A Short History of AICA Denmark

Lisbeth Bonde, A Short History of AICA Denmark, from 1949 to the Present

In September 1988 the former International President, Bélgica Rodríguez, appealed to the members: ’AICA is not the Paris office nor the Executive Committee: it’s the gathering together of all the national sections. It’s a great family which should work as a team to carry forward our plans and programmes. It’s the activities of the national sections which make up the activities of AICA.’  On the following pages you may read a short story of the development of the Danish section and its inseperable connection with the parent body in Paris.

In 2004 the honorary member of AICA Denmark, Gertrud Købke Sutton and Mrs. Charlotte Christensen took the initiative of gathering togetheer the archive of this national section and having it recorded and preserved by the Royal Danish Library. 27 boxes are now kept in this library, covering AICA Denmark’s history from 1949 down to 2004.


On opening the first box, one’s first sensation is one of awe: a tiny brown book with the title, Déclaration Universelle des Droits de l’Homme appears on top of the stack of documents. This little book was published on 28 September 1949 by UNESCO, in the hope of creating a better, more just, and peaceful world after the atrocities of the Second World War – including the Holocaust. The thirty articles in this declaration are followed by a short description of the famous exhibition, The Human Rights Exhibition Project, which was shown in the Musée Galliéra, in Paris and then toured fifty member states of UNESCO in replica,  in order ‘to help carry the human rights message in visual form to the people of many countries’ (Jaime Torres Bodet, Director-General).


The founding meeting of AICA Denmark (in Danish, ‘Foreningen af Danske Kunstkritikere’) took place on 25 March 1949 at the Thorvaldsen Museum in Copenhagen, followed by a General Assembly on 12 April 1949. At this, a group of Danish art critics came together to form the Danish section of AICA, after gaining formal acceptance from the head office in Paris.  The board constituted the art critic, Walter Schwartz, as its first president, in addition to Sigurd Schultz, the director of the Thorvaldsen Museum and the art critic and artist, Frank Rubin.


The first list of members of the Danish section ran to 25 names – 24 men  and a single  woman -, some of whom were also artists. The statutes were in many respects similar to those under which we operate today (which have just been translated into English), though the then board only comprised three members, whereas today we are five, with one alternate. The annual membership fee was the equaivalent of 1.3 euro in Danish kroner,  whereas  today it stands at the equivalent of 60 euro.

Most of the early documents were handwritten in French, and for that reason quite difficult to decipher. One letter, dated 17 May 1949, from the president, Walter Schwartz, to Mr. Sigurd Schultz, director of the Thorvaldsen Museum (1932-1963), discusses whether or not to accept museum curators as members. The president held that this is what other countries did, and he intended to continue to accept them. He threatened to step down as president, if this practice proved unacceptable to his colleagues, though not without a protest. However, the letters also show that the board members found common ground on this issue, and Schwartz remained the president for several years more.

On 7 May 1949 the new section drew up a press release, which it sent to the largest Danish newspapers – Politiken, Aftenbladet, København, Nationaltidende, Børsen and Socialdemoraten -, which all published the news, informing readers that this organisation had been formed ‘in order to cooperate with Association Internationale des Critiques d’Art in Paris, in preparation for taking part in the the first AICA congress’. It stated that the Danish section included ‘art professionals, writing for Danish newspapers, and other writers on art.’ At the second international AICA congress the Danish section was  represented by five members, whose names, as far as I can decipher them, were: Walter Schwartz, Ole Vinding, Kai Flor, Møller Nielsen and Frank Rubin. Unfortunately, there’s no record of their experiences at this second AICA congress in Paris.


In the beginning the International Association was dominated by the French culture and language, owing to the facts that it had been founded in Paris, and that the office was situated there. Therefore, all the Danish board members had to master written and spoken French, in order to get on. Internally, the members addressed their AICA colleagues, as ‘confrères’.


