Skip to main content

The Louisiana History

When Louisiana opened its doors in 1958, the founder, Knud W. Jensen, intended for the museum to be a home for modern Danish art. But after only a few years he changed course, and instead of being a predominantly Danish collection, Louisiana became an international museum with many internationally renowned works.

Louisiana’s close contact and collaboration with the international arts and cultural milieu has since been one of the museum’s greatest strengths. And also one of the main reasons that it has been possible for Louisiana to present an exhibition program that has resonated so strongly with the public over the years. Louisiana has thus achieved a standing as one of the world's most respected exhibition venues, and in the future it will be able to attract exhibitions and artists at a level that few other museums – either in Denmark or abroad – can match.

He taught us danes
to look at art

Louisiana's founder, Knud W. Jensen, wanted to create a museum where Danes could see modern art, which until then had no special place in the Danish museums. In the subsequent decades, through his intensive exhibition activities, he helped teach the Danish people to look at art.

Knud W. Jensen put into action many of the period’s visionary ideas about modern museum operation, including a desire for art to have a wide audience. It has always been the view at Louisiana that art is not just for an elite but includes experiences and visions for the many.

From the beginning, it was Knud W. Jensen's vision to create a museum with soul, where the public could encounter artwork – not as something pretentious, but rather something that spoke directly to the viewer. And he emphasized the need for “supplementary content” that could help bring alive and enrich the environment: “The more opportunities for experience that the program offers,” he wrote on the occasion of the museum's fortieth anniversary in 1998, “the more Louisiana lives up to its idea – to be a ‘musical meeting place’ and a milieu that is engaged in contemporary life.”


Louisiana became known particularly for Knud W. Jensen’s so-called “sauna principle”. Jensen divided the exhibitions into hot and cold varieties: The hot consisted of artists that the guests already knew – the great modern classics – while the cold gave room for names the guests had never heard of – the less easily accessible, often contemporary artists.

The trick is to combine the two so that the popular exhibitions attract guests who on the same occasion also get to see something other than what they would have come for themselves. The sauna principle, in all its simplicity, is about meeting guests at eye level according to the view that, for an appeal to resonate, it must get hold of people where they already are.


Why is it called Louisiana? Many people, especially those from outside Denmark, wonder about the name of the museum. The short explanation is this: a nobleman and his three wives. Knud W. Jensen chose to “take over” the name of the country house that he later converted to a museum. The property had been built and named in 1855 by Alexander Brun (1814-93), who was an officer and Master of the Royal Hunt and who married three women who were all named Louise. Here at Louisiana he was a pioneer in beekeeping and the cultivation of fruit trees.


From the start, Louisiana's exhibition practices followed the tradition at MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which in the first half of the twentieth century had become famous – and notorious – for expanding the range of modern art to include architecture, design, photography, film and other genres. On its own account, Louisiana has also supplemented modern art with cultural and ethnographic exhibitions and placed an importance on the versatility of the program by highlighting the interplay among the various artistic fields.


Movement in Art

Jackson Pollock

Yves Klein

Anonymous design

Henry Moore

Pompeji B.C. 79

Børn er et folk

Huset som billede

Homo Decorans –
Det dekorerende menneske

Tyrkiets skatte

Oceanien – Kunst fra Melanesien

Japan i dag

Cities on the Move 4
– Den asiatiske storby
i 90'erne  

Vision og Virkelighed
– Forestillinger om det
20. århundrede

David Hockney
– Maleri 1960-2000

Arne Jacobsen
– Absolut moderne

Louise Bourgeois
– Livet som kunst

Jørn Utzon
– Arkitektens univers

– Et nyt liv

Cézanne & Giacometti
– Tvivlens veje


From the very beginning, Louisiana was intended to be to a great extent a venue for cultural gatherings and debate. And over the years the museum has indeed played an extremely important role in Danish cultural life. In 2008, when Louisiana, upon the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary, introduced evening hours, it was precisely in order to strengthen and further develop this tradition and way of thinking. The comfortable, welcoming exhibition rooms, the spaciousness of the Park, the opportunity to pamper yourself in the Café and the Shop, as well as the many concerts, lectures and debates that take place in the Concert Hall in the evening – all contribute to making Louisiana a cultural center in the broadest sense.


The opening of the museum.

Jean Tinguely performs in the Park with his self-destructing sculpture Skitse til Verdens Undergang (Sketch of the End of the World) – the explosion kills a pigeon and afterwards causes a scandal in the media.
Photo: Jørn Freddie


Henry Moore visits Louisiana for the first time.



Joseph Beuys discusses the display of his work Honningpumpen (the Honey Pump) with museum curator Kjeld Kjeldsen.

The opening of the South Wing makes room to present more and larger exhibitions and pieces. The opening attracted prominent visitors.
Photo: Marianne Grøndahl

During the exhibition of Homo Decorans – Det Dekorerende Menneske (The Decorating Person), Keith Haring visits the museum and puts his “signature” on the entire hallway.



In May, Kim Larsen and his band perform on the lawn for the CAMPS peace rally.


Knud W. Jensen introduces Isabel Allende, one of the most widely discussed authors of the period.
Photo: Anders Bentzon.


Peace weekend with the participation of punk queen Nina Haugen, among others. Shown here with Kenneth Boulding and Georgi Andjaparidze.
Polfoto: Kim Agersteen





Seminar in the Concert Hall on the uprisings to the East: “The Scandinavian Way and Perestroika”.
Polfoto: Kim Agersteen







Salman Rushdie
, who since the fatwa in 1989 had to live underground, with constant police protection, turns up for a meeting with Günther Grass and others at the Boat House.


The museum celebrates its fortieth anniversary. Guests gather on the lawn to hear Knud W. Jensen speak from the veranda of the Old Villa.
Photo: Marianne Grøndahl



Fifty years after its opening, the museum expands the framework for its activities in innovative ways: Extending its hours until 22.00 Tuesday to Friday enables the museum to serve as a cultural center, with the launch of Louisiana LIVE and other programs.
Photo: Jacob Boserup

Lousiana Literature is held for the first time, with 40 authors from both Denmark and abroad. A new tradition is born.



David Hockney
meets the media on the Calder Terrace at the opening of his exhibition me draw on ipad.
Photo: Kim Hansen





Louisiana is a private, state-authorized museum subject to the Danish Museum Act. Public support finances about one quarter of the operations, and the museum generates the rest of the funding itself through its own earnings and sponsorships.

Poul Erik Tøjner has been the executive director of Louisiana since 2000. Born in 1959, Tøjner holds a lic.phil (Ph.D.) in Nordic philology. He was formerly art and literary critic and cultural editor at the Weekendavisen newspaper. He is the author of several books, including Museernes bedste billeder and Louisiana abc. At Louisiana, Poul Erik Tøjner has also curated a number of exhibitions, including Cezanne & Giacometti, Warhol After Munch, Andreas Gursky and Arctic.