Born in 1938, Per Kirkeby is the best known Danish artist of his generation and one of the most important contemporary European artists. After a degree in geology and several expeditions to Greenland, Kirkeby turned his attention entirely to the world of art in the mid-1960s and embarked upon a journey that involved researching the vast diversity of painting options while also working as a sculptor, architect, printer, illustrator, film maker and author.
The Per Kirkeby exhibition, set up in cooperation with the Tate Modern in London and extended for museum kunst palast
, comprises some 250 works # paintings, drawings, sculptures, books and films # that provide an overview of the works of this universal artist. An extension of the exhibition in Düsseldorf can be found at Insel Hombroich near Düsseldorf. These brick buildings, erected by Per Kirkeby, are walk-in sculptures that exemplify his work at the interface between sculpting and architecture.
"Kirkeby's career has long been closely associated with our region, not just since the early 1980s when painting in general was given major attention again. There have been contacts with the Fluxus scene around Joseph Beuys and with Immendorff since 1963, and there have also been regular exhibitions at the Michael Werner Gallery in Cologne and presentations of works at museums in Essen, Cologne and Düsseldorf." (Beat Wismer)
Kirkeby's approach to art was inspired by questions arising in his mind from his training as a geologist. His artistic oeuvre appears to deal with seemingly opposite domains such as nature and culture, the specific and the universal # something he does with great inquisitiveness yet also with critical rigour. His special strength is his ability to create a synthesis that does not entirely remove opposites but leaves them visible. As Kirkeby puts it, his works are about "those peculiar dizzying glimpses that penetrate the material".
The exhibition reflects a range of decisive moments in the artist's career. Kirkeby's paintings on masonite contained his entire vocabulary as early as the 1960s # a style which he was to research further in decades to come, including a combination of motifs borrowed from nature and motifs from the history of art and from pop culture. The centerpiece of the exhibition will therefore be a section with a representative selection of these radical works which have so far only been shown outside Denmark on very rare occasions.
The late 1970s and early 1980s were marked by Kirkeby's endeavor to achieve a "bravura" art. His large-format paintings of those years gained Kirkeby increasing international acclaim, coinciding with a widespread resurgence of interest in painting in general. In 1981, for instance, he took part in "A New Spirit in Painting" at the Royal Academy in London, an exhibition which attracted considerable attention. To the present day Kirkeby's main focus continues to be on painting. His paintings are inspired by an immediate observation of the countryside, on the one hand, and his in-depth studies of the history of painting, on the other. This aesthetic reference framework spans a wide range from romantic landscapes to pop art, from classicism to abstract American expressionism and from his regional precursors to a close look at his German contemporaries Georg Baselitz, Markus Lüpertz and A.R. Penck.
"Kirkeby's latest pictures continue to bear witness to his unmistakable personality, owing their wealth to his extensive knowledge of art history just as much as to his ability to paint without preconceptions of any kind. Per Kirkeby's paintings are great art - without any precise stylistic definition." (Kay Heymer)
Another section of the exhibition is dedicated to his sculptures, comprising both large and small-scale works as well as his serialized works, signed diaries and writings. Kirkeby has written plenty of insightful material both about his own works and about other artists and their works.