The minutes of AICA Denmark’s second general assembly note that six members had not yet paid their subscriptions. Here we find the first mention of an ongoing problem that continues to plague the section today. Indeed, the bulk of the documentation in the archives relates to the collection of membership fees and discussions about how to finance participation in international congresses – i.e. fundraising, of one kind or another.  

The Danish Foreign Ministry has sometimes helped in these matters, but it’s always hard work to convince them, and it always involves colleagues in a certain amount of chasing, in order to  increase the chances of success. Just like today. However, the main part of the archives, from the founding year 1949 onwards, focuses on the annual budget and the need to chase members for their subscriptions. Much of this information is repetitive, and quite boring, from an historical point of view:  mainly columns with numbers and red lines under the names of members who have conscientiously paid their fees on time. The correspondance with the head office in Paris mainly concentrates on future increases of the membership fees, from the equivalent of 1.3 euro in 1949 to 4.7 euro in 1966. In 1957 the above-mentioned Sigurd Schultz, director of the Thorvaldsen Museum in Copenhagen, was elected president. He was a very devoted and visionary leader, remaining in office until 1963. In a letter from the secretary, Henning S. Møller, dated 11 January 1965, Schultz is characterised as ’the soul of AICA Denmark’.

In the boxes there are many letters to museums, complaining about the AICA card not being accepted. Typically, the president would send a letter to the director of a museum, in return for which, he would receive a polite letter, offering excuses for the misunderstanding and promising that this would immediately be corrected. AICA was still a new association to many of these institutions, but in the coming years it gradually gained in acceptance.

In the 1960s it became more common to exchange news and resources with the other Nordic countries, including Finland, Sweden and Norway. Typically, an art critic would obtain financial support from the Ministry of Education, the ‘Foreningen Norden’ (Association of Nordic Countries) or the Foreign Ministry. Frequently, however, our predecessors were obliged to write up to three articles on art and the art scene in neighbouring countries, in return for this support. From 1961, when the Ministry of Culture was founded, up to the 1990s, AICA was mainly supported by the Ministry of Culture. Over the last 24 years, we have often been supported by the Danish Arts Council, which was constituted in 1965. This support has mainly gone towards our Art Critics’ Prize and the chair’s participation in AICA’s board meetings in Paris and annual congresses. Unfortunately, this now seems to be a closed chapter in the happy coexistence of AICA Denmark and the Danish Arts Council, which changed their benevolent policy in 2019. The present board of AICA Denmark is now working on alternative funding to preserve the Prize, which has been awarded annually since 1994.

In 1969 AICA Sweden, Norway and Denmark arranged their first joint annual international congress, with an eight-day long programme from 23 to 28 August, starting in Copenhagen. Besides visits to all the important art museums in the Nordic capitals, the schedule included lectures, or rather ‘Séances plénières’, on the theme, ‘L’art et la ville’. In Copenhagen a lecture was delivered at the Christiansborg Slot (the Danish Parliament) by the Dutch art historian and International Vice-President of AICA, H. L. C. Jaffé. In Stockholm there were two sessions, both held at the Nationalmuseum. The first was given by the French art and architecture critic, Michel Ragon, and the second by the British art librarian, Ronald Hunt. In Oslo there were also two lectures at the Nationalmuseum - one of them, repeated at the Henie-Onstad Art Centre - by the German painter and writer, Jürgen Claus. The last lecture was on ‘Edward Munch and Europe’, by the Norwegian art historian, Pål Hougen and the London-based Czechoslovak art historian, J.P. Hodin.


In 1971 AICA Denmark had 34 members and the president was Erik Clemmesen, painter and art critic at the daily newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad. Sigurd Schulz, the former director of the Thorvaldsen Museum, who had been a faithful and highly committeed member of the board from the very beginning, stayed on in the post of treasurer until 1970.  Gertrud Købke Sutton then took his place.

