Past exhibitions

Per Kirkeby, 1963

The Ex School

Experiment Art School 1961-69

sunday 5th of September - sunday 5th of December 2010

Poul Gernes, Per Kirkeby, John Davidsen, Peter Louis-Jensen and Bjørn Nørgaard are today well-known names on the Danish and international art scene, and though their careers have turned out quite differently, the starting point of their artistic work is the same. They were all part of The experimental art school in Copenhagen during the 1960s.

In 1961 Poul Gernes and art historian Troels Andersen founded an alternative to the Art Academy; the so-called Ex-school.
For the founders, the Academy represented an outdated and elitist vision of art, and so they introduced an art school with no entrance examinations or constricting traditions. Graphics, material sciences etc. were still taught, but didactic teachers were replaced by collective expression. The barriers between high and mass culture, exhibition halls and urban spaces, should be torn down, and art should fulfil its social function in society.
The Ex-school held a learning by doing approach to the creative processes, and this experimentation and curiosity challenged the idea of artwork as something subjective, sublime and eternal.

The exhibition
Throughout the 1960s the school served as an inspirational centrifuge for young artists, and pop art, happenings, minimalism and experimental film were part of its repertoire.

Various artists came and went in the circles around the school between 1961 and 1969, but the exhibition will focus on the abovementioned five artists, who formed the core. Their key works from the period point to various facets of the Ex-school's efforts and artistic ambitions, and the exhibition makes it possible to see the works and experiments at first hand and to form a picture of what was actually created, and what was tried at the famous school back in the 60s.

Many of the exhibited works and labours are kindly on loan from museums and private owners, and the exhibition embraces the different media and cross-fields the young artists worked within; painting, decoration, installations, sculpture, graphics and film. Thus creating the central focal point of the Ex-school's activities and development, and this is the first time that these artists' works and labours from the period appear side by side!

Among other things you can experience manifestations such as the collective Trækvogn 13 [Handcart 13] pictures, submitted by anonymously to KE (The Artists' Autumn Exhibition) in October 1963, the Aeroplane Exhibition in `Den Frie Udstillingsbygning´ from December-January 1965/66, Poul Gernes' huge installation `The Alphabet of Shapes´, exhibited at the KE in 1966, the 8 metres high cardboard sculpture `The Tower´ from 1967 and many, many more.

In line with the Ex-school's openness to new artistic initiatives, several of the works were created from perishable materials such as paper and cardboard, or in ephemeral forms such as happenings or spatial installations, and therefore the reconstruction of some key works were necessary for the occasion. Among other things, Per Kirkeby's very first brick sculptures in yellow brick, and a blue fence that fences 1m², was exhibited in a basement in Holbergsgade 12 on 27 to 29 June 1966. In addition, in one of the exhibition spaces Bjørn Nørgaard has reconstructed an installation from his first solo exhibition in December 1967 in the Student Council premises in Charlottenborg.

Museum Jorn wishes to thank the many collaborators who, by lending their works, have contributed to making the exhibition a reality.

Thanks to:
The National Gallery of Denmark
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk
KUNSTEN Museum of Modern Art Aalborg
ARoS Aarhus Art museum
West Zealand's Art Museum
Funen's Art Museum
Randers Art museum
John Hunov
Finn Ahlstrand
Simon Louis-Jensen

The exhibition is supported by:
The Knud Højgaard Foundation
The Augustinus Foundation

Still from 8mm film, 1962. 2 min., 9 sec.

Experimental film
The artists of the Ex-school took an interest in pictures of all kinds. Objects and materials could be "image-like", and political or social narratives contained visual potential.
It is therefore not surprising that even the moving pictures, film, attracted so much attention.

It began around 1962, with the same curiosity and approach that characterised the work of graphic technicians, e.g. Poul Gernes' string plates which he had run over by buses and cars, or struck with a hammer. Confronted with the "new" media, film, a spool of unexposed film was rolled out on the floor of the school premises and was exposed to rather rough treatment.
Large nails were driven through the strips, and were drawn and painted on. Then they were put into an 8mm projector and played on the wall, so the resulting image sequence could be seen. Pictures were pictures.

This direct and tangible form of researching mediums and potentials reflected a democratisation of the film medium. Within the official organs of the Film School and Film Foundation, access to the film world is not always vouchsafed, and both the creative and technical processes behind film production was, then as now, surrounded by a certain mystique.

