PER KIRKEBY: PAINTINGS AND SCULPTURE

By: Carl Little

Bowdoin College Museum of Art • Brunswick, ME • bowdoin.edu/art-museum • March 26–July 14, 2013

Per Kirkeby, MordetiFinderup Lade (Murder at Finderup Barn), 1967, oil on canvas, 48 x 48". Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark. Acquired with funding from the Otto Bruun Foundation.
Per Kirkeby, MordetiFinderup Lade (Murder at Finderup Barn), 1967, oil on canvas, 48 x 48″.
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark.
Acquired with funding from the Otto Bruun Foundation.

Born in 1938, Danish artist Per Kirkeby has attained the stature of a modern European master in his forty-year career as a painter, sculptor, and filmmaker. (He has also created theater sets and installations, and published a small library’s worth of poetry, essays, and novels.) Organized by the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, this exhibition is the artist’s first American retrospective, featuring twenty-six paintings and eleven bronze sculptures dating from the 1960s to 2010.

Kirkeby’s paintings, many of them quite large, often mix abstraction and representation. With its loosely painted horses, Untitled, 2009, might be an homage to Susan Rothenberg. In an exhibition catalogue interview the painter credits a sixteenth-century woodcut by German artist Hans BaldungGrien for inspiring the structure of the equine forms. (He also disses his son for giving him “a big beautiful book full of pictures of horses,” asking, “What am I going to do with that? I don’t need a real horse. I need the lines that pretend to be a horse.”)

One of the most striking works in the show is the grand (seventy-seven by forty-three-and-a-quarter inches), golden New Shadows III (1996) from the Museum of Modern Art. The canvas conjures the shimmering mosaics of Gustav Klimt. In contrast, the aesthetic of the chalk and blackboard paint on masonite pieces from the early 1980s is more Cy Twomblyesque—sketches and scribbled drawings found in some Copenhagen classroom.

A number of the small bronzes, from 1981 to 2010, resemble archaeological finds, roughly made objects uncovered at sites of some earlier civilization. In fact, Kirkeby made trips to South America in the 1970s to study Mayan ruins. The archways in No. 18 (1987) recall the cavernous opening in the 1967 painting Dark Cave (The Dream About Uxmal and the Unknown Grottos of Yucatan).

In speaking about his teaching, Kirkeby notes that he tries to undermine his students. Making a life from art, he avers, can be “a shitty business.” The comment reflects an honesty that one finds in the work of this artist who follows whatever muse he likes—Delacroix or El Greco or Rodin—to create in various media with engaging abandon.

—Carl Little
 


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