Silkeborg, Denmark

Christian Vind

SILKEBORG KUNSTMUSEUM

Tegn og underlige gerninger (En Silkeborg for tolkning)” (Signs and Strange Deeds [A Silkeborg Interpretation]) was a special kind of solo show, taking the form of a tribute to Asger Jorn (1914–73). The artist Christian Vind assumed the role of curator and “embedded exhibitor” to engage with the multifaceted Jorn, who, beyond his achievements as a painter, participated in the Situationist movement, collected art and artifacts, wrote art theory, and researched cultural history. Silkeborg Kunstmuseum was built around Jorn’s oeuvre and the thousands of works he collected from colleagues in the CoBrA group as well as from artists in other vanguard movements. Jorn and his friends established modernism in Denmark as a kind of folk art, an idiom modeled on musicality and childlike creativity. Their playful philistinism has been repeatedly celebrated in order to perpetuate painting’s purported accessibility, expressive depth, and so on. But one should not mistake Jorn for an Abstract Expressionist in any conventional sense—he was an ironist.

In this exhibition Vind took his predecessor’s versatility as a cue to juxtapose his own works with Jorn’s, alongside selected pieces from the museum’s collection and from Vind’s own collection of works by young artists: For instance, Anna Fro Vodder is represented here by a grungy polka-dot painting, Thank You for Visiting the End, 2006. Like many artists who curate, Vind disregards art-historical schemas; rarely viewed material surfaced from storage in constellations to shed new light on familiar works. Død (Death), 1898, a tormented figure drawn by symbolist Johannes Holbek, generated correspondences to three Henri Michaux drawings (all without title or year), which in turn resonated with Vind’s own brooding ink works (32 tegninger [32 Drawings], 1996–97), displayed at the beginning of the show. Together these black-and-white drawings seemed to map out a psycho-seismographic space teeming with potential.

This kind of artistic dialogue risks turning into a fan’s mirroring of himself in the Master, but the show escaped this predicament because Vind’s curatorial choices reflected his enthusiasm and