The school's artists challenged this position and transferred the idea of the working community and social dimensions to their work with film. They undertook film research, experiments with clipping and double exposure, recording their exhibitions and installations, action films and film productions of longer duration. The latter in particular, in the loosely structured association ABCinema, which, in the late 1960s and early 1970s produced collective and rather unusual films such as Dyrehavefilmen and Rødovrefilmen with great dedication and very limited common finances.

Museum Jorn's exhibition has digitized a large portion of the material, 8mm and super 8mm coils from the period, and the public has the opportunity to choose from a total of 26 short and longer films and recordings via two screens hung in the exhibition. Including some of the very early experiments and studies not previously shown to the public.

The exhibition's curator is the ex-school's founder and art historian Troels Andersen, who also is the author of articles and a chronology in the 72-page illustrated exhibition catalogue, published for the exhibition.
Thanks to the Augustinus Foundation for supporting the exhibition catalogue and their work with short films.

Poul Gernes & Peter Louis-Jensen: Democratisation, 1963. Synthetic paint on masonite, 6 squares 61 x 61 cm each

Preface to the exhibition catalogue

"For subsequent generations, the Ex-school stands for more than just an alternative to the Academy in the 60s. Today it is a concept in Danish art.

If you glance down the list of artists, who, as students and teachers frequented the school during its lifetime between 1961 and 1969, you will find the names of those who have, collectively, almost dominated the Danish art scene in subsequent years. With their importance to Danish art, the Ex-school takes on an almost mythic role. It is clear that it has had a crucial influence on the development of an entire generation of Danish artists. To those who attended the school, as it was a school with teaching and not a direction or an arts group, it appears perhaps different. As is so often the case with schools. They are, for those who went there, one or more stages of their development, an infinite series of daily discussions and experiences that are almost impossible to summarise. Small movements and numerous experiments, which imperceptibly shaped their talent and created new conditions for expression.

The leaders among the school teachers and students have for a long time had numerous museum exhibitions and publications, both in Denmark and abroad. But this collective and common starting point for a series of major artistic personalities has, until recently, been sparingly dealt with by art history. Perhaps the individual artists' later careers have swallowed too much of this. And perhaps this melting pot or inspirational centrifuge, this cauldron of an artistic laboratory or whatever one might call the Ex-school seemed confusing, and required a certain amount of time and distance in order to be visible. It has certainly not been trivial. It only happens a few times every century that the right growing conditions are in place for so many talents to come together in one period and find common ground, and that talent developing mutually and separately, as happened in the Ex-school. The latter is especially interesting. The school's pupils did not solidify in the shared experiences and the collective's unmistakable progress, but seem rather to have created a base which meant that their talents could gradually unfold separately. This was of course at the school's demise, but the birds could leave the nest and make their mark on the world.

Exhibition sheet. Admiralgade 20, 19th-31st October 1964

In recent times, two books, with different approaches, have dealt with the Experimental Art School, which is its full name. And now we have an exhibition. Naturally the latter deserves a screening. Not everything could be included. In return, it allows one to take a position, to flag an approach. In this case, the selection has been conducted by one of the Ex-school's co-founders, Troels Andersen, who was the school's art historian. The desire has been to show the most significant works from the period, which in various ways incorporates the school's efforts and vision, and simultaneously identify the works and trends that show the progress of the most central of the school's artists.

Some work has been done, but a big thanks must be given to Per Kirkeby and Bjørn Nørgaard for their contributions to the restoration of two early works in the exhibition.
Fortunately, most works have been preserved, and both private collectors and institutions must be thanked for lending them. This is true of John Hunov; Finn Ahlstrand; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek; the Danish National Gallery; ARoS Aarhus Art Museum; KUNSTEN Museum of Modern Art, Aalborg; Randers Air museum; Funen's Art Museum and West Zealand's Art Museum.
The Augustinus Foundation must be thanked for their contributions to the catalogue.
The title of the exhibition, The ex-school - Experiment Art School, has been taken from a poster, produced by Richard Winters, which was used to promote the newly established school and entrance examinations on 24 October 1961".

Director Jacob Thage &
Musuem curator Teresa Østergaard Pedersen

Peter Louis-Jensen: Structure tablet, 1965. Oil and wood on masonite, 85 x 85 cm

Erik Thygesen, in addition to Information 26.5.1972

"The question is of course, when is a school a school? A school is a school when it calls itself a school; like the famous saying: What is a hippie? It is a duck that walks around wearing a sign around its neck with hippie written on it. A school might be something with teachers and pupils and fixed teaching hours and curricula, which someone defines for others, but not necessarily. It might be the opposite, and may also have a mixed form, if you prefer.

The experimental art school has for the most part been a school without teachers, without pupils, without fixed teaching hours and without a curriculum. For short periods the school has also operated with all of these schedules and limits - for short periods when the school was, financially, on its ass, and the schedules generated money.

For most people, the experimental art school is more myth than reality, as in "Back then in the experimental art school when ...". But the school still exists, not just on paper but also with premises and members. An exhibition/meeting room and an office can be found on Studiestræde. There is a small print shop in Suhmsgade. Nevertheless, one might say that the school has, in many ways, a mythical character; even for its own members. Or to put it in the school's own language: The school is an empty frame, which can always be filled with virtually anything.

When today we read interviews with people who have received medals, large grants or attention from quirky films and actions, the myth, time and again, shimmers into life: "Back then in the experimental art school when ...", there were no limits to how many people "went to" the art school, had been in contact with it or had used it as a starting point".

Happening in the backyard, Pilestræde 1964. Photo: Egon Engmann

The first happenings
If you take the empty frame and fill it up with historical material, one can safely say that the first happenings on Danish soil, the first pop art, the first examples of minimal and conceptual art and tangible poetry and music and the music people call "condition music", were seen here. A film experiment such as ABCinema grew out of the school, which had, incidentally, made quirky films before then. For a while, an almost-daily magazine was produced at the school. For a period, the local surroundings witnessed the first beat-environment in the country - Gallery 101. The political action groups came later. Through the years the school has also been responsible for a range of public events, e.g. exhibitions, concerts, film shows etc.

The school started at a time when there wasn't as much money to be had from public funds as there is today, and this probably had some bearing on its structure. But it was also undertaken in opposition to the official artist training as it was then and still is today. It was primarily started by artists who, as individuals, had dipped their toes in academia and would never dream of doing so again. The school had no use for professors, and its members did not need to learn anything they did not need. The teaching principle - because there is good reason to talk of teaching - was called self-teaching or mutual learning, and what was learned was what was needed. As people began to tinker with film, one did not enter into film aesthetics and one did not go to film school to learn how this sort of thing was always done - one examined how to, technically and financially, realise the project they wanted to achieve. And then it was no longer".

Studio community in Pilestræde 4. From left: Per Kirkeby, John Davidsen, Peter Louis-Jensen, Jan Grünwald and Ole Knudsen. Photo: Egon Engmann.

Studio community
"In many ways the school was a common studio and, at times, a cohabitation (collectives, as they are called nowadays), but it was/is also an open framework, which was/is filled by people who put themselves inside the framework and communicated with others within the same framework. During the studio period, the entrance conditions were very simple: those that had taken the trouble to find out that the school existed, had taken the trouble finding it, and then plodded through the door was a member, until they disappeared out the door again. There was a lot of talking and gossip, a lot of sharp criticism; both internally and externally. And the thin-skinned, who could not argue how and why the divine inspiration had led them to where they were, usually packed it in fairly quickly.
The school did remain a school of painting. As one moved out into more pan-artistic forms a few composers and some writers arrived, and later some movie people and politically underground people. Some of the old heads disappeared and some of the newer faces disappeared as well, and this has always been, and probably will continue to be, the way it is.
But one thing we can assert: during most of the '60s, the aesthetically-experimental initiative belonged to the art school or to offshoots of the art school. The official artist education ground up, and spent, lots of money, had seats on the official selection committees, wrote reports and did what they could to maintain some developments, which were completed decades ago in all possible locations other than in those fossilised institutions".

Poul Gernes, images of tires on the bus line 29, 1962. Etching, 36.7 x 49.5 cm

No framework agreement
"How did the school manage financially? Well, it did the opposite of what is usually done today. It found the limits and laid down the frames and proceeded to fill them out without first consulting the Schooling Act, and when it later sought government grants, it was on the school's and not the ministries' terms. It continues to receive very little public subsidy, which can neither support one thing or another. It has periodically received grants for individual projects (travel expenses for foreign happenings, youth training funds to support life in a poor and, at the time, very young member), but each time without entering into framework agreements with the granting authorities. Finally, in crisis periods, a sort of evening class was conducted for people outside the school - a lecture series on "contemporary avant-garde", e.g. lectures by some of the school's more or less permanent members, who mostly talked about themselves.
Finally: none of the people who, through the years, have been through the school’s doors have ever been in any doubt that it was a school. That it collided with the more official definition of a school, I don't believe was ever given a second thought".


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