February 6, 2010

Playgrounds At An Exhibition: Palle Nielsen's 1968 Adventure Playground-In-A-Museum

nielsen_model_1.jpg

After building guerilla adventure playgrounds for kids on abandoned lots around Copenhagen as a form of social activism, the Danish artist Palle Nielsen convinced the Moderna Museet in Stockholm to let him turn the gallery into a playground, too.

In 1968, Nielsen's Model for a Qualitative Society opened for just three weeks with an elaborate climbing scaffolding made of lumber, surrounding a giant foam mountain. There were water, dirt, and craft areas, and a bunch of dressup costumes borrowed from the local theater troupe. The cacophonous sound of of-the-hook kids was broadcast outside the museum--and into the cafe, where parents were made to wait, via a series of TV screens and loudspeakers.

nielsen_model_2.jpg

When the fire department closed the whole thing down--giant mountains of foam blocks were apparently flammable--Nielsen rebuilt it in a tent outside.

It was a time when the authority museums were being challenged. In his press release, Nielsen questioned the viewers' assumptions of what a museum--and, by extension, art--is: "There is no exhibition. This is only an art show because the children are playing inside an art museum. This is only an exhibition for those who are not playing."

I'm stoked to see it and all, but I can't quite make out just what Nielsen's work really means. The artist and his Model for a Qualitative Society have been steadily championed by the Danish curator Lars Bang Larsen, who seemed to start writing about the playground show in the late 1990s. In 2000, Model was "hidden in the recesses of art history," but by 2007, it was "legendary."

Of course, during that same time, a whole wave of artists who made work out of social interactions and experiences came to prominence, so an old-school example of hacking a museum into a playground was sure to resonate. Part of me can't get over how absolutely impossible it'd be to re-stage this kind of exhibition in America. And another part of me is ready to drop the kid into the ball pit at Ikea and walk away.

Childs Play, 2000 [frieze.com]
Palle Nielsen on Playgrounds and Exhibition, 2002 [ynkb.dk, google trans]
"Social Liability," Lars Bang Larsen [kunst.no]
Nielsen's Model was re-imagined in 2008 at the Frankfurt Kunstverein, but it looks like grups. [kulturexpress.de]
And another version was done in 2009 in the Netherlands [kaapweb.nl]

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