In June 2009, Tate Modern will present the first major survey in the UK of the work of the Danish artist Per Kirkeby (born 1938). The exhibition will explore the exceptional diversity of Kirkeby’s career spanning four decades. Focusing on key moments in the artist’s oeuvre, it will bring together his Pop-inspired paintings from the 1960s with early paintings on canvas from the late 1970s, an extensive group of blackboard works, sculptures and a selection of the monumental canvases for which Kirkeby is best known.
Kirkeby has pursued an independent and unique artistic path over the past forty years. He rose to international prominence in the early 1980s alongside the resurgence of a ‘new’ European painting or Neo-Expressionism which included artists such as Georg Baselitz and A.R. Penck. The vigorous, gestural brushwork and beauty of his paintings, mostly untitled, and the sensuous modelling of his black-patinated bronze sculptures, show him as an artist of rare material sensibility. While full of allusions to landscape and veiled art-historical references, his large abstract paintings ultimately live their own reality.
Tate Modern’s survey will offer a long overdue opportunity for audiences to discover the work of this highly original artist. The show will feature 146 works including paintings on masonite and canvas, bronze sculptures and rarely-shown works on paper as well as a comprehensive selection of the artist’s extensive writings.
The exhibition will begin with an exploration of the recurring motif in Kirkeby’s work of the hut, the most basic form of domestic architecture. Nature and landscape have been a continuous source of inspiration for Kirkeby, as has been the grand tradition of European painting. The artist’s approach to art-making is informed by a near-scientific mode of enquiry which can be traced back to his training as a geologist. One of the surprises of the show will be Kirkeby’s Pop-inspired paintings on masonite from the 1960s, rarely seen outside his native Denmark. In addition, the exhibition will feature an extensive selection of Kirkeby’s blackboards with his small-scale sculptures from the late 1970s to the present day. A room will also be dedicated to Kirkeby’s prolific activity as a writer, revealing his reflections on his own art and that of others.
In the early 1980s Kirkeby substantially raised the stakes for his art by producing an heroic type of painting, an ambition indicated not least by the large scale of his work from this period. Four of these heroic scaled works will create an impressive painterly environment in the exhibition, inviting the audience to be immersed in these extraordinary paintings. Kirkeby’s sumptuous paintings from the mid-1990s will be another highlight of the exhibition which will also include more recent works not seen in the UK before.
Per Kirkeby is one of the most internationally acclaimed Danish artists working today. He completed a Masters degree in arctic geology at the University of Copenhagen in 1964 before becoming involved with Copenhagen’s radical Experimental Art School and international Fluxus. His polymath practice includes painting, drawing, work in various print-media, sculpture – both in bronze and brick – writing and film. Per Kirkeby’s works are represented in many public collections including Tate, London; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York, Centre Pompidou, Paris.
Per Kirkeby is curated by Dr Achim Borchardt-Hume, Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art, Tate Modern assisted by Cliff Lauson, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern. The exhibition will travel to Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf, 26 September 2009 – 10 January 2010. A fully illustrated catalogue accompanies the show.