In 1979 AICA Denmark had 36 members, and the board consisted of the art historian Poul Gammelbo (president), the painter Emil Hørbov (secretary), and the art historian Gertrud Købke Sutton (treasurer), in addition to the art critic and writer, Bent Irve, and the writer and journalist, Virtus Schade. In February 1980 Poul Gammelbo died suddenly in Oslo and Gertrud Købke Sutton took over his role. Sutton (b. 1921), who remained president until 1996, did much to initiate and sustain an international dialogue – not least, perhaps, on account of her earlier marriage to the well-known critic and editor of the British magazine, Apollo,  who  had taken part in the First International Congress of Art Critics  at UNESCO, from 21 to 26 June 1948.  The boxes bear testimony to the lively correspondence she maintained with many international members of the Association. Gertrud Købke Sutton’s first family name refers to the Danish ‘Golden Age’ painter Christen Købke (1810-48), while her second refers to her ex-husband, the British art critic and co-founder of AICA International, Denys Sutton (1917-1991), to whom she was married from 1952-60.  The couple  had lived in London and at Westwood Manor House, and had a son named Caspar.


In 1982 the XV AICA Congress took place in Athens. From the Danish section, Gertrud Købke Sutton contributed a paper on Danish classicism, from the sculptor, Bertel Thorvaldsen, to the architect Theophilis Hansen. In addition, she introduced her audience to Danish sculpture and painting of the day, with particular reference to Palle Nielsen, Per Kirkegaard, Bjørn Nørgaard and Jørgen Haugen Sørensen.

In the 1980s there was a more lively exchange between art critics in the Nordic countries than there is today. Several joint seminars and symposia were arranged. Apparently, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland had a much stronger voice in AICA International, when they stuck together. Christian Chambert, the then chair of AICA Sweden, played an important role in ensuring this.

Gertrud Købke Sutton (president) and Grethe Grathwol (board member) and Margrethe Pederson (international member) represented the Danish section at the XIX Congress in Brussels, in 1986, where the theme was ‘The Evolution of Art Criticism in a Changing Society’. Pederson, in her report to the Statens Museumnævn (The Board of Danish Museums), stressed the importance of attending these international events, on the following grounds:


1.    Witnessing the proceedings at first hand and professional updating, with the current challenges and issues faced by art critics at an international level.

2.    Networking and meeting colleagues from all over the world, including many who were very prominent on the art scene in their own countries.

3.    Working closely with colleagues – including outstanding specialists in many  different fields – to evaluate exhibitions and collections in richly endowed galleries and museums; learning  about the different ways in which art institutions  operated; and taking   the opportunity to discuss issues of common concern with fellow professionals.

4.    Exchanging information about art and artists, exploring opportunities for contacts with the media, and raising media awareness about new issues in the arts and the possibilities for  cross-border collaboration.

In 1985 AICA Denmark also discussed a new parliamentary report on a special centre for ‘Kunstformidling’ (art education), which AICA was asked to comment on. AICA Denmark considered this to be a very good initiative, though the members warned the Ministry of Culture against giving away too much aesthetic power to a very small group of people. Instead, they emphasised the importance of strengthening the visual arts as a subject in schools, because it was being badly neglected.


Between board meetings and general assemblies (including AICA congresses), the board of AICA Denmark arranged periodic seminars and panel discussions, though not as frequently as today, when it endeavours to organise one seminar each semester for the members. Such meetings have always been open to the public and well publicised, though attendances vary, according to people’s interest in the topics proposed.

As far as we can tell from the documentation, the first meeting of this nature was held on the evening of 27 October 1986, on the theme of: ‘What Do We Want From Art Criticism?’ It took place in the Christianshavn area of Copenhagen, in the beautiful, old premises of the Danish Association of Authors on the same street where Vilhelm Hammershøi had once lived and found the majority of his motifs for his paintings of interiors.. As proposed in the anouncement: ‘Why don’t we meet for once, to discuss our subject and shared concerns?’.

