BUTTERFLY! ARKEN’s collection curated by Esben Weile Kjær

Experience the young contemporary artist Esben Weile Kjær's immersive installation with works from ARKEN's collection

10 February to 30 December 2023

BUTTERFLY! ARKEN’s collection curated by Esben Weile Kjær

Installation photo BUTTERFLY! ARKEN's collection curated by Esben Weile Kjær, 2023. Photo: Frida Gregersen

Installation photo BUTTERFLY! ARKEN's collection curated by Esben Weile Kjær, 2023. Kirsten Ortwed, The Eyes of the Portrait, 1994. Photo: Frida Gregersen

It is the first time in the museum’s history that an artist curates the collection. The young artist Esben Weile Kjær has already achieved great recognition and success on the Danish and international art scene. He works with imagery from popular culture and breaks down familiar divisions between art and mainstream culture. His projects often include what typically lies outside the artwork from merchandise and press photos that look like fashion campaigns to logos and playlists. BUTTERFLY! lives in the museum, in the urban space, on t-shirts and social media.


“When I first came to ARKEN, I was fifteen years old, I think. I remember the collection extremely clearly. Damien Hirst’s butterfly painting, Wolfgang Tillman’s photograph of vegetables and cigarette butts, Micha Klein’s Crystal Powder from God. Pop, but dystopian at the same time.” – Esben Weile Kjær


The exhibition BUTTERFLY! invites you to experience works from ARKEN’s collection in a new context that resembles a movie set with skate parks, occupied bunkers and nightclubs. The places stand as clear memories from Esben Weile Kjær’s childhood and youth. Graffiti-decorated concrete environments where the chic streetwear was showcased, where underground parties took place and where like-minded people met. Young people’s search for identity, freedom and community forms the framework for Weile Kjær’s design and curation.



Nostalgia permeates Weile Kjær’s personal perspective on ARKEN’s collection. Since his first visit to ARKEN as a 15-year-old, Weile Kjær has had a fondness for the museum’s collection, including works such as Wolfgang Tillman’s snapshot photographs of fruit and cigarette butts, Micha Klein’s computer generated group portrait Crystal Powder from God and Henrik Plenge Jakobsen’s fragmented body in the installation White Love.

BUTTERFLY! ARKEN’s collection curated by Esben Weile Kjær

From the left: Henrik Plenge Jakobsen, White Love, 1995, Lene Stæhr, Gravity I-III, 1998. Photo: Frida Gregersen

Esben Weile Kjær, BUTTERFLY!, 2023. Photo: Frida Gregersen

“I want to talk about ARKEN’s art works in a new way. I think we should look at them again. Try to understand ourselves based on them. Not as we were when they were created, but as we are today. To be able to look to the future.” – Esben Weile Kjær



Esben Weile Kjær has made the sculpture BUTTERFLY! especially for the exhibition. It is a kind of mascot or logo that welcomes you with its fierce fangs and large eyes and advertises the exhibition on posters and social media. Weile Kjær has found inspiration for the sculpture in the visual culture of the 1990s, where the butterfly was a popular motif as a print on clothes and tattoos. The butterfly is a symbol of transformation, and it reminds Weile Kjær of his early youth. The large bronze sculpture is inspired by two keychains he owned as a teenager, one depicting an eagle and another a butterfly.


“The butterfly has always been a favourite creature. This is undoubtedly because it is the product of a transformation. Changed, but still the same.” – Esben Weile Kjær



BUTTERFLY! appeals to all the senses. The walls and floors of the exhibition are covered with the graffiti painting something forever forever something (2023), created by visual artist Mira Winding and her crew of graffiti painters. DJ and composer Courtesy (Najaaraq Nicoline Vestbirk) and guitarist Jakob Madmoon Lamdahl have  composed two soundscapes, studies of dance music and studies of dance music for guitar, which enhance the melancholic atmosphere in the exhibition spaces. Esben Weile Kjær elaborates on the story of the skate park in his essay BUTTERFLY!, which is printed on a poster that you are welcome to take home. You will find it at the entrance to the exhibition and it can be downloaded here.

BUTTERFLY! ARKEN’s collection curated by Esben Weile Kjær

BURN OUT: Jes Brinch & Henrik Plenge Jakobsen, Syringe, 1996. Photo: Frida Gregersen

Esben Weile Kjær. Photo: Lasse Dearman


Esben Weile Kjær (b. 1992) graduated from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in 2022. He also has a background as a DJ and a degree in Music Management from the Rhythmic Music Conservatory. In his performances, installations and sculptures, he examines the identity formation of his own generation and the role of popular culture and technology in the experience of community and freedom.

Esben Weile Kjær has had several solo exhibitions, including at Kunstforeningen GL STRAND and at Copenhagen Contemporary, and has shown his works internationally at Museum Tinguely in Basel and Magic Stop in Lausanne, Switzerland. In 2022, he received the Carl Nielsen and Anne Marie Carl-Nielsen Scholarship Talent Award.  Esben Weile Kjær has most recently been featured in the group exhibition Another Surrealism at Den Frie in Copenhagen, with the installation HYPER! at BFI in Miami and with his performance BURN at Centre Pompidou in Paris. In 2024 he has a solo exhibition at Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg, Denmark.


Artists represented in the exhibition

Richard Billingham, Christian Boltanski, Peter Bonde, Anders Brinch, BURN OUT (Jes Brinch & Henrik Plenge Jakobsen), Nancy Burson, Sophie Calle, Claus Carstensen & Superflex, Courtesy (Najaaraq Nicoline Vestbirk) & Jakob Madmoon Lamdahl, Torben Christensen, Elmgreen & Dragset, Marlene Dumas, Erik A. Frandsen, Mads Gamdrup, Andreas Golder, Douglas Gordon & Jonathan Monk, Damien Hirst, Micha Klein, Peter Land, Jouko Lehtola, Sarah Lucas, Hermann Nitsch, Kirsten Ortwed, Henrik Plenge Jakobsen, Tal R, Torbjørn Rødland, Erik Steffensen, Hardy Strid, Lene Stæhr, Wolfgang Tillmans, Esben Weile Kjær, Emil Westman Hertz, Mira Winding & crew, and Yan Lei.



Listen to the music that has inspired the creation of BUTTERFLY! on Spotify. 

Download Esben Weile Kjær’s personal essay as a PDF




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ARKEN’s exhibitions in 2023 are supported by

BUTTERFLY! ARKEN’s collection curated by Esben Weile Kjær