THE SKY IS THE LIMIT. She calls her latest venture at the newly reopened art museum Copenhagen Contemporary a ‘bumblebee project’, meaning a project which is unaware of its incapability to fly - just like the bumblebee. Marie Nipper is proud of all the things she has achieved and has kept a humble attitude.
Already at this early stage of her life, she has achieved more than most could hope for - being the director of one of the most promising art institutions in Copenhagen. With her husband Simon Friese, also a praised art professional, she has two children; Uma, who is almost four, and the few month-olds August. Recently, they exchanged their large apartment in Copenhagen’s centre for a classic house in the outer boroughs. She welcomes us into their new home to talk about her work, the contemporary art world, and the art of balance.
The Next Big Thing
August hangs quietly on her arm, as she effortlessly shows us around the house, leading us up the stairs and into her new office. The three-story house features a lovely office with sloped walls and a desk in its centre. Both a working room for Marie and Simon, there is space for their children: a round colouring table and a hanging cradle are prominent in the room. The art world is a demanding business, and instead of cutting back, the couple has arranged themselves and found possibilities to be a family in the midst of it all.
“I think it’s important to introduce children to art”
“I think it’s important to introduce children to art. My own life is marked by a family in which art played a major role. We want it to be part of Copenhagen Contemporary because getting the opportunity to experience art as a child, makes it that much easier to take it in later in life,” Marie says.
It is easy to lose your breath when trying to follow Marie’s fast-paced career – merely 39 years old, it becomes evident that this is just the beginning. A short recap: after graduating from university with a degree in art history, she got her first job at ARoS – Aarhus Art Museum. Here, she discovered that her real talent and passion was amidst the dialogues with the artists themselves. She recalls: “Artists have all sorts of takes on what it means to be human. I found that juncture very inspiring.”
During her first maternity leave with Uma, there was an available position as Senior Curator at the Tate Modern in Liverpool. With a nine months old baby, a move to Liverpool was not realistic, so when she was offered the job, she decided to split her time between Liverpool and Copenhagen. After some time, she returned to Copenhagen full-time to be a freelance consultant and curator. Before long, Tate wanted her back – this time as artistic director. Unable to resist such a great offer, she went back to England to lead this world-renowned museum with an impressive art collection. About a year ago, her phone rang, and she was pulled back to Denmark to lead and develop the new and ambitious gallery Copenhagen Contemporary. And this is all just over the past nine years.
The Weird and the Beautiful
Marie is returning to an art scene in Denmark, which has changed since she started in the business. A new interest in contemporary art has sparked amongst the Danes, she explains:
“The audience in Copenhagen has become braver - there is a new interest in contemporary art. The perception that contemporary art is something inaccessible has changed, no longer necessitating an advanced knowledge of art to get an experience. Olafur Eliasson is a great example of this: you can experience his work intuitively with your body, but it offers a complexity which anyone can extract at their own pace.”
Giving up a position at an internationally recognised art museum for a newly founded institution with no history and less money, may sound like a surprising choice, yet the match reflects Marie’s attitude:
“What I love about Copenhagen Contemporary is that the organisation is very flexible, which means that we can quickly react on any new ideas. We want to create an informal environment around art and make the scene more urban. I don’t have the patience for the inner workings of big, classic institutions, although I love visiting them myself.”
Marie Nipper spent part of her childhood and some years after high school in Paris – a city, which she regards as her second home. “It’s rather that romantic idea of living in Paris, though I’m not certain it would be convenient,” Marie laughingly admits. The many hours she spent in the sacred halls of the Louvre have left lasting impressions, but her view on art is not classic, per se. Everywhere in their house, there are artworks – some even signed works gifted by artists she worked with. But not everything you see is art at first sight. In the window sill, you find a sculpture by Tony Matelli – two cans on top of each other, with a few playing cards and a single French fry; the cards and the fry are made of bronze, one of the finest materials in the world. To its left, lies a 1:1 copy of a frozen chicken made in ceramics, which Marie bought at a student art fair.
“Art is all that beyond everyday routines. It is that which awakens something within us; a place we meet an echo of something inside ourselves - whether it has emotional dimensions or becomes relevant through its societal discourse. I like the things that annoy me or the things with which I instantly fall in love. Much of what hangs on our walls is a bit weird. I definitely don’t have a beauty criterion,” Marie says.
“Art is all that beyond everyday routines. It is that which awakens something within us”
This Is Not an Art Show
Art, work, children - life. Everything is interwoven and has been so for years. Though now they’re each working their job, Simon and Marie joined forces on both fronts long ago. Recently, they founded the art book publishing house, Roulette Russe together. Marie tells: “If you look at it from a strict business perspective, it’s not a great idea. But there is something about the medium of books I would like to insist on. The book remains of utmost importance, not least to the artists, since a book outlives any gallery show.”
Naturally, work takes up a lot of time and space: “We talk a lot about it at home. Since both of us come from different backgrounds, we complement each other well. Fortunately, we also get to travel together and bring the kids,” Marie says. Although in recent years, she has learned to let go and appreciate the importance of getting away from everything – even if only for a little while:
“We work on trying to separate our work from our personal lives. Nowadays, I have a much stronger need to simply tune out, and then we go to our house in the woods. Before, when we would go, I would have checked my emails in secret, but I don’t have that need anymore. I realised that sometimes a complete escape is necessary to come back with new, inspiring ideas.”
So, when they moved into their new home, they dedicated the top floor to a shared office space. In principle, Marie says, she could work from anywhere. But to get closer to her aim of defining boundaries between work and their personal lives, they have made a place of their own to both retreat and focus – or just to make sure, that work doesn’t take over entire areas of their living room.
Even so, the divorce between work and free time hasn’t been entirely finalised: “It is important to me that it’s nice to be up there. That’s also why we’ve made room for the kids.” she says. Generally speaking, Marie values atmosphere over looks. “I want a space that is used. It’s more important to me that my things have a story or make me feel nice and comfortable. The same goes for art. We have many big pieces and not that many walls left. So, usually, we hang them intuitively – sometimes it just gets a nail where there is room. In my home, I prioritise how art makes me feel, that isn’t necessarily what I would prioritise in shows.”
Things are different now than before when it was just the two of them: “When we had our first daughter, I panicked about what it would do to my work and identity. I was used to travelling a lot, luckily, we found out that you can do practically everything with children. It’s just a bit more complicated.” She laughs, as she tries to describe the process of getting two small children through airport security. It’s the kind of laugh that ensures you that this, too, is a case of willpower. It becomes clear, that what Marie Nipper sets her mind to, she will get done.