Danish poster artist Ib Antoni Jensen created advertising campaigns in the 1960s that made America (and the world) fall in love with Denmark.
You can see “The Making of Wonderful Copenhagen: Poster Artist Ib Antoni” exhibition at the Museum of Copenhagen. Stroll through multiple rooms to see oversized posters and memorabilia. This exhibit runs through October 31, 2023.
“A smiling mermaid and friendly guardsman packaged in a sixties colours and style. Images many still associate with Denmark’s capital Copenhagen.”Museum of Copenhagen
Jensen’s advertising campaigns presented wonderful Copenhagen as the ideal location to vacation fashionably in Denmark. You’ll also understand the artist in the context of the world and the time he lived in. But he disappeared from view after his untimely death.
“Ib Antoni was a highly talented commercial artist from Esbjerg (Denmark), who had a short, dramatic, and incredibly successful life. He was clearly a genuinely gifted man.”Per Arnoldi (artist)
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Wonderful Copenhagen Special Exhibit
On the 50th anniversary of Jensen’s death in a tragic fire at the Hafnia Hotel in central Copenhagen, the museum celebrates Jensen’s legacy as the best pitchman for wonderful Copenhagen (and by extension the entire country). Visitors see the artist’s original drawings and designs—many of which have never been seen (and previously resided in the attic).
But the museum also exhibits numerous iconic posters that “put Denmark and its products firmly on the world map.” And don’t forget those products include Denmark’s Royal Family.
Other Danes also celebrated Jensen’s artistry as well. “His posters are razor-sharp – still. That’s what defines good art. Whether you pass by in a car, on a bike, or on foot, you have to get the message across loud and clear. And Ib Antoni really knew how to do that. A huge name – no doubt about it. Ib Antoni deserves to be in the spotlight again,” said Peder Stougaard, founder of the Danish Poster Museum.
Jensen worked at the most famous ad agencies in New York City; he clearly could have been a character on the “Mad Men” TV series. He was only 31 years when the wild and wacky 1960s began. He died at age 44.
Known as “The Great Dane,” Jensen created the iconic posters of wonderful Copenhagen. His brainstorm was to take the image of Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid—a sculpture that visitors line up to see at the harbor—and turn her into an image that portrayed a hip country. The merry mermaid sports red pigtails and wears a floppy blue hat.
A butterfly rests on the red ribbon circling the crown of the hat. Her hip-red miniskirt coordinates with her brown fins. A cherubic photographer sits on the mermaid’s upturned fin and photographs her. The slogan promises that “Da Kobenhavn Blev: Wonderful.” Translated, this means “When Copenhagen Became Wonderful.”
According to the museum, Jensen was a prime mover behind the large-scale “Wonderful Copenhagen” advertising campaign that sold Denmark and its capital to potential visitors. Tourists booked their transatlantic flights.
“From New York to Monte Carlo, Ib Antoni’s posters were on the streets of capital cities worldwide – and he too travelled the globe, working for some of the world’s leading advertising agencies.”Museum of Copenhagen
Creating a Fairytale City
Copenhagen was spared being destroyed during World War II, but the city looked shabby in the 1950s. Many of the historic buildings in the city center, which lined the city’s canals, were run down. Soot covered the city’s royal residence, the Amalienborg Palace.
Visitors see actual photos of Copenhagen which they can compare to Jansen’s fairytale image of wonderful Copenhagen. It is a big contrast. But Jensen knew how to “sprinkle stardust” on a shabby city.
Thanks to the fact that Jensen didn’t destroy his work, visitors can trace his artistic process by looking at his original sketches. In addition, the museum also exhibits his letters and personal belongings. You can see the “first scribbled lines on a napkin to the finished poster.”
No visit to Copenhagen is complete without a shopping expedition to Stroget. Shoppers can walk 1.1 km from Kongens Nytorv (new harbor) to City Hall Square to shop at designer brands stores as well as budget chains. But imagine these roads lined with honking cars and taxis.
It has been only 61 years since Copenhagen banned cars on a trial basis on its main shopping street. According to the museum, this “carfree” zone was not popular with everyone. Copenhagen’s mayor even received death threats from retailers. But in 1964, the change became permanent.
Antoni captured the excitement of a Danish shopping spree in his ad campaign. You can see the elegant tourists who carry parcels and bags. A guardsman dressed in a red and white uniform happily helps out.
It is hard to believe that an artist who is as famous as Antoni might have been forgotten if his nephew Anton hadn’t discovered his drawings in 2009. He discovered suitcases in the attic where his famous uncle’s work was packed away.
Together with gallery owner Mikael Hauberg, the two worked to bring Antoni’s artwork back into the spotlight. The museum also used Sara Alfort’s book (The Man Who Drew Denmark) as a starting point for the exhibition. She collaborated with the company Antoni Legacy to bring his story to life.
“The book ‘The Man Who Drew Denmark” tells the life of IB Antoni, and what a life it was.”Sara Alfort
I would suggest visiting the Museum of Copenhagen on the first day that you arrive in the city. It is located in a beautiful, historical building right behind City Hall.
“The Museum of Copenhagen wishes to kindle a desire for knowledge of the city, its past, present and future.”
You can learn so much about the city’s growth from a Viking stronghold to the UNESCO Architecture Capital of 2023.
But I think Antoni’s story influenced me so much because he showed how the Danes have a quirky personality and love to tell their Danish story to the world.
“Famous designers have praised his work and called his posters ‘a significant modernist mid-century legacy’, which, together with people like Verner Panton, Arne Jacobsen and Jørn Utzon, helped shape a period. I think that is true.”Bent Blüdnikow