Asger Jorn à Silkeborg

Asger Jorn à Silkeborg
Authors Asger Jorn, Troels Andersen, Jean Dubuffet & Erik Nyholm
Publisher Silkeborg Kunstmuseum
Publishing date 1978
ISBN 87-980325-6-9

Asger Jorn à Silkeborg Le musée d'un peintre (Asger Jorn in Silkeborg, a painter's museum) is a partial catalogue of works held by the Silkeborg Museum of Art with a focus on the art of Danish painter Asger Jorn and the relationship that the museum's other works have with Jorn's art. The contents were published in 1978 by the museum in the French language and under the direction of Troels Andersen, who was the museum's director from 1973-2004.


The book contains the following sections:

  • Biography of Jorn
  • Essay Origins and Paths of Unity by Asger Jorn, from the publication Asger Jorn: Pour la forme, Paris 1957, pp. 131-132
  • Essay Intimate Banalities by Asger Jorn, from the magazine Helhesten, Volume I, Number 2, Copenhagen 1941, pp. 33-38
  • Essay The Collections of Asger Jorn in Silkeborg by Troels Andersen
  • A brief description of French artist Jean Dubuffet's work Epokhè, a large sculpture that Jorn commissioned from Dubuffet for the external façade of the Silkeborg Art Museum
  • Essay Have Fun by Erik Nyholm


from Pour la forme, Paris 1957, pp. 131-132

The art of "Cobra" differs from other trends of its time by its starting point, which represents a new perspective of abstract art. We can say that it is an abstract art that does not believe in abstraction. The awareness of this new perspective is expressed in a clear and precise way in the study "Symboler i abstrakt kunst" of the Danish painter Vilhelm Bjerke Petersen, where he demonstrates for the first time, in an original way, the symbolic content of abstractions. Thus the idea of ​​abstraction as a pictorial goal was definitely compromised. Where did Bjerke Petersen hold these ideas? From the old Bauhaus he had passed just before the Nazis destroyed it. From the point of view of arrangement and layout, the book was a new work in the series of "Bauhausbücher" which contained theories of Mondrian, Van Doesburg, Malevich, Klee, Kandinsky, etc. In the content, the obvious result that could be foreseen was a new development from the moment when one would have adopted the new Freudian psychology and the results of the surrealist development in Paris, if the development had not been so abruptly stopped.

The great artistic development in Denmark, starting from Bjerke Petersen’s book in 1933, and until the end of the war, is thus inseparable from the political event that paralyzed cultural life in Germany during the same period. But the new perspective was not established by this book. A long contradictory development had to take place before all the elements necessary for this optics were found. Bjerke Petersen was not even aware of the revolutionary originality of his work. He opposed these ideas two years later by joining Breton’s ideas with a new theory called surrealism. But artists like Richard Mortensen and Ejler Bille, inspired by the first ideas, refused to revise them and excluded Bjerke Petersen from "Linien", the artistic group formed on the new base. This development attracted several new artists in the following years, and a new upheaval was prepared with Egill Jacobsen’s method of spontaneous colorism. Richard Mortensen’s attachment to abstraction made him more and more opposed to this new trend, and in 1939 the break was inevitable. The "Linien" era was over, a new era with several trends or lines began around the magazine "Helhesten", while Richard Mortensen participated in the foundation of the magazine "Aarstiderne", as Bjerke Petersen in 1937 opposed "Linien" with the surrealist magazine "Konkretion".

With the end of the war, the privileged position of Danish artists was over. The adjustment to the international situation created a new crisis. The language that the Dutch movement "de Stijl" had so obviously imposed on the forms of the old Bauhaus was already thoroughly used in its native country, and it is with an immediate understanding of its upheaval that some Dutch artists gathered in the group "Reflex" in 1947 to extract the extreme consequences of the Danish development, in connection with these predispositions. It was a new spark that created new breaks between the Danes, some joining the new development and founding "Cobra", others refusing. The wick had burned until the charge, the explosion linked to the exhibition of "Cobra" in Amsterdam, in 1948.

Personally, I was not directly involved in the preparatory developments in Germany and Denmark. I left my small provincial town in 1936 to go directly to Paris, and begin to be an artist. I knew Kandinsky was there, and I imagined he had a school. But he was not even able to obtain a particular exhibition of his paintings before his death, and so I went to the academy of Fernand Léger, which had the advantage of forcing me to see things in a whole new way, to adapt the French perspective. What eventually left me the opportunity to see all the development was here exposed with some detachment. In any case, that’s what I believe. Others to judge.

