Danish ambassador renews ties with BYU

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The Danish ambassador renewed his country’s ties to the Latter-day Saint community with a tour of the BYU Museum of Art and a lecture at the Kennedy Center April 8.

His Excellency Peter Taksoe-Jensen was invited to speak as part of the Ambassador Lecture Series by Vice-President Erland Peterson.

Danish Ambassador to the U.S. Peter Taksoe-Jensen spoke at the Kennedy Center on Monday.
Danish Ambassador to the U.S. Peter Taksoe-Jensen spoke at the Kennedy Center on Monday. (photo by Chris Bunker)

He visited the MOA, where he viewed the painting “Christ Healing the Sick at Bethesda” by Danish artist Carl Bloch. The religious works of this Danish artist are well known in the LDS community as they are featured in many buildings and publications. Bloch’s art was featured at the BYU MOA in 2011, but this work is a permanent part of the MOA collection.

“These paintings by Carl Bloch are special to the Danish people, and they’re special to our community,” said Hilarie Ashton, the public relations representative for the MOA.

The MOA acquired this unique painting in 2001 through a donation from Jack R. and Mary Lois Wheatley. The LDS attention to Bloch has actually renewed his renown in Denmark.

“Now that we have caused Bloch’s works to be more esteemed and recognized in Denmark, however, our chances of acquiring another Bloch painting are very slim, so it is a very interesting irony,” said Dawn Pheysey, the museum’s head curator. “Having important Danish figures vouch for us makes it possible for us to receive loans of works like Carl Bloch’s to show at the museum,” Phesey said.

Following the museum tour, the ambassador lectured on “Denmark’s Green Agenda.” His audience included returned missionaries to Denmark, BYU students from Denmark, and students and faculty whose ancestors include Danish immigrants.

“You’re among friends, many of whom have Danish ancestry,” said Lynne Elliott, director of International Study Programs, in the introduction of the ambassador’s lecture.

The ambassador described his country’s long fight, which began with the energy crisis in the 1970s, toward becoming the most energy-efficient nation in the world. This was accomplished because Denmark, which is one-fifth the size of Utah, has relatively homogeneous political goals, including concern for the environment.

“That’s one of the big differences between my part of the world and other parts of the world where you can still have these curious debates about whether climate change is real,” Taksoe-Jensen said.

A question-and-answer session followed the lecture, and one attendee asked whether Denmark is still struggling with its relatively large new population of Muslim immigrants.

“This is something that is very difficult to explain to a country that is totally made up of immigrants,” Taksoe-Jensen said.

He explained that only 10 percent of Denmark’s population is immigrants. Denmark is a highly socialized welfare state, so tax-paying Danes object to the arrival of poor immigrants who might receive benefits without contributing to Danish society.

“We are the hobbits,” Taksoe-Jensen said. “We like to do things the way we have done things.”

Between the number of Danish speakers in attendance at the lecture, BYU’s artistic ties with Denmark, and the wet, rainy weather that day, the Danish ambassador was reminded of home.

“It’s a very Danish day,” he said.

A recording of the lecture is available at kennedy.byu.edu/archive. The MOA will host another exhibition featuring Carl Bloch and other artists beginning November 2013.

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