In 1986 AICA Denmark numbered 40 members. All of them were renowned writers, art critics an/or curators (as is the case today), although some of them are no longer with us, of course. The section enjoyed many institutional links in the 1980s, including (to name just a few) links to The Royal Academy of Fine Arts, KIKU, the Committee for Art Exhibitions abroad, the Ministry of Culture, the Charlottenburg exhibition space, and art magazines, including CRASS and North.

In 1989 the AICA Congress took place in Moscow and Tbilisi. The participants from Denmark were Grethe Grathwol and Margrethe Floryan, in addition to Gertrud Købke Sutton. This 23rd Congress took place two months before the fall of the Iron Curtain. Apparently, it was treated as an official visit, and the communist party, which was still in power, prevented the group of international art critics from looking too deeply into the problems of the Soviet regime, which was then on the brink of collapse.

Box no. 19 in the Royal Danish Library contains all the lectures given at this congress in the USSR, including one by the Gertrud Købke Sutton on ‘The Artist as a Catalyst for Nature’, showing her deep interest in environmental art, as a founder of the art centre, TICKON, on the island of Langeland.  


In the same year the Danish section discussed the new world of computing. In a call for a meeting on 10 March at Copenhagen University, it declared: ‘Slowly but surely, our subject is being infected with the computer bacillus – whether we like it or not.’ The paper revealed two attitudes to this ‘problem’: either we should continue as usual and get behind the development, in which case we would be continuously sitting down to pore over our card index boxes, and our young children would be tipping them out onto the floor at regular intervals, to the considerable amusement of their siblings; or we might take the line that computing could be a helpful technical aid to art historical research …’


At the General Assembly in 1990 the members of the section discussed whether or not to expand the association, to include members writing on architecture and design, but no conclusion was reached. Later on, indeed, this suggestion was voted down.

In a letter of 13 July 1991 to the president of AICA France, Jacques Leenhardt, Gertrud Købke Sutton outlined the acitivities in AICA Scandinavia: ‘One characteristic of the situation in Scandinavia is that ideas pop up, and projects emerge at various localities, thanks to individuals – and disappear again, leaving nothing but the memory with those that took part.’


The XXVI AICA Congress, on the theme of ‘Centre and Periphery’, took place at the Palais Auersperg, in Vienna, from 1 to 6 June. Gertrud Købke Sutton (presented here only by her surname, Sutton) and Bente Scavenius were the two participants from Denmark. The former gave a lecture on nature, which, according to her, was ‘’without centre and periphery, it belongs properly speaking to no one, and no single state, person or authority is solely responsible for it. Nature belongs to no one, that is, it belongs to all of us and our efforts should go in the direction of defining and creating models for actions where ecological and aesthetic aims are equally considered. In the future, nature should be placed at the centre of our concerns.’


The 1994 AICA Congress was held in Stockholm and Malmö, in South Sweden. Three members of the Danish section took part: Lars Grambye, Grethe Grathwol and Gertrud Købke Sutton.


The previous year, AICA Denmark had succeeded in obtaining funds for the Art Critics’ Prize which has continued until today. In 1993 the Ministry of Culture awarded the sum of 30.000 DKK (the equivalent of 4,000 euro in today’s currency) for this purpose. The following year, the sculptor, Christian Lemmerz, was awarded the prize In this instance, AICA members had been invited first to propose candidates, with the necessary supporting evidence, and then to vote on them – the prize going to the candidate with the majority of votes.

In 1995 AICA Denmark’s prize was awarded to  the installation artist, Thomas Bang. This artist (b. 1938) was educated in the US. In the late 1960s he was a part of the experimental art scene in New York City and contributed alongside other avant-garde artists to a number of important and seminal exhibitions, including the legendary exhibition, When Attitudes Become Form (1969).