The old Bauhaus had shown that a new artistic development could have a technical consequence, which was already the basic thesis of Ruskin and Morris. The old Bauhaus had absorbed the artistic results of the group "Der blaue Reiter" and the group "De Stijl", exploiting them without giving anything back to the artists. It was a feat that was at the same time almost a liquidation. It is significant that the only painter with a revolutionary efficiency, who had been in direct contact with the old Bauhaus, was not a painter, but a photographer who later, in Paris, was to become the painter Wols.

This disastrous development, which reflected much earlier unconscious developments in the relationship between art and technology, made the outline of a definite structure clear, imposing the probability of a similar repetition for the new artistic revolution. But this awareness could at the same time be used to find a method that could avoid this sequence by establishing a correlation between artistic and technical developments simultaneously. This was facilitated by the fact that the back and forth was accelerated in speed, to the point that the reaction was already in preparation simultaneously with the action itself.

This program was already proposed and explained in a study on style and ornament I had published in the architecture journal "Forum" in Holland, in 1947.

The purpose of the activity for an imaginist Bauhaus, here explained, was the establishment of this method-tactic, or if one wishes to express it sincerely, technique. By applying a technique to art, even if the goal is anti-technical, one may arrive at a betrayal, or a negation, of free art. But I see no way to escape this necessity. I do not believe that artistic power will succumb to this change of conditions, but I am convinced that in the event that nothing is done, art will cease to exist, and man with, in the sense that we have here ultimately accepted the word existence, as the expression of a situation.

With the founding of the Reflex Experimental Group in Holland in 1948, a movement was formed for the first time in the history of art on a basis whose importance during the war (especially in Denmark) was revealed primordial: an experimental basis.

H. L. C. Jaffe claims in his book "De Stijl" that the break between Mondrian and Van Doesburg was caused by the involvement of the experimental method in the latter’s system in 1923. He cites in this connection a statement by Van Doesburg, Van Eesteren and Rietveld: "Through our collective work we have examined architecture as a plastic unit of all the arts and this conclusion must lead to a new style. We have examined the laws of space (…) and found that all variations of space can be governed as a balanced unit." But to examine and find is empiricism, and their conclusion on the appearance of a new style is directly anti-experimental. Gropius’s refusal to accept this prophecy, on the contrary, is clearly based on an experimental conception of stylistic development. This does not prevent, however, that Van Doesburg’s spiritual dynamism could have led him to a real experimental conception of stylistics, if Gropius had offered a collaboration on this subject in the old Bauhaus instead of refusing any discussion of this problem. But all developments require time, and the time that has passed since the founding of the "International of Experimental Artists", of "Cobra", has not yet made the opinion more clearly favorable to a discussion on this subject.

At the same time when the group of "Cobra" was striving to reach the experimental stage of art, a group and almost an artistic climate arose in Paris, especially in the literary and cinematographic field, in full development of an experimental semantic under the name of lettrism. It is significant that in our greedy period the most minute false innovations, this upheaval which was done by excluding the word art from the vocabulary, by replacing it with an experimental action, could have passed without one ever considering its importance.

The disorders of the behavior of Saint-Germain-des-Prés were judged as hazardous excesses, without it being realized that such a fermentation can not be completed without something happening.

from Helhesten, Vol. 1, No. 2, Copenhagen 1941, pp. 33-38

"Taste will be passed on, you see Hyenas live in misery" Johannes Holbek

One typically sees that he who has lost touch with the fundamentals of art also lacks a sense of the banal. I am not referring to the ability to see whether something is banal, for that particular ability is developed to a regrettable extent; I speak of the ability to understand the artistic value of banality. Indeed, its fundamental importance for the arts. There are countless examples of anonymous banalities whose validity and power span centuries and far surpass any brilliant performance by our so-called great figures. If you look carefully, you will also find that even their merits reside in their ability to get to grips with banalities.

The great work of art is the perfect banality, and the failing of most banalities is that they are not banal enough. In such cases, the banality is not endless in scope, depth, and consequence; it rests on dead foundations of spirituality and aesthetics.

That which we call "natural" is liberated banality. The commonplace, the matter-of-fact, with no attempts at imposing upon it the stamp of rarity. It is important to emphasise that the foundation of art is precisely the eternally commonplace, the simple and cheap which turns out to be our most precious, most indispensable possessions.

No other place has so many tasteless things as Paris. This is precisely the secret behind the fact that it remains the place where the inspiration of art still lives.

