The Museum Collections

Asger Jorn's Collections

In 1953 Asger Jorn wanted to work at a pottery workshop in Sorring near Silkeborg, an old centre for earthenware utensils in Jutland. The Silkeborg Museum reached an agreement with Jorn to pay his expenses at the workshop and in return to select a number of the ceramic works that were to be produced.
In connection with this acquisition Jorn donated some of his drawings, etchings and litographs to the museum. He also promised in the future to continue his donations and to extend them to include also works by his artist friends. The art collection in the museum was at that time very small and mainly confined to local artists.

In 1958 Jorn started systematically to collect a number of works of his contemporaries in Europe and of artists whose works had served as an inspiration for him. This resulted in an exhibition called 'New International Art', which opened in 1959. The exhibition included about one hundred works. In the catalogue Jorn explained some of his intentions with the collection, which turned out to be unique in its direction and choice of objects. The aim was neither 'to create a general orientation about the most modern art, nor a collection of precious masterpieces.' (...)
"This little collection is intended more as a provocation than as an expression of gratitude to Danish art circles. Just how and why are matters for the individual Scandinavian with an interest in art to discover for himself.
Museum objects are souvenirs. These particular objects belong in a personal way to my time. Time will show if they are more than souvenirs."

In the course of the 1960s the museum held a number of exhibitions that were all prepared by Jorn. He concentrated on graphic works by his own contemporaries. This led to the building up of almost complete collections of all the graphic works of Jean Dubuffet, Matta and Pierre Alechinsky. In addition came the purchase of more than one hundred works by Henri Michaux, a similar number of works by Pierre Wemaëre, and a number of drawings and paintings by the Danish symbolist artist Johannes Holbek.
He explained his museum policy in a letter to the museum, written in 1961: "I could have borrowed more good things by Dubuffet and others. But I have laid down the principle that the museum must never exhibit anything but its own property. We already have Louisiana and the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, both of which hold exhibitions and see to it that people are kept informed of new developments. I want to collaborate with the Silkeborg Museum because there I can make it clear to the public what I like and what I happen to find significant at the present moment, not because I have any wish to set myself up as a judge of quality in art, but quite simply to show what a particular, limited circle regards as the most significant."

The whole time Jorn kept sending paintings, drawings, ceramics and graphic works by himself, and in 1964, on his fiftieth birthday, the Museum organised on its own initiative a large exhibition of his works.
In 1968 Jorn added his principal work Stalingrad to the collection. Several of his donations have an intimate character; among them are many small pictures, improvisations and sketches. Jorn wanted, in no way, to personally dominate the collection.

The collections present the abstract-spontaneous art, its origins and evolution. Jorn has, as his starting point, some figure compositions of the 18th century. In the 19th century he concentrates on some Scandinavian artists who established close relations with tendencies in European art without giving up their own identity. Among these artists were Anton Melbye, I. C. Dahl, Ernst Josephson and Johannes Holbek. From there on, Jorn proceeds to Symbolism, with Redon, Ensor and Jarry. German Expressionism is represented by Beckmann, Corinth, Dix and Nolde. To Jorn, Symbolism and Expressionism were pre-requisites of spontaneous-abstract painting. The significance of Surrealism for Danish art is marked by important works by Picabia, Jean Arp, Man Ray and Max Ernst.
With these sections of the collections the way is paved for a description of Jorn's own time and the groups in which he played a decisive role: first the Danish spontaneous-abstract art before and during the war, then the extension of these concepts in post-war European art, marked by Cobra and the international gatherings in Albissola, Italy, around the ceramic workshops in the 1950s.
According to Jorn, Wols and Pollock at this time reached an extreme limit in painting. The collection contains almost the entire graphic oeuvre of Wols.
In his last years Jorn added calligraphic works by the Japanese artist Shiryu Morita, improvisations by the Cuban painter Feijoo, and a collection of Japanese paper kites. This »art brut«, an art of »intimate banalities«, globally conceived, was the last hint of a perspective that he gave through the Museum in Silkeborg.

Troels Andersen In: Asger Jorn's collections. Silkeborg Kunstmuseum 1982

the museum collection

Since Asger Jorn’s death in 1973, the museum’s art collection has steadily grown, and has more than doubled, owing to purchases and donations from artists and collectors. Today, the museum owns a large collection of Danish and foreign art, which is on view in the changing exhibitions. A count indicates that 452 artists are represented by the museum, of which only a few have been mentioned here.

The museum’s collection had its beginnings at the last turn of the century, which included the works of Albert Gottschalk, Aksel Jørgensen and Julius Paulsen, all of whom worked with light, atmospheric and colour effects. The works, like Jens Adolf Jerichaus’s large figure compositions, were a major inspiration for later generations of Danish artists.

THE 1930s, ‘40s AND ‘50s
The 1930s are represented by two different generations of painters: The older generation, including artists such as Søren Hjorth Nielsen, Svend Guttorm, Jørgen Thomsen and John Christensen, was generally occupied with the picturesque, with motifs that included the landscape, social portrayals, and interiors.
During these same years, the younger generation developed a new, abstract idiom: Vilhelm Bjerke Petersen, Ejler Bille, Richard Mortensen, Sonja Ferlov, Erik Ortvad, Henry Heerup, Egill Jacobsen, Carl-Henning Pedersen and others were inspired by the new surrealist movement from abroad, and added their own dimension to the surreal and the abstract.

