Critics’ Picks

Per Kirkeby, Untitled, 2015, mixed media on Masonite, 48 x 48''.

Per Kirkeby, Untitled, 2015, mixed media on Masonite, 48 x 48''.


Per Kirkeby

Galerie Forsblom | Stockholm
Karlavägen 9
November 15, 2019–January 12, 2020

The Danish artist Per Kirkeby died last year, leaving behind a body of work that seems to have zigzagged through a gnarly forest of twentieth-century art-historical landmarks: Pop-adjacent figurative paintings, expressionist abstractions, brick sculptures blending Danish masonry and Minimalist seriality, and quietly odd bronzes resembling engorged and mangled Giacomettis. Later on, he became internationally known for his work with Lars von Trier, designing titles and visual interludes for Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark, and Antichrist. This modest retrospective, “Hommage à Per Kirkeby,” gathers an illustrative cross section of Kirkeby’s career, revealing him to be a more spontaneous and playful artist than any lone work of his might suggest.

The stars of the show are eighteen untitled mixed-media works on Masonite, all made in the last decade. Straying from the densely packed, cascading earth tones of many of his earlier paintings, these are looser and more immediate—crackling arrangements of oil, chalk, gouache, spray paint, stickers, cut-up maps, and photographs. The muted brown of the hardboard often shows through it all, soaking up the excess and leaving scatters of color like spring blooms in a desert. Clever details pop up and deliver little surprises, without undermining the composition. In one work from 2015—a flurry of pink and green against a snow-white backdrop—a small Shutterstock watermark emblazoned over a flock of silhouetted birds deepens the world of material references, while feeling neither gratuitous nor jokey. In another from 2014, a faint pair of actual shoe prints emerges in a clearing between black and cerulean tree-like forms. Per Kirkeby stood there for a moment, took a few steps, and then trailed off.