For example, there is a direct symbolic strength in the words:

Say it with flowers,

which makes this stanza one of the pillars of Danish poetry. It is worn-out like a comfortable boot of perfectly ordinary, good fit, and within the realm of music it can only be compared to amateur bands playing out of tune. Being able to play out of tune is one of the greatest musical feats today. Innovation in music should be sought on the basis of street organs and cheap gramophones.

My greatest musical experience took place in a small, provincial town where the inhabitants were suddenly grabbed by a most enchanting desire to play small magic flutes made from celluloid. There was a spellbinding power to this small instrument, which emitted delicate, yet piercing trills up and down, so that people would play it all over town, day and night, only this simple, single trill, up and down. Every boy, every girl, men and women, even elderly honourable citizens would secretly carry the small pan pipes in their pockets, taking it out when they believed themselves unobserved to drink in a few warbles of this captivating wonder. But the people whose own inner strings were broken suffered from the noise, which seemed so irrelevant to them. Letters were submitted to newspapers, to no avail, and speeches were held against the "racket," as it was termed.

Only when influential citizens prevailed upon the police to take steps against the troublemakers, introduce bans on selling the flutes, and arrest everyone found in possession of the infamous celluloid contraptions did the great fear slowly resume its grip on the population of the small town, prompting a return to the normal depressions so valuable to peace of mind and the established form of society.

The truth of this account can be confirmed by many witnesses, whereas no investigations as to the reasons behind it have ever, to the best of my knowledge, been conducted.

Jens August Schade seems to me to be the only Danish poet to truly feel how people create and use primary values in banalities, the only one to consistently base his art on this crucial matter, setting it free to such an extent that his poetry constantly grows and renews itself from the inside the more it is used; much like the fairytales of Hans Christian Andersen.

Those who seek to curtail the production of banal art are enemies of the best of today’s art. The images of woodland lakes found in thousands of living rooms clad in golden-brown wallpapers stand among the deepest, most profound inspirations of art. It is always tragic to see people toiling to saw away the branch on which they themselves are perched.

The children who love printed scraps and paste them into scrapbooks printed with the legend


bring greater hope to artists than any plethora of art critics and museum directors. One hears many educators complaining that around the age of twelve, children stop doing good drawings. They should rejoice in this development, which is a precondition for human awareness. I would try to show the cheap things that nourish art. The cheap things, they are the things from the nethermost land that Gustaf Munch-Petersen wrote about. I will not omit reprinting his poems as it stands:

o great bliss great bliss they were given who were born in the nethermost land - everywhere you may see them walking loving crying - everywhere they walk but in their hands they carry the little things from the nethermost land - – – –

o greater than any land lovelier is the nethermost - upwards the earth twists to a point - and downwards outwards sinks the heavy living blood into the innermost land - – – –

narrow cautious feet and thin limbs and pure is the air above the open rising roads - in closed veins the longing burns in those born up under the sky -

but o You should go to the nethermost land - ! O you should see the people from the nethermost land. – where the blood flows freely between all men - women - children - where joy and despair and bodily love heavy, verdant and ripe sparkle in all colours to the earth – o the earth is secretive as a forehead in the nethermost land - – – –

everywhere you may see them walking loving crying - their faces are closed, and on the insides of their souls sits soil from the nethermost land -

If one seeks to understand the position of art today, one must also seek to understand the conditions that shaped the development of our awareness of art and our awareness of its relationship with individual human beings and with society in general. The artist participates actively in the struggle to expand this our knowledge of the foundations of our existence; the foundations which make artistic creativity possible. The artist’s attention cannot be limited to a single field of pursuit; he must seek the highest awareness of everything, of the whole and its details. Nothing can be sacred to him, because everything is meaningful to him.

There can be no picking, no choosing; there can only be a penetration into the entire cosmic law of rhythms, forces, and matter which is the real world, from the ugliest to the most beautiful, everything that has character and expression, from the coarsest and most brutal to the gentlest and most delicate, everything that, having life, speaks to us.

It follows, then, that one must know everything in order to express everything.

This is an abolition of the aesthetic principle. We are not disillusioned, for we have no illusions; we never had any.

What we do have, and that is our strength, is our joy in life, our interest in life in all its amoral incarnations. That is also the basis for the art of our time. We do not even know the laws of aesthetics. This old notion of selection according to the principle of beauty: beautiful – ugly, like the noble – sinful of ethics, is dead to those of us to whom the beautiful is also ugly and all that is ugly is imbued with beauty.

