Per Kirkeby’s Bronzes, Some Of Them Monumental, Have Now Entered The West Wing At Louisiana Museum Of Modern Art

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Per Kirkeby, Model: Two Arms, 1981. Patinated bronze, 91 x 38 x 42 cm. Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Poul Buchard / Brøndum & Co. © Per Kirkeby Estate.

HUMLEBÆK.- Per Kirkeby – Bronze is this spring’s major exhibition at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. The sculptures, small as well as monumental, take the leading part. And at the same time, in interaction with selected paintings and drawings plus works by among others Rodin and Giacometti, they help tracing the overall development of Kirkeby as an artist. Louisiana’s Director Poul Erik Tøjner has organized the exhibition.

Per Kirkeby (1938-2018) is richly represented and has exhibited at museums all over the world. He is also one of the major figures in Louisiana’s collection, which includes works by the artist from the very beginning until his final years.

The great majority of exhibitions of the works of Per Kirkeby, including Louisiana’s own, have featured a small number of the artist’s bronzes. Heavy as they are, they have functioned as a kind of footnotes to the oeuvre of the painter Per Kirkeby. The exhibition Per Kirkeby – Bronze has the ambition of unfolding the artist’s sculptural works as an independent practice and at the same time showing the interaction between image and sculpture.

In other words, visitors should not expect white galleries populated exclusively by black bronzes, for as always with Kirkeby, the individual work is interwoven with a larger narrative, with his oeuvre as a whole. In Kirkeby’s case the emergence of the bronze sculpture at the beginning of the 1980s was of crucial importance to the development of his painting, of his visual world as such.

The exhibition falls into a number of chapters that alternate between compact statements and a more monumental calm where each work can become the object of experience and reflection.

We are present at the birth of the bronze sculpture for Kirkeby. It enters the world during a kind of crisis in his painting on the one hand and an intense experience of the work of Rodin on the other. We are in the first half of the eighties, and Kirkeby is busy with plaster and bronze; the motifs are body fragments such as heads and arms. We follow these motifs as they develop in close proximity to the forms of nature – a torso may also look like a tree trunk – and we see reflections of other artists – Giacometti, Jorn, LeRoy among others.

From here on the artist embarks on the large formats – monumental and heavy sculptures which would normally stand beneath the open sky are now to be seen in Louisiana’s West Wing. The pictorial world is mythological – heroes from antiquity in whose stories he reflects himself and us: Hercules, Laocoön, Jason.

A special gallery has been devoted to Kirkeby’s reliefs for the Opera in Copenhagen in the black version preferred by the artist himself. The reliefs are supplemented by sketches and the two large paintings that Kirkeby added to the overall motif cycle.

The last two galleries in the exhibition focus on Kirkeby’s subjects and his models. Both can 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 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,” says Poul Erik Tøjner.

Poul Erik Tøjner has published several books about and with the Danish artist – among others the two large works Per Kirkeby – Painting (1998) and Per Kirkeby – Sculpture (2005). In 2002 he was responsible for the major exhibition about the pop artist Per Kirkeby, 122 x 122 Painting on masonite, with works from the 1960s and 1970s, and finally, to mark the artist’s 70th birthday in 2008, a big retrospective exhibition accompanied by a film with the artist, which will be shown in the museum cinema.