A strange spectacle has just been unveiled in the largest public square in Copenhagen: 50 pedestals without statues.
The plinths are wrapped around a 17th-century equestrian statue of King Christian V in the heart of Copenhagen’s Old Town, but each one depicts an important female figure in Danish history.
Double 50 queens (in honor of the 50th jubilee of the accession to the throne of the Queen of Denmark), the installation is part of a temporary exhibition and was designed by the youngest female partner of the Danish starchitecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group, or BIG.
Arranged in a gradient, with the taller at one end of the oval and the shorter at the other, the pedestals are designed as a platform for a story yet to be told.
The story is that Copenhagen (the capital of the second most equal country in the world) has more statues of men than women. There are only 5 statues of women against 70 representing men and 26 representing animals, including The Little Mermaid. (A similar imbalance exists in the United States, where in 2017 only 10% of outdoor public sculptures depicted women.)
Thus, Giulia Frittoli, young architect and partner of BIG, decided to equalize the scales with a powerful installation in the heart of the city.
“Denmark’s history is dominated by women, and as architects we need to make our cities more equal and inclusive,” says Frittoli, who has partnered with an annual local festival called Golden Days to realize her vision. .
To select the 50 female finalists, the team assembled a predominantly female jury consisting of a former politician, a visual artist, several history professors and researchers, as well as the director of the National Gallery of Denmark. The jury selected a wide range of women, including scientists, authors, composers, politicians and two designers: lighting designer Lise Le Charlotte Klintand and furniture designer Nanna Ditzel.
Notably, however, a woman is missing. While each pedestal was assigned its own “queen”, the 50th (and tallest) pedestal was left anonymous in an attempt to let the public contribute their own ideas by scanning a QR code. Unlike the other plinths, which are made of concrete, this pedestal is covered in mirrors, so “you can see yourself and you can see anyone,” says Frittoli.
In a way, all of the plinths look a bit anonymous unless you walk up and read the woman’s name on a plaque. But for Frittoli, that’s the point.
“We see it as a placeholder,” she says. “It’s a symbol of those missing statues.” Empty pedestals are also an opportunity to set the record straight, just as the Black Lives Matter movement sought to end systemic racism by pulling down statues of Confederate leaders, slave traders and other supremacists in the United States and Europe. “People stood on these pedestals saying history should be rewritten,” Frittoli says. “Removing the statue, the pedestal is there, calling someone.”
Once the exhibition is over, 10 pedestals will travel to institutions such as Copenhagen’s Central Library or the city’s Botanical Garden, while others will be dispersed to yet-to-be-determined locations around the city. For now, the team’s message is made even more powerful by uniting the pedestals into a single square, encircling the statue of a Danish king sitting proudly on a horse.
The oval shape in which they are arranged is no coincidence. On the one hand, it is reminiscent of a queen’s necklace. But more importantly, it has no end. “That’s what this exhibit represents,” says Frittoli. “It’s a loop that looks at what we can change from the past and the future.”
I can’t help but wonder what would happen if every major city in the world borrowed the concept. For example, who could be the 50 American women?