The statue incarnation of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale character the Little Mermaid is undoubtedly one of the most popular tourist attractions in Copenhagen. Some visitors also check out the abstract parody known as the Genetically Modified Little Mermaid nearby. Unknown to most tourists, however, is that about 25 miles (40 km) north of the Danish capital, in the small coastal city of Helsingør, you find a modern male version of the classic bronze siren.
When the aquatic Han sculpture was unveiled in 2012, the Danish-Norwegian artist duo Elmgreen and Dragset presented their artwork as “the kid brother of The Little Mermaid.” Although Han has a human-like lower body instead of a fishtail, therefore technically not a “merman,” it sits in the siren pose on a rock—just like the original water nymph statue.
Elmgreen and Dragset want to challenge the convention of how masculinity can be depicted in this day and age. Contrary to traditional statues of naked, muscular, courageous men, the sculptors created a fragile and boyish figure without heroic aura.
Han is 5.9 feet (180 cm) tall, cast in polished steel with a mirror-like surface. The artwork does not have its own color. Instead, it’s colored by the surroundings, which varies with the time, the weather, and the angle of view. An electronic device makes the sculpture blink at irregular intervals so that only the lucky or patient ones get to experience the blinking eyes. This way, the viewers need to dwell on the artwork to get the full benefit, not rush by.
During the fall of 2018, the sculpture was exhibited at the Beijing Design Week in China, where it promoted tourism to Denmark as well as LGBT rights.
Know Before You Go
Han sits on the edge of the pier in front of Kulturværftet (the Culture Yard) and can be reached by foot in about 7 minutes from the railway station and the ferry terminal.