In 1995 AICA Denmark had 42 members - as shown in the printed booklet, AICA 1994-95 – Annuaire – Directory – Anuario. At their General Assembly that year the members debated their very strict admission criteria, in comparison to those for AICA International. The meeting agreed to increase the number of members, not least, in response to demands from the Paris office to maximise revenue from members’ fees, as most of its income from that source was needed for running costs. A group was set up to investigate the possibilities of adjusting to the requirements of the international office. This group consisted of Gertrud Købke Sutton, Torben Weirup and Lars Grambye. In a letter of December 6th 1995, Gertrud Købke Sutton wrote to the Secretary-General, Marie-Claude Volfin, to thank her for sending the rules and regulations which she now had forwarded, in turn, to Norway and Sweden. At a board meeting in Paris in 1996 an international group, led by Købke Sutton, was set up to investigate the rules and regulations of AICA and make recommendations for changes. In a letter of 14 December 1996, Købke Sutton wrote to Volfin, informing her that she had now resigned the presidency of the Danish Section after 16 years in the post, but insited that: ‘I have no intention of dropping out of AICA …’. Indeed, she stayed on as a member of the board of AICA Denmark until 2002 and continued to attend meetings of the international board for a year of two  after that. Her successor was the art historian and art critic, Ann Lumbye Sørensen (1947-2014).


On 5 September 1996 the following members of the Danish section were admitted as ‘

‘associate members’ by AICA International at the XXX AICA Congress in Rennes: Anders Michelsen, Charlotte Christensen, Lars Grambye, Ann Lumbye Sørensen (chair of AICA Denmark, 1996-2001), Peter S. Meyer, Anne Ring Petersen, Lisbeth Tolstrup and Torben Weirup.


In 1997 AICA Denmark had 52 members.

In 1998 AICA’s XXXII Congress took place in Tokyo. Two delegates from Denmark took part - the president, Ann Lumbye Sørensen and Mette Sandbye - and both delivered papers.

At the General Assembly on Novembe 4th 1999 Gertrud Købke Sutton was elected honorary member by the board of AICA Denmark. In her acceptance speech, which I’ll translate into English in its entirety, she said:

’A landslide has occurred in our association since I was accepted as member and treasurer in 1970. At that time it was an association only for men, an impeccable, serious and also sociable association. Mountainous ”Smørrebrød” (sandwiches) and schnapps were brought to the meetings by the founder of the association, the museum Director Sigurd Schultz, who made me treasurer immediately – because ”then you’ll be an officer at once," he explained…With the establishment of the term honorary member” we confront a new situation. May I ask whether you’ve consulted the international rules and statutes?


I know the honorary presidents. The outgoing international presidents, for example René Berger, Dan Hăulică, Wladisława Jaworska, Bélgica Rodríguez and, most recently, Jacques Leenhardt, who are all honorary presidents. Then there is the previous Secretary, Marie-Claude Volfin, who has been made a member of AICA for professional reasons, without being an art critic. Finally, there’s the ”happy giver”, Daniel Wildenstein, who for years struggled for acceptance as a regular member, but was only ever accorded the title of  ”Membre bienfaiteur”. Honorary President, Honorary Secretary-General, Honorary Benefactor … and now you suggest ”Honorary Member” for me! Can you do this? This title must mean exeption from paying the annual membership fee, which is a good thing, but in general I think that all people who have passed retirement age should be released from paying the full fee. It’s a suggestion which I’d like to be taken to consideration, both internally and externally in AICA. As for the Honorary Membership I’d like, at least, to thank you very much, since I asume it’s well intended.’

In the final section of this short history I’d like to summarise the activities of AICA Denmark from 1996 onwards. The following information is based on the annual reports from the chair persons on our homepage and the minutes of the General Assemblies. After Ann Lumbye Sørensen, Simon Sheikh - lecturer, curator, writer and former art critic - was elected president. He served from 2001 to 2003. He was then replaced by the art critic of the daily newspaper Politiken, Kristine Kern, who is nowadays director of the Fotografisk Center, in Copenhagen. In 2005 the art historian and assistant professor, Malene Vest Hansen, took over, to be replaced by Cecilie Høgsbro Østergaard in 2011. The latter continued as president until 2013. Today she is the head of publications and editor-in-chief at the National Gallery of Denmark. She was replaced in 2013 by the art critic, Peter Michael Hornung, art editor for the daily newspaper, Politiken. Lisbeth Bonde, the current president since 2014, has been the art critic for the daily newspaper, Kristeligt Dagblad and for the online art magazine, www.kunsten.nu. According to the most recent version of the statutes of AICA Denmark, adopted at the General Assembly in 2018, she will step down in 2020 after two mandates, totalling six years.

The following represents a brief summary of the section’s principal activities from 2004 to the present – many aspects of which will strike a familiar chord with members of other sections:

First, there is the ongoing struggle to fundraise for the annual Critics’ Prize. This struggle also extends to securing funds for attending board meetings in Paris and congresses abroad.

Secondly, collecting annual fees from members who either forget to pay them, or pay late. I gather this is an ongoing problem in all sections of AICA! To this might be added  the fact  that  many members play a passive role and only keep up with their subscriptions, in order to obtain free access to museums and exhibition spaces.


Thirdly, every year since the late 1990s the board has arranged at least one open meeting, to discuss important and current issues in Danish contemporary art, critical positions and approaches to the art scene, contemporary art in public spaces, members’ presentations of their latest publications to a wider audience, the planning of social events, or link-ups to contemporary art events, and so on. Since 2018 we have embarked on  occasional collaborations with the  Dansk Kunsthistoriker Forening (Danish Association of Art Historians), whose members share our interest in art and writing. In the last five years we have had two general meetings each year – one, in connection with the General Assembly at the beginning of the year, and another in the autumn.

Fourthly, from the digital archives on aica.dk’s homepage it transpires that the presidents of the Danish Section have almost always participated in the Association’s annual international congresses and encouraged members to attend, as well. Since 2015 Lisbeth Bonde has attended all the international congresses. One of our board members,  Lene Burkard, took part in the congress in London, and in 2016 Malene Vest Hansen took part in the XLIX Congress in Havana. Another of our members, Else Marie Bukdahl, took part in both the L Congress in Paris in 2017 and in the LI Congress in Taipei, in 2018. In 2018 the board of AICA Denmark suggested changing the rules for the Art Critics’ Prize, to prevent applications from members of the section. This change was provoked by the fact that one of our own members won the prize in 2017. The new rules make it clear that the prize may only be awarded to an artist, or for an exhibition or artistic event.

Today AICA Denmark has 75 members, including one from Greenland and two from the Faroe Islands; thus, the entire country is now represented by the Danish section.

AICA International plays a crucial role, by nurturing the community of art critics worldwide and creating a mutually enriching critical discourse that crosses frontiers. AICA provides networking, exchanges of expertise, role models for practising the lonely job of art critic – and, first and foremost, inspiration. The ‘AICA family’, for which Bélgica Rodriguez is cited at the beginning of this report, expands the horizon for all of us who choose to take part in it. As for inspiration and networking, the Danish section has profited a great deal from its mother organisation, ever since the latter’s inception, in 1949.

Lettre de Raymond Cogniat à Walter Schwartz, Paris, 8 avril 1949, AICA International [FR ACA AICAI THE ADM008 06/32], collection INHA – Archives de la critique d’art. D.R.

Lettre de Raymond Cogniat à Walter Schwartz, Paris, 8 avril 1949, AICA International [FR ACA AICAI THE ADM008 06/32], collection INHA – Archives de la critique d’art. D.R.


Full details of AICA Denmark’s awards, events, activities and board may be found at: www.aica.dk

Lisbeth Bonde is an art critic and author based in Copenhagen, Denmark. She holds a MA in Art History and Literature. She has published several books on Danish contemporary art. She is the present chair of AICA Denmark.