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Asger Jorn

Vejrum - Aarhus

Vejrum 1914, Aarhus 1973

Asger Jorn was born as Asger Oluf Jørgensen Vejrum on the 3rd of March, 1914. He was a painter, sculptor, ceramist, graphic artist, lithographer, theorist and philosopher, and is seen as one of the key figures of the CoBrA movement. At age 16 he started painting portraits and landscapes. Five years later he decided to exchange his homeland for Paris. In Paris he became an apprentice of Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), he enrolled at the Académie contemporaine of Fernand Léger (1881-1955) and he spent some time with Le Corbusier (1887-1965). During this period, his works made a change from figurative to abstract. This revolution also had to do with the meeting with his compatriot Egill Jacobsen (1910-1998) in 1937. Jacobsen at the time was already experimenting with abstract surrealist work and this spontaneous way of painting made a big impression on Jorn. In 1941 he founded with Robert Dahlmann Olsen (1915-1993) the artists’ group and the magazine Helhesten (The Hell Horse) (1941 to 1944). A year later he joined the Danish artists’ Høst (1942-1949). Influences of primitive art and fantasy forms were dominant artistic inspirations within this group. Shortly after the war Jorn became acquainted with the Dutchman Constant Anton Nieuwenhuijs (1920-2005) and Frenchman Jean-Michel Atlan (1913-1960) in Paris. These two artists have played a major role in his quest for a spontaneous and expressive way of working. Jorn was not the only artist who was looking for artistic freedom; he found his match in a number of contemporaries. On November 8th, 1948 he founded together with Constant, Corneille (1922-2010) and Karel Appel (1921-2006) from the Netherlands and Christian Dotremont (1922-1979) and Joseph Noiret (1927-2012) from Belgium, the artistic movement CoBrA (1948- 1951). The Characteristics of Jorn’s art from the CoBrA period were the intense, dramatic brushstrokes, rough shapes, lines and dark colors. He was known for his surrealistic, abstract image-based language that references to the world of Nordic myths and legends. His works were shown at the major CoBrA exhibitions in Amsterdam (1949) and Liege (1951). After the disbandment of CoBrA in 1951 dramatically moved paint masses, fantasy creatures and visions dominated his work. While Jorn was suffering from tuberculosis, which had weakened him around the time that he returned to Denmark, where he was admitted to a sanatorium in Silkeborg. By coincidence, the Belgian CoBrA artist Christian Dotremont was also sick and stayed in the same sanatorium. The two conducted regular discussions with each other and manufactured so-called peintures-mots (word paintings). Besides Jorn’s quest for artistic freedom in regard of his artistic way of working he also had revolutionary ideas about the role of the artist in Western society. Jorn was seen by his contemporaries as a great inspiration: he traveled a lot, incited the creation of artists groups and movements and maintained many international connections. According to Jorn society itself had to be brought to art, something that could only be achieved through collective participation of artists as well as civilians. This led to the establishment of the artists group Mouvement International pour un Bauhaus Imaginiste (MIBI) in 1956. Following the merger with the collective International Lettrist (IL) (1952-1957), founded by Frenchman Guy Debord (1931-1994), the two groups continued as L’Internationale Situationniste (IS) (1957-1969). The works of Jorn have been and still are exhibited worldwide. It was shown in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (1964), and after his death at the Guggenheim Museum in New York (1982) and the Städtische Galerie in the Lenbachhaus in Munich (1987). A large part of Jorn’s artistic legacy can be seen in the Museum Jorn in Silkeborg, Denmark.

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