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The Many Faces of Per Kirkeby: from Pop Art to Geology

Press Release   •   Sep 11, 2018 12:02 GMT

Per Kirkeby: Untitled, 1967-68. Signed and dated on the reverse. Synthetic paint, indian ink, coloured crayon and pencil on masonite. 122 x 122 cm. Estimate: DKK 400,000.

At the autumn's international auction in Copenhagen, we celebrate the many artistic achievements of the recently deceased Danish artist Per Kirkeby. We do so with a series of works ranging from his early experiments with pop art to his later geological studies.

This past spring, one of Denmark’s greatest artists passed away. The painter Per Kirkeby (1938-2018) leaves behind an extensive and versatile body of work that will continue to capture the viewer’s attention. We now present 14 works that cover his oeuvre and different techniques and represent both the younger and the more mature Kirkeby.

"Kirkeby’s approach to art was complex, and alongside his work as a painter he was both a geologist, poet, author of art books, professor, filmmaker and explorer of Greenland. A lot has been written about Kirkeby, but because his approach to art was so diverse and the works contain so many layers and references, his work is difficult to encapsulate and place a label on. One thing is clear though – Kirkeby was an eminent painter and has had a pivotal influence on Scandinavian abstract art for more than 50 years," says Niels Raben, head of the modern art department at Bruun Rasmussen.

Already during the 1980s, Kirkeby established his name abroad and became an important link between the Danish and the international art scene. Kirkeby’s starting point in the late 1950s was the landscape as a motif, but in the 1960s he became part of the experimental Ex-school, where he with the help of American pop art dealt with the phenomenon of mass culture. These early uses of montage techniques and cartoon-like characters are excellently represented in a couple of the auction's paintings. At the end of the 1970s, Kirkeby changed tracks once again and began to transfer geological nature studies as well as references to the history of literature and art onto intense canvases built up by many layers of oil paint in subdued earthy colours, as can also be seen in several of the auction’s works. 

Per Kirkeby About the Art of Finding Yourself 

Kirkeby has expressed himself very explicitly about his work, and in a conversation with Poul Erik Tøjner, Director of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, on the occasion of an exhibition at the museum in 2002, Kirkeby stated the following about his art:

"I have often had to hear, especially in the beginning, that this is provincial pop art. And there does exist a more sophisticated, more correct and more streamlined pop art – but I know what pop art came to mean for me. Pop art was a kind of key that allowed me to use my own experiences, the personal so to speak, and that is what I am doing with somewhat impropriety. And I can’t get around the fact that my own experiences include the Popeye magazine in Denmark, Prince Valiant comics and Poul Steffensen’s illustrations to the Gønge Chieftain, all of this clearly slips into the universe of the masonites (...) I definitely do not consider them [the masonite works of the 1960s] as a period I am over and done with (...) I cannot be a truthful witness to my own youth, but I can see that the way I'm painting now has a strong archaeological element to it. I also have to say that to a certain degree it is about achieving a better understanding of myself. It's crazy that you end up sounding like an American lifestyle book when you talk about it, but in actuality, I've been so much up the creek without a paddle that it has been necessary. And one of the few means that I know of here in life when dealing with the strange imperatives to "Become yourself" or "Find yourself” is painting.”

Auction and Preview

Auction: Tuesday 25 September at 4 pm in Bredgade 33, Copenhagen
Preview: 13-17 September at the same address

View all the auction lots with Kirkeby

Bruun Rasmussen Auctioneers is one of Scandinavia’s leading international auction houses, and one of Denmark’s oldest. It all started on 6 October 1948, when Arne Bruun Rasmussen conducted the first traditional auction in the saleroom at Bredgade 33 in Copenhagen. Today, Jesper Bruun Rasmussen stands at the helm of the family-run business together with the third generation of the family, his son Frederik and daughter Alexa, and the company’s CEO Jakob Dupont.

In 2004, the first online auction was launched, and today the auction house has expanded to include departments in Copenhagen and Aarhus and representations in Sweden, Germany, England, France, Belgium, Luxemburg, Spain, Italy, Thailand and the US. About 100,000 lots are put up for auction each year at the traditional auctions and daily online auctions. Here you can bid on everything from art, antiques, modern design and jewellery to books, coins, stamps, wine and weaponry.