Asger Jorn
Year, Birthplace 1914, Denmark
Year, Place of death 1973, Denmark
Left fatherless in 1924, Asger Jorn lived in Silkeborg in Jutland, where he completed his studies in 1932. At the time he painted naturalist landscapes and portraits, which he abandoned in favour of abstraction after reading some Bauhaus publications. He was then in contact with members of the Linien group in Copenhagen. In 1936 he set out for Paris on a motorbike in the belief that Wassily Kandinsky was receiving students there, but he ended up working under the tutelage of Fernand Léger at the Académie Contemporaine. He quickly integrated into the Parisian art world, assisting Le Corbusier with the decoration of the Pavillon des Temps Nouveaux at the International Exhibition in 1937. It was there that he saw Picasso’s Guernica (he worked for a time at the Spanish embassy for the Republican government). Moving away from abstract art, his work developed through his contacts with surrealists such as Max Ernst, Joan Miró and Hans Arp, and later through his visits to the Musée de l‘Homme. His pre-war work reveals the influences of Miró, Paul Klee and Kandinsky. His painting became increasingly dynamic and spontaneous. Back in Denmark during the war, he became interested in mental illness, folklore and the mythology of his country. From 1946 onwards, Jorn (who eventually took this diminutive as his name) went on countless trips around Europe and established many contacts. In 1947 he met André Breton and visited the Exposition internationale du surréalisme [International Surrealist Exhibition] at the Galerie Maeght. He became associated with the Dutch painter Constant and followed the activities of Appel and Corneille’s Dutch Experimental Group, which published the journal Reflex. His first solo exhibition took place in 1948 at the Galerie Breteau in Paris. He participated in the work of the Groupe Surrealiste Revolutionaire in Paris and Brussels through which he met the Belgian writer Christian Dotremont. During a conference in Paris in November 1948 he created the CoBrA (Copenhagen/Brussels/Amsterdam) movement in conjunction with its Belgian (Christian Dotremont and Joseph Noiret) and Dutch (Karel Appel, Corneille and Constant) representatives. Asger Jorn played a dominant role in the movement throughout its three-year existence, arranging the publication of a journal, organising meetings in Bregnerød in Denmark in 1949, and participating in collective works. He continued to be interested in prehistoric Danish art, Nordic legends and Roman statuary and in 1950 he painted the series Visions of War, which was populated by mocking animals. He thereby found his style and inspiration, which could be classified as expressionist, sometimes aggressive. It was a style that manifested itself after his long stay at the Silkeborg sanatorium, where he sought to cure himself of tuberculosis (1951-1953): he painted cycles on the seasons and myths and worked intensively in ceramics. Asger Jorn moved to Switzerland in 1953 and then to Albisola in Italy in 1954, developing his theoretical reflections with the aim of finding something that could follow CoBrA, making countless contacts around Europe which would materialise in the formation of the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus with Pierre Alechinsky, Appel, Enrico Baj and others in reaction to the Bauhaus set up by Max Bill in Ulm. In 1957 this movement led to the creation of the Situationist International with Guy Debord, whom he had met in 1954. By this time Asger Jorn had acquired international fame, exhibiting around the world. He explored different materials, including tapestry and ceramics (creating a relief for the Aarhus secondary school in 1959), and in 1958 worked with Dubuffet on prints and musical improvisation. In 1961, after abandoning the Situationist International in protest at the expulsions that had taken place, he created the Scandinavian Institute of Comparative Vandalism and the Movement for a Situationist Bauhaus with his brother, the poet Jørgen Nash. He divided his time between the island of Laeso in his native country and Albisola in Italy. After 1957 he exhibited regularly in Paris, first at the Galerie Rive Gauche and later at the Jeanne Bucher Gallery. In the 1960s several retrospective exhibitions aimed to show the protean dimension of his work, which ranged from drawings, plates, ceramics, collages, sculptures, tapestries, musical compositions, poetry and theoretical treatises to works on popular Nordic traditions, texts on urbanism and nomadic architecture, revolutionary manifestoes, and battles against functionalism. AC