Painter, graphic artist, ceramist and author
The Contemporary Academy, Paris (under Fernand Léger), 1936-37
The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts
An international pioneer
Asger Jorn is one of the postwar periods most acknowledged Danish artists, and his art has positioned itself in both the Danish and international art world. In the end of the 1950’ies, Asger Jorn marked his international format as and artist and pioneer, and his generous and selfless personality became the basis for a great deal of artist-groups. The artists represented at Galerie Birch this current day, is based on the international network of artists, which surrounded Jorn at the time.
The birth of the COBRA-movement
Already in the interwar period Asger Jorn becomes a key figure on the Danish art scene. He is the man behind the journal “Helhesten” (1941-44) which was unifying basis for “Høstudstillingens” abstract-expressionist painters, who among others count artists such as Egill Jacobsen and Carl-Henning Pedersen. The journal also became a model for the later COBRA-journal that served as a co-operational basis for the international artist collaboration. Together with the Belgian artist Christian Dotremont, who also is represented in Galerie Birch, Asger Jorn founded the COBRA-movement in 1948 in Paris. The group existed until 1951 and has despite its short lifetime had an essential influence on the development of the period’s spontaneous-abstract art.
The spontaneous abstraction combined with an interest in children paintings (especially the artworks by Paul Klee served as a rolemodel) began when Constant, Appel and Corneille formed Nederlandse Experimentele Groep. This group would later be known as the Dutch branch of the COBRA-movement. They wished to create a boundless experimental freedom in an international collaboration and a joined style was never neither a focal point nor goal. Jorn has a crucial role in the development of the spontaneous-abstract style from the late 1930’ies and in his artworks you can find amusing and unique fantasy-creatures living in an abstract world of figures. The spontaneous-abstract painting allows the unconscious and untamed to appear in the shape of motifs and especially in the very painting technique. In Jorn’s painting we therefore see an artistic process of liberating the painting, so that it is not limited by shape and color, but in the reach of an creative spontaneity. For this, Jorn let himself inspire by the primitive arts, children paintings and the Old Norse fantasy world.
The rebellious painting
The COBRA-movement has a socialist-political dimension and Jorn’s involvement with the Situationist International together with Guy Debord and Jacqueline de Jong leaves a significant mark on his artworks. The Situationist International marks a showdown with high-culture and all of its conventions – by focusing on the individual situations, they aimed to dissolve the gap between artist and audience and between everyday and art. Jorn’s involvement with politics is for example seen in the big painting “Stalingrad, stedet som ikke er, eller, modets gale latter.” (1957-60 and 1967-72) which today is situated at Museum Jorn in Silkeborg. Jorn’s paintings are also recognized by the often-ambiguous titles that reflected his perception of the world. Just like several other artists in the period, Jorn was politically active in the Communist Party and his radical opinions were also aimed towards the uplifted and hypocrite art world. Jorn was a bon vivant, who selflessly and in an open manner transformed the entire world into his artistic playfield and his international format stood as a marked contrast to the exalted institutions petit bourgeois. In 1964 Jorn refuses to exhibit as the Danish representative at the Venice Biennale, being perhaps his most significant rebellion from the established art world. The same year, he also refuses the Eckersberg Medallion and the Guggenheim Award, and instead, as a response faxes the following to the director of the Guggenheim;
”GO TO HELL BASTARD—STOP—REFUSE PRIZE—STOP—NEVER ASKED FOR IT— STOP—AGAINST ALL DECENCY MIX ARTIST AGAINST HIS WILL IN YOUR PUBLICITY— STOP—I WANT PUBLIC CONFIRMATION NOT TO HAVE PARTICIPATED IN YOUR RIDICULOUS GAME.”
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art celebrates its opening in 1958, and Jorn, who saw the museum as a representative of limited artistic conventions, seeked to create an alternative. In line with his socialist view on art, he started collecting works from the abstract-expressionist movements artists to Museum Jorn located in Silkeborg, which this current day has one of the finest and most extensive collections of international modern art. The collection shows Jorn’s international influence and significance, and at the same time portray him as the greatest Danish patron of newer time.
Break-through and career
In 1953 Asger Jorn leaves Denmark and he begins travelling the world, which gives him the possibility to invest time in his international communities. In 1949 Jorn exhibits together with Joan Miró and Jackson Pollock at “Moderne Kunst” at the Stedeliik Museum in Amsterdam and these exhibitions can be considered as an artistic break-through. The galleries flock to buy Jorn’s artworks to high prices, but he does not really like it, and his earnings serve merely as fuel to launch his many projects. Among them can be mentioned ”Skandinavisk Institut for Sammenlignende Vandalisme” (SISV) and the publication ”10.000 Års Nordisk Folkekunst”. Besides this, Jorn has published numerous articles and art-theoretical books. In 1964 Jorn participates in a series of international exhibitions, and his first retrospective exhibitions takes place in Basel, Amsterdam and Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. The English university professor and art-collector Guy Atkins, who Jorn met in London in 1956, collects material to create a complete listing of Jorn’s paintings. Asger Jorn is mostly famous for his oil paintings, but also produces an unknown number of ceramics, lithographical prints, woodcuts, etchings, drawings, watercolors and gouaches. Overall, Jorn creates 700 graphical works, most of them to be seen in a chronological manner made by Jorn’s German gallery, Galerie van de Loo. Furthermore, Jorn is known for his collages and décollages that are created in the years from 1964-1972 in connection with the student-rebellion in Paris. Here Jorn is made aware of the visual strength of posters. The posters were hung in thick layers in the streets of Paris. These he collected in the areas around Marais and Montparnasse together with the litographist Peter Bramsen. They were transported to the studio, in which Jorn processed them, by reducing the amount of paper – this is the reason it is called “décollage”, a process focused on removing parts from its whole instead of adding them, as in a collage. There exists around two dozen of décollages, several of them created in 1971, only two years prior of his death.
Jorn and Birch
Børge Birch gained a close friendship with Asger Jorn, and already during the 1930’ies Birch sold Jorn’s artworks. During his art-journey in 1959 Børge Birch notes in his notebook:
“Said in all modesty. I believe that he will become the most expensive of them all. But that sounds a little stupid said by a Dane – you just might think that I like chopped steak with eggs the best – real Danish food. BUT he is world-class material. Buy everything you possibly can, right away. “
“(…) I see Jorn’s latest paintings as the peak of his production. I feel 100 % sure of this, even though it opposes the Danish opinion (…) if Jorn had continued painting as he did from 1944 to 1952 then he had never become world-famous. I feel as if I have faced one of the greatest in our time.”
Asger Jorn has held his largest number of exhibitions in Galerie Birch, with several group-shows and solo-exhibitions during the years 1948 to 1950, in 1953, 1955 and from 1961-1969 and finally in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
2014 stands out as being 100 years since Asger Jorn was born. This was marked and celebrated by several Danish museums. The National Gallery of Denmark held the extensive retrospective exhibition “Restless Rebel” which gave a thorough look into all the different aspects of Jorn’s career, telling and showing the entire story of an artist they have defined as so much more than a painter, being a “(…) truly unique figure within Danish art.” Also, Museum Jorn in Silkeborg held the exhibition “Expo Jorn” which they described as “a playful journey throughout the different themes which Jorn investigates in his art, depending on his shifting artistic inspirations and cooperations.”
Trailer for the documentary “Man siger ikke nej til Asger”
Museet for Samtidskunst, Oslo
Tate Gallery, London
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venedig
Guggenheim Museum, New York
Represented at the following Danish Museums
KUNSTEN Museum of Modern Art Aalborg
Statens Museum for Kunst
ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum
HEART – Herning Museum of Contemporary Art
Galerie Birch is Denmark’s oldest gallery for contemporary art and have a thorough knowledge of notably Asger Jorn and the other artists behind the CoBrA-movement, which the gallery had a close relationship with before, under and after the groups existence. Jorn and Birch has been close associated and Galerie Birch is one of the leading galleries with personal knowledge and relationship with this wonderful performer.