In the display window of a Copenhagen gallery named ArtPusher, a neon artwork depicted a larger-than-life Chanel-style perfume bottle that reads “N’19 COVID CHINA.” In recent days, the work has been denounced onsite and online as racist, but the gallery owner and artist Søren Vilhelm, who goes by “ArtPusher,” has doubled down instead of issuing an apology.
Leading the protest against the racist artwork is Xue Chen, an art student in London who happened by the gallery during a visit to Copenhagen. Using lipstick and wrap paper from a local supermarket, she scrawled “Racism” and the phrase “This is art too, enjoy” alongside a drawing of the bottle with the words “Respect nature!” (Chen explained to Hyperallergic that COVID-19 comes from nature and is not the product of human design). She posted a video of the action on Instagram.
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“If a work of art is based on the sufferings of a nation and displays hate speech against innocent people, it must be wrong, needs to be criticized, and needs to be corrected,” Chen told Hyperallergic.
Earlier today, January 4, ArtPusher retorted with an Instagram post showing a new work in the gallery window, this time replacing China with “North Jutland” (Denmark’s northern peninsula). “Can you be racist against yourself is the big question? Now I’m just waiting for hordes of offended Danes,” he wrote in a caption for the post.
The artist says he created the image as part of a series of recreations of the iconic perfume bottle which feature the word “Covid” and the names of various locations including London and Paris.
“Calling me a racist is a joke to everybody who follows me and my work,” ArtPusher told Hyperallergic, adding that he used to live in Asia and his wife is Asian. A Facebook post from today shows a printed doormat with a version of the “Covid China” work and the caption reads (with three laughing emojis), “Wonder if my doormat is also racist — feeling thoughtful at Artpusher.”
Furthermore, ArtPusher moved to co-opt Chen’s protest as an artwork for sale under the description “Racism; 23 x 30 cm; Chanel lipstick on plain white paper.” He also listed the maker as a “Chinese tourist.”
Chen posted screenshots of now-deleted comments on the post, in which she asks to be addressed by her name rather than “Chinese tourist.”
In a lengthy comment under the same post, ArtPusher speculated that the activists are “most likely 2 young naive Chinese who were brought up to believe that art should only be beautiful and in no way be critical of anyone” and claimed they misunderstood his work. “As an artist, I cannot take responsibility for other people’s interpretations of my works.”
Chen explained that the gallery is near Edvard Eriksen’s iconic The Little Mermaid statue, one of the city’s top tourist attractions.
“I have deeply thought about what people who come to Copenhagen will think,” she said. “Such art is undoubtedly racial discrimination disguised by the art cloak. If I keep silent, will those people discriminate against innocent Chinese people and even Asian Americans because of such art?”