Behind comedy and tragedy we only find the dramas of life which unite them both, not in noble heroes and treacherous villains, only in people.

We know that he who reads about criminals reads about something in himself. There are no beautiful dances or movements, only modes of expression. That which is called beautiful is simply an expression of something. Our music is not un-aesthetic, it has nothing to do with aesthetics. We do not recognise the existence of architecture. There are only houses and sculptures. Machines for living in and giant plastic art. The Cologne Cathedral is a hollow, magical sculpture with a purely psychological purpose. A beer mug is architecture.

There are no styles, and there never were. Style is an expression of bourgeois content, its nuances are called taste.

There is no absolute distinction between sculpture and painting. No mode of artistic expression can be isolated by virtue of its form, they are simply different means employed for a common artistic goal. Sandpaper and cotton wool are as noble, as useful as means of expression as are oils and marble. These are the guidelines for the break with bourgeois perceptions of art.

The break with idealism as a philosophy of life is universal in scope, but it also touches upon a central feature of art – its purpose in life, its life contents.

One must understand that it is impossible to distinguish between the form and contents of a painting. Just as the structure of a flower is determined by an inner tension (when it loses its juices, it loses its shape), so it is in art: the contents creates tension, creates shape. Form and content is the same being. Form is the phenomena of life and content the living painting.

The contents of the painting reflects the contents of the painter; it shows how much he has felt of himself and his times, the breath of his scope and the depth of his experience.

We cannot inherit a rigid, immobile outlook on life and art from the older generation. The expression of art is different for each time frame, as are our experiences. A new experience creates a new form.

We are willing to learn everything we need from older generations, but we will decide for ourselves what we need; no-one else can do that for us. Our task is not to receive and work with whatever the older generation would like to see us work with. Quite the contrary: the task of the older generation is to help us where we want its help.

This piece addresses issues which are so intimate in nature that they involve every human being. No-one can withdraw their personality from this. There is no observer, can be no observer in our present day.

Asger Jorn’s collections at the Silkeborg Art Museum date back to 1953. At that time, he worked in a small ceramic workshop in the Village of Sorring near Silkeborg. The museum had paid the ceramics workshop a modest sum for the payment of Jorn’s fees and obtained in exchange the authorization to choose a certain number of works when they were finished. On the occasion of this purchase, Jorn gave some drawings, etchings and lithographs. Then he promised that in future he would donate his own work to the museum and that he would also give it the gifts offered by his friends.

In 1958, Jorn systematically began to collect the works of his contemporaries in Europe and artists whose work was a source of inspiration for him. Towards the end of this year, the exhibition “Nouvel Art International” opened with around a hundred works.

In his introduction, Jorn expresses some of his ideas about these collections, whose expansion and choice of subjects are unique in Europe. He did not seek to create a “general orientation on the most modern art, where no more than a collection of valuable masterpieces, but largely cheap graphic works, and only a few rare works are part of leading works. This small collection is more of a provocation than an expression of my appreciation of Danish art. How and why, is a question to which every person interested in art in Scandinavia, must, themselves, answer.

The pieces of a museum are memories, and in my opinion, these belong to my time. Time will demonstrate if they are something else, and more than memories. It was Frederik Dam who gave me my first indelible impression of the grandeur of modern Danish art. I saw my universe. It was in Silkeborg in 1933. (-) As long as he lived, he was my art dealer. It was he who, in 1938, organized my first exhibition, in the company of the French painter Pierre Wemaëre.

During one of my numerous economic crises, he took charge of Fernand Léger’s paintings, exhibited here, which my master had given me. Léger had given me some gouaches that I intended to reproduce in “Politikens Magasin”, accompanied by a description of the work done for the large Léger canvas “The Transport of Forces”, intended for the Palais de la Découverte for the International Exhibition of 1937. They were never reproduced and it was impossible to sell them despite the hottest recommendations from Lundstrøm and Poul Henningsen. Later they disappeared.

The canvases that Dam had undertaken were not intended for reproduction. They were not even signed because Léger did not like them. He gave them to me one day when I had nothing to paint on and he himself was comparatively penniless. Back home, I was unable to use them as a canvas. I found them too good.

