The fabric of the town of Herning in northern Denmark revolves around the textile industry to the extent that cloth even informs its one and only museum. HEART, as the Herning Museum of Contemporary Art is known, was designed by the American architect Steven Holl in 1999. “Part of the current art collection is housed in an old shirt factory in Herning. This 1960s building was designed in the form of a shirt collar and is across the street from the site,” says Holl of the context of the museum. Commissioned by local entrepreneur Aage Damgaard, who also owns the shirt factory that Holls refers to, the architect conceived a structure whose concrete exterior is not only partially covered in fabric, but which when viewed from above resembles a collection of shirtsleeves. It is a unique combination art, architecture and the business that finances it which extends to the heart of HEART’s pioneering exhibition programme.

Indeed, it was from a combination of art and enterprise that HEART’s permanent collection of conceptual and experimental art from the 1930s till today was born. Starting in the 1960s, Damgaard would invite artists to his factory, giving them space to work and a salary like the rest of his employees. One of the returning visitors was Italian conceptual artist Piero Manzoni, who was so thankful for his time spent in Herning (he described the town as ‘my paradise’) that he gifted 41 of his artworks to Damgaard.

Included in that gift was “Socle du Monde – Hommage a Galileo”. Executed in 1961 when the artist was in residence at Herning, it consists of a bronze base with an upside-down text inscription. Not only does this sculpture now sit proudly in HEART’s 40,000 landscape that was also constructed by Holl (he transformed the previously flat grounds with mounds of lawn and reflecting pools), but it also inspired the museum’s biennale.

Now in its fifth edition, the Socle du Monde Biennale (6 November 2010 – 13 March 2011) pairs international artists with corresponding Danish businesses. Traditional corporate sponsorship this is not. Rather, this is a case of businesses providing logistical, intellectual and emotional support to artists, as well as financing works of art. Due to the intimate relationships involved, the biennale is necessarily small in scale but has a large impact on the local business community, who by default become closely involved in the creation of artworks. In the textile making town of Herning, they wear their (He)art on their sleeve.

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Socle du Monde Biennale, 6 November 2010 – 13 March 2011