish architect Bente Lange.

The terrace, looking toward the gardens.  Inviting, in its way, but with the tables set far apart, hardly organic, though perhaps appropriate post-Covid-19. 
View from the terrace of the housing for visiting scholars. 

Housing for the fellowship holders, overlooking the terrazzo. 
The Academy's building is notable for the high quality of its furnishings. The classic Scandinavian furniture was designed by Ole Wanscher (1903-1985), a professor of interior design in Copenhagen.

A lounge.  Note the furnishings. 
Food service facilities.  Wood everywhere.
The multi-story library: modernist, but classical in layout. 
Conference room, artist of work on wall unknown
Curtains, rugs, and other textiles were designed by Vibeke Klint, Ruth Malinowski, and Lene Helmer Nielsen. Paintings, drawings, and etchings--most of which I did not feel comfortable photographing--are abundant. At least one, an untitled piece by Seppo Mattien--is by a Rome artist.

"Posthumous Letters to Clara Jensen," Richard Mortenson, 1970. 
As we walked around and through the complex, the two of us disagreed on our evaluation of the aesthetics. She found the buildings cold, dark, somewhat sterile, and ultimately uninteresting--not clearly worthy of reporting. He liked the combination of modernism and comfort (on the inside) and the monumentality of the complex (on the outside).

Anyway, you can keep knockin', but you can't come in. (Don't miss the interesting photo at the end of the post).


A much earlier photo--perhaps 1967--with modernist tree trimming and before vines were allowed to cover much of the brickwork.
Compare with the 2019 photo just above. 

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