It is also Léger that offered me Franz Kafka’s novel “The Castle” and it is thus that I discovered this great literary work, which would not have existed today if Kafka’s friend, Max Brod had followed his instructions and burned the manuscripts. It is difficult to find two ways of understanding art that are as far apart as Fernand Léger’s and those that characterize students like Pierre Wemaëre and myself. What Léger despised and fought through his paintings, the tone of colors, the purity of the material, and the personal character of the brushstroke, all he hated like the plague and eliminated, where possible, all this was the basis of my artistic form. Is it so weird that what I like most about Leger’s paintings is what he did not like. Many connoisseurs share my opinion. But it may be a sign of the times. For Léger, painting a canvas was a mechanical process, which could very well be performed by a disciple, provided, of course, that he was very disciplined. But when my own needs went beyond the training, he pitilessly overwhelmed me with insults. This classic use of the disciples was in perfect accord with his conception of the social work of an artist. Although he was anti-religious, he had to do good work for the church. I gradually gained the deepest respect for his artistic conduct, although his is different from mine. I did not learn anything from Léger’s teaching, but his personality definitely marked me as an artist and to explain this represents for me the most natural introduction to an exhibition of this part of modern art that had importance for me”.

A series of exhibitions followed during the sixties in Silkeborg, all organized by Jorn. He concentrated on engravings and lithographs of his contemporaries. This led to exhibitions with almost complete collections of the engraved work of Jean Dubuffet (1961 and 1965), Alechinsky (1964), and Matta (1969). We must add more than one hundred drawings and watercolors by Henri Michaux (1962), paintings and drawings by Pierre Wemaëre (1963) and the Danish symbolist painter Johannes Holbek (1965). Jorn also regularly sent his own canvases, drawings, ceramics and engravings, and in 1964, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the latter, the museum organized an exhibition of all the works offered until then by Jorn. In 1968 Jorn donated his masterpiece “Stalingrad” to the museum. Many of his gifts, however, have an intimate character, they are often small canvases, improvisations and sketches. Jorn did not want to dominate the collection. He explained the purpose of these donations in a letter to the museum in 1961: “I could have borrowed more interesting works from Dubuffet and others. But I have established the principle that the museum will never exhibit anything other than the works that belong to it. We already have Louisiana and the Modern Museum in Stockholm, which are organizing exhibitions to make people aware of new trends. I want to cooperate with the Silkeborg Museum, because that is where I can make the public understand what I like and what I find, for the moment, important; not because I want to be a judge of art and quality, but simply to show what a particular and limited group thinks is important.”

The museum presents abstract-spontaneous art from its origins and evolution. Jorn takes his starting point in the compositions of figures of the eighteenth century and passes over the nineteenth to reach the symbolists: Redon, Ensor and Kubin. German Expressionism is among others represented by Max Beckmann, Corinth, Dix and Nolde. According to Jorn, symbolism and expressionism were the basis of abstract-spontaneous art. The works of Man Ray, Jean Arp, Picabia and Max Ernst emphasize the importance of surrealist influence on Danish art. From there, Jorn follows his own era and the artistic groups in which he himself exerts an influence: first Danish painting before and during the war, then the ramifications of this painting on the post-war European scene with Cobra, and the circle of artists grouped in Italy around ceramics workshops in Albisola during the fifties. According to Jorn, Wols and Pollock marked, in this period, the extreme limits of the development of painting: in the donations we find almost all the engravings of Wols.

In the last years, Jorn added works by Cuban painter Feijoo and a collection of Japanese kites. In this “raw art” or in the art of “intimate banalities”, seen in a global way, one finds the last perspective he has managed to present at the Silkeborg Museum.

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Jean Dubuffet's mural Epokhè for the Silkeborg Museum of Art

Detail of the mural outside the Silkeborg Museum of Art, 2017.

Adjacent to the entrance to the museum is a large mural by French artist Jean Dubuffet, which frames a space dedicated to small sculptural installations in the landscape.

At the end of the sixties, Asger Jorn, in his efforts to create a new art museum in Silkeborg, asked his friend Jean Dubuffet for permission to erect a large sculpture of his in front of the museum. Jean Dubuffet approved the project. After the death of Jorn, the plans for the construction of the existing museum had to be modified and Dubuffet again satisfied the museum's proposals by accepting that his sketch for a large ceramic wall, originally commissioned by the French State in 1965, should be incorporated at the outer facade of the new Silkeborg Museum.

The relief is entitled Epokhè. It is a term that belongs to the philosophical language and means "suspension of judgment." The wall measures 4.5 m by 22.5 m. It was realized by the Danish ceramist Erik Nyholm in collaboration with the workshop "Ild og ler" in Jutland.

- Troels Andersen, Asger Jorn à Silkeborg. Le musée d'un peintre. 1978, Silkeborg Kunstmuseum




Asger Jorn