From the second half of the 20th century, the museum owns works of the Eks-skolen (‘Ex[perimental] school’) artists: Paul Gernes, Richard Winther, Per Kirkeby, Bjørn Nørgaard, Peter Louis-Jensen and others. Common to these artists are their experiments with abstract painting, in which the materials’ colour and tactile properties are central. This generation is also represented by Erik Hagens, Ursula Reuter Christiansen and Lene Adler Petersen. The last two named are examples of a generation of forceful female artists who consciously worked with the feminine aspects of artistic expression, incorporating the sensual and drawing motifs within the framework of personal experience.
The 1980s are represented by the Lars Ravn, while Christian Vinds’ works bring the collection into the 21st Century.

Some of the artists, whose work is in the museum’s collection, are unique in that they worked outside the mainstream of the art scene. For example, there are Hilda Wanscher and Asta Nielsen, each of whom was intensely productive at the kitchen counter.
Poul Pedersen, Leif Lage, Frank Rubin, Gordon Fazakerley and Erik Liljenberg all worked with literature as their inspiration.

The museum has a fine collection of Svend Rathsack’s (1885–1941) original plaster sculptures, as well as a smaller selection of those by Rasmus Harboe (1868–1952) and Carl Mortensen. These plaster works stood for many years in the Christiansborg Castle attic, as parts of a larger collection destined for a museum of Danish sculpture. The attic was emptied in the late 1980s, and concerted efforts were made to place the plaster works in suitable museums and institutions. Museum Jorn, then the Silkeborg Kunstmuseum (Silkeborg Museum of Art), took responsibility for these sculptors’ works.

Museum Jorn’s collection has never been bound by its location, but does include the work of artists from the area around Silkeborg. Martin Kaalund Jørgensen, Asger Jorn’s teacher and a forceful presence in the artists’ group, Frie Jyske Malere (‘Free Painters of Jutland’) of the 1920s and ‘30s, Erik Raadal, from the same period, and late-20th-century ceramicist Erik Nyholm are well-represented, as is the group from around Sminge station: Monica and Niels Jørgen Nicolaisen, Poul Vandborg and Jørgen Jacobsen. Bodil Sohn and Erik Gamdrup Jensen are also from the area around Silkeborg.

The foreign division of the museum’s collection includes the work of herman de vries (Holland), Terry Atkinson (England), Felix Rozen (France) and Ernest Mancoba (South Africa/France), among others.
The museum has continued to acquire the work of many of the artists included by Asger Jorn in his own collection. These include Antonio Saura (Spain), Yasse Tabuchi and in particular, Pierre Alechinsky, who donated a large number of works on paper, including works by other artists, notably the ceramic relief Pensées de pinceau (‘Brush thoughts’) from 1998, which, along with several smaller reliefs by these same artists, constitute one wall of the museum’s courtyard. Another significant exterior work is Jean Dubuffet’s relief, Ephoké, which covers the wall opposite.
The museum also owns a collection of recent Eastern European and Russian art, primarily by artists who had to work secretly, owing to government regime repression of certain forms of artistic expression when Europe was still divided into East and West.

The museum’s total holdings of works on paper come to over 13,000 pieces. About ⅓ belong to Asger Jorn’s portion of the collection, and ⅔ have been added since. The latter include nearly complete collections of the graphic output of Aksel Jørgensen, Søren Hjorth Nielsen, Henry Nielsen, Reidar Magnus and Per Kirkeby, among others. Furthermore, Holger J. Jensen and Jørgen Rømer represent the tradition of fine Danish graphic art, as does Erik Hagens, whose collected production of posters and graphic works is also found in the museum.

Extending Asger Jorn’s belief that an artist could be as well-represented by a collection of works on paper as by the more expensive paintings, the selection of such pieces has made it possible to acquire the work of artists such as Edvard Munch, who was Jorn’s Nordic role model, Lovis Corinth, A. R. Penck, Georg Baselitz and Holger Bunk (all from Germany) and Raymond Pettibon (USA).

Illustrations on top:
Georg Baselitz: Blue Girl, 1986
Max Ernst: La mer et le soleil, 1926
Fancis Picabia: Olyras, 1931
Wilhelm Freddie: Psyco-photographical phenomenon: The fallen of the Great War, 1936
Man Ray: The Destiny I, 1939
Egill Jacobsen: Orange Bird, 1935
Sonja Ferlov Mancoba: Mask, 1939
Constant: The Blue Eye, 1948
Lucio Fontana: Terracotta Relief, 1952

Illustrations above:
Matta: Frenzied Daisy Petals, 1961
Enrico bay: Embrasse-moi bien, si tu veus, mais aprés laisse-moi tranquille, 1958
Wilfredo Lam: Kvinnaspegel, 1959
Pablo Picasso: Hands on Fish, 1953
Hans-peter Zimmer: Birth, 1961
Walasse Ting: I Man Fountain, 1966
Pierre Alechinsky og Christian Dotremont: Our Thinking II, 1971-83


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