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Asger Jorn
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Verjum, Denmark
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
Aarhus, Denmark
One of the leading Scandinavian artists of the 20th century, Asger Jorn’s radical leftist politics were an important aspect of his life and influenced his art. Jorn worked in many media, creating paintings, drawings, prints, textiles, collages, ceramics and artists’ books. Born Asger Oluf Jørgensen in 1914 in a village in Denmark’s Jutland region, his parents were schoolteachers. Three years after his father’s death in 1926 the family moved to Silkeborg, a larger town in Jutland where he studied at the local teachers’ college for five years. He also studied under the painter Martin Kaalund Jørgensen. He first exhibited works in Silkeborg in 1933, the year he produced his first graphic works, satirical engravings. After completing his teacher training, he went to Paris in 1936 where he studied with Fernand Léger (1881-1955), who found Jorn commissions and other projects that helped him financially. One was to assist Le Corbusier (1887-1965) in the decoration of a pavilion at the 1937 Paris World’s Fair. He also wrote articles that were printed in a Communist newspaper. After returning to Denmark, Jorn’s works were exhibited in Copenhagen together with those of Pierre Wemaëre (b. 1913), who had been a fellow student in Léger’s studio. Jorn spent World War II in Denmark, where his work appeared in several exhibitions. He was a founder of the magazine “Helbesten” (“The Hell Horse”) in 1941 and a leading contributor to its pages until it folded in 1944. In 1945 he changed his name from Jørgensen to Jorn. In the years following the war he traveled extensively, spending time in France, Sweden, Tunisia and Holland, where he met the Dutch artist Constant Nieuwenhuys (1920-2005). Attending a conference of Surrealist artists in Paris with Constant in 1948, the two left the conference and with the Dutch artists Karel Appel (1921-2006) and Guillaume van Beverloo, known as Corneille (1922-2010), and the Belgian painters and writers Christian Dotremont (1922-1979) and Joseph Noiret (1927-2012) formed CoBrA, named after their home cities of Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam. The group’s objective was “organic, experimental collaboration;” it published a journal and monographs and sponsored exhibitions, and lasted about three years. After living in poverty in Paris in 1950, Jorn contracted tuberculosis and returned to Denmark, where he spent seventeen months in a hospital recovering, during which time he wrote two books and worked on two series of paintings. After creating numerous ceramics he left Denmark in late 1953, living first in Switzerland and the next year in Albisola, Italy, where he continued to work on ceramics, collaborating with Appel, Corneille and Enrico Baj (1924-2003). The artists formed a continuation of CoBrA, called Le Mouvement International pour un Bauhaus Imaginiste (The International Movement for a Bauhaus of the Imagination). Jorn experimented with his painting materials while in Albisola, adding such things as salt and asphalt to his paints. After obtaining an apartment in Paris in 1956, Jorn’s art matured and he obtained an international reputation, with exhibitions in several cities. He joined the radical group “Situationist International,” which sought to revolutionize modern society. He started his very large painting “Stalingrad” in 1957, which he worked on until 1972. He began painting “modifications,” in which he bought old paintings at flea markets and modified them, generally with an absurd result. In 1959 he created a large ceramic relief in Albisola for school in Denmark. Financially secure, he began donating his works and those by other artists to the museum in Silkeborg, greatly expanding its collection. In 1960 Jorn and Wemaëre completed a large tapestry and exhibited it in Paris. He began creating his series of “Luxury Paintings,” made by pouring paint onto the canvas. He resigned from Situationist International in 1961, finding it no longer compatible with his views. He traveled extensively in the 1960s, collecting some 15,000 photographs of Scandinavian folk art, and published four monographs of commentary. Jorn contributed two color lithographs in Walasse Ting’s (1929-2010) 1964 book of poetry and lithographs, 1¢ Life. That year he refused the prestigious Guggenheim International Award for his painting “Dead Drunk Danes” (1960, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art) in a telegram beginning “Go to hell with your money bastard,” and the first major retrospective of his work opened at the Kunsthalle Basel. In the last years of his life he created numerous lithographs, color etchings and woodcuts. During 1972 he made 23 bronze and six marble sculptures. A large retrospective exhibition of his art was organized in Hannover and traveled to four other European locations. Suffering from cancer, he died of lung cancer on May 1, 1973 in Aarhus, Denmark. He had created over 2,300 paintings, some 400 prints, an equal number of ceramics, and a huge number of drawings and published some 200 articles and 14 books. A book he had written on Theoderik the Great, King of the Goths, was published posthumously. (TNB 3/2014) Selected bibliography: Aagesen, Dorthe, et al. Asger Jorn—Restless Rebel. Exhibition catalog. Copenhagen: Statens Museum for Kunst and Munich: Prestel Publishing, 2014. Hovdenakk, Per and Stine Høholt, et al. Asger Jorn. Exhibition catalog. Ishølj, Denmark: Arken Museum of Modern Art, 2002.