Art Fairs

Cracking the Code: Code Art Fair Head Julie Leopold Alf on the Inspiration Behind Copenhagen’s Newest Art Event

Cracking the Code: Code Art Fair Head Julie Leopold Alf on the Inspiration Behind Copenhagen’s Newest Art Event
The Head of Code Art Fair Julie Leopold Alf

Launching a new art fair is no small task. There are galleries to secure, collectors to woo, convention halls to rent, and, in recent years at least, a slew of side programming to plan and execute. Fortunately for the people behind Copenhagen’s brand-new Code Art Fair, however, there’s no need to start from scratch. For its 20th anniversary, Scandinavia’s largest art fair Art Copenhagen bifurcated into the already-established Selected Art Fair (featuring modern and contemporary works) and the new fair, Code, which brings together contemporary art’s “brightest minds” from dozens of international galleries alongside two curated exhibitions, six selected curatorial advisors, and a slew of talks and performances.

Billed as a forward-thinking event with cutting-edge artworks to match, Code hopes to attract both seasoned collectors and would-be art buyers while establishing itself within Copenhagen’s much-noted cultural fabric as a democratic, come-one-come-all entry point to the art world. Code’s organizers and galleries have their work cut out for them in this city—famous for its discerning taste in everything from dining to design—but the fair’s head Julie Leopold Alf is confident she and her team have a program that will impress even the most jaded art viewer.

Artspace spoke to Alf to find out more about the Code’s mission and goals for its first edition and how she hopes to fit into the Danish and Scandinavian art ecosystems. For more on the fair, be sure to browse Artspace’s exclusive preview here and check out the event itself from August 26-28 in Bella Center Copenhagen.

What is your background? How did you become involved with Code Art Fair?

I am a business lawyer by education, but got involved in developing fairs and concepts for fairs more than 15 years ago. As the art world is a business that involves fairs, this became a natural part of my area of business. The aesthetics combined with business, and the many interesting people in the industry were alluring and awoke my passion. It’s been an easy choice to focus exclusively on art fairs the past several years. Taking part of developing Code Art Fair in particular has made my job a bit of a dream!

Code has a somewhat unique set-up—it’s part of the longstanding Scandinavian art fair Art Copenhagen, a distinction it shares with the concurrent Selected Art Fair. Can you elucidate the relationship between these three fairs? What’s the distinction between them? How is Code different from Selected?

Art Copenhagen is a fair with a long history and a big, loyal audience. This year, we celebrate its 20th anniversary as the biggest art fair in Scandinavia, and we wanted to give our dedicated visitors an improved fair in better facilities, Bella Center Copenhagen. The new title, Selected Art Fair, covers the updated profile and the sharper selection of galleries showing both modern and contemporary art.

On the other hand, Code Art Fair is an entirely new contemporary art fair with a strictly curated list of high-profile galleries and artists from around the globe. Therefore, Art Copenhagen actually consists of two art fairs, Selected and Code, offering all our visitors more than 80 galleries and two special exhibitions under one roof.

Other than the unique structure discussed above, what sets Code apart from other international art fairs?

Considering that Code is a brand new fair with no previous edition to elaborate on, the ambitions and expectations from the parties involved are already extremely high. Our curators have been working hard on picking out and attracting interesting galleries from day one, so everyone is very excited by the list of well-respected participants. We also believe that Copenhagen itself has a unique, cozy, and welcoming vibe with its canals and green areas. The city is full of inspiring cultural events, especially during Copenhagen Art Week in August when the weather is generally beautiful and all the galleries and museums open new shows.

How did Code come to be? How would you define the fair’s mission?

The idea behind Code was, as many other things today, formed by a network of people, who wanted to arrange a large contemporary art fair with an international format in Denmark, simply because there has never been one before—and everybody deserves to experience good international art! Kristian W. Andersen, the executive director of Art Copenhagen, Copenhagen International Fashion Fair, and the International Design Fair in Copenhagen had a vision of making Copenhagen an irresistible international art destination. With our 20 years of experience from Art Copenhagen and the invaluable inside knowledge on the international art scene from our curatorial board members, we believe that we have the right resources to realize our ambitions for Code. 

Copenhagen is often cited as an incredibly livable, cultured city. What can you tell me about its art scene, including its artists and galleries? What are the city’s most exciting developments within the arts, and how is Code addressing these developments?

I think that the Copenhagen art scene has a very good mix of galleries, non-profit spaces, and museums, so we are fortunate to have many different exhibitions of a certain quality. I find that many younger Danish artists have an intelligent approach to global affairs and movements in the international art world, which I think somehow adds an extra dimension to their work.

Generally, there is a good sense of community among the many exhibition spaces in Copenhagen. Code is taking place during Copenhagen Art Week, which is just one example of how the city’s art scene can benefit both the Danish and the international audience. It is important to us to arrange an art fair in a characteristic local setting that people from all over the world can enjoy.

On the other hand, how would you define the approach of Copenhagen’s art collectors? What are their buying habits? What do they tend to look for in an artist or artwork? How do they compare to collectors from the rest of Scandinavia and Europe?

The art collectors in Copenhagen are born into a long and solid tradition of design and great art. As children, many played their way through exhibitions at Louisiana and SMK, the National Gallery of Denmark. They are serious and dedicated, and, given the fact that the Danish economy has been stronger than in most parts of the world, they actually buy a lot of art.

Danish collectors are quite humble and understated, not flashy, but don’t take them wrong—there can be a lot of zeros involved. For Code Art Fair and Art Copenhagen it’s also important to embrace the young and quality-focused population to support the growing layer of new collectors.

What was the fair’s philosophy when selecting the special projects and curated exhibitions? What are some highlights from these sections?

"Flat Fix" by Ryan Steadman and Ryan Wallace—both New York-based artists and curators—features only American artists from the curators’ local environment, and the Danish artist and curator Mikkel Carl’s show, "Danmark," includes only Danish artists without gallery representation in their native country. You could say that the two curated exhibitions somehow explore the relationship between the Danish and the international art scene. Our performance and talk program is another important highlight, with several cool performances and inspiring talks by younger artists from both Denmark and abroad.

You’ve brought on six experienced curators to help with the fair’s programming. How did you select these people and what do they bring to the table?

From the very beginning, it was obvious to me that building a successful new art fair was all about engaging the right people with the right knowledge, networks, and passions while also bringing together people with insights from all perspectives—galleries, collectors, artists, et cetera. I knew exactly who to contact, and luckily they said yes. Working with the fair’s curators, we built a strong program including the two artist-curated exhibitions.

As the head of the fair, what are your goals for Code both this year and going forward?

Our vision is that the showcased artworks at Code Art Fair should be of high quality, interesting for viewers, and, most of all, able to stimulate people's curiosity. We want to live up to our saying—“What you see at Code today will shape the international art scene of tomorrow.”

One of our missions is to give people from outside of Denmark a glimpse of the vibrant art scene in Copenhagen, a city already famous for its visionary approach to food, infrastructure, and sustainability. We hope to attract people with many different backgrounds, not just the experienced fair audience, as we believe that good quality art appeals to—and should be accessible to—everyone. 




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