Louisiana's major exhibition was the first ever comprehensive presentation of the bronzes of Per Kirkeby. Monumental and powerful, it unfolded as an almost epic tale about creative struggle, downfall, mythology, and artistic redemption.
Per Kirkeby (1938-2018) is one of the truly great, international Danish artists, having exhibited at museums all over the world. He is also a key figure in Louisiana’s collection, which features works from his earliest beginnings to the very last years of his life. This exhibition allowed for Kirkeby’s bronze sculptures to take the center stage, focusing on the artist’s work with figure and space that also occupied his painting in the early 1980s.
While the bronzes have often played a supporting role in shows of his work, this exhibition presented a majority of Kirkeby’s sculptures, sometimes in interaction with individual paintings and drawings, while spotlighting his personal affinities with old masters – Rodin, Giacometti, and others – that so typified the intellectual range of his outlook.
From the exhibition
IN A GRAND TALE
Per Kirkeby – Bronze had the ambition of unfolding the artist’s sculptural works as an independent practice and at the same time showing the constant interaction between image and sculpture in his mature work. The exhibition fell into a number of chapters that alternated between intense, compact statements and rooms of a more monumental calm, where each work became the object of experience and reflection.
At first we were able to witness how the bronze sculpture enters Kirkeby's world during a period of artistic crisis in his painting.
This is also a time, where he is deeply impressed and inspired by the work of Auguste Rodin. We are in the first half of the eighties, and Kirkeby is soon busy with plaster and bronze; the motifs are body fragments such as heads and arms. We follow these motifs as they develop and evolve still closer to the forms of nature – a torso e.g. looking very much like a tree trunk.
From here on Kirkeby embarks on the large formats – monumental and heavy sculptures which would normally stand beneath the open sky, but in the exhibition loom large in the West Wing. The pictorial world is mythological – inspired by (the often ultimately tragic) heroes of antiquity: Hercules, Laocoön and Jason.
One section brought together some of the artists – Giacometti, Jorn, Leroy and more – whose works are reflected in Kirkeby’s, another was devoted to Kirkeby’s reliefs for the Opera in Copenhagen. Shown in the exhibition in the black version, preferred by the artist himself, these reliefs were supplemented by sketches and the two large paintings that Kirkeby added to the overall motif cycle.
The last two galleries in the exhibition focused on Kirkeby’s subjects and his models. Both could be seen as a kind of reflection of the formal language, the whole inventory of emblems and symbols that permeates all of Kirkeby’s work.
FROZEN BRUSH STROKES
Although Per Kirkeby worked in many genres alongside painting, there is no doubt that he saw himself as a painter. He even accepted the term ‘painter-sculptor’ used by a German art historian to characterize the kind of sculptural art that has a clear relationship with painting.
And Kirkeby’s sculptures have this quality in several respects. One of the obvious ones is the way he manages the surface of the sculpture. “Not rarely, it looks as if the sculpture is more painted forth than actually formed. Many of Kirkeby’s bronzes resemble frozen brush strokes, as if lifted out of the painting and given body,” states museum director Poul Erik Tøjner.
A DIALOGUE WITH PER KIRKEBY
Per Kirkeby in conversation with Louisiana director, Poul Erik Tøjner, who was a personal friend of and has written several books about the Danish artist. Tøjner was responsible for the major exhibition about the pop artist era of Kirkeby in 2002 - covering the1960s and 1970s - as well as the large-scale retrospective exhibition in 2008 marking the artist’s 70th birthday. This film was produced on this occasion and was shown again during the exhibition in the museum cinema. Texted in English.