The dauntless collective Helhesten (The Hell Horse), arranged a curious exhibition in a large carnival tent located in a park north of Copenhagen during the occupation of Nazi Germany. The exhibition served as a critical testing ground for negotiating the at times convergence of cultural regeneration and crisis in Europe during times of political unrest.
Helhesten sought inspiration from the three-legged hell-horse, the messenger of death from Nordic folklore and the tales of Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm. The motif of the tent offered the artists a way to further develop their ideas of abstraction and pictorial invention through theme and variation.
In the spring of 1941, the exhibition embodied a carnival-like atmosphere, with juxtaposing themes of surrealism and the humor and primitivism of Dada. The show was the most radical of Danish exhibitions, attempting to visibly express cultural freedom during the infiltration and accommodation of Nazi’s in Denmark.
The show emphasized playfulness and experimentation – the basis of which the collective’s ideas of activism were supported. The artists implored a freedom to explore line, form and color while moving fluidly between pictorial representation and abstract invention. They encouraged collaborative art making, working retreats, educational trips, raucous parties, and private art. The energy was lasting and juxtaposed feelings of isolation and confinement of wartime Europe.
The collective purposefully challenged the brutality of the Nazi regime and its condemnation of so-called ‘degenerate modern art’ by celebrating humanistic and universal commonalities, tongue-in-cheek humour and collectivist creativity. Their beliefs would later inspire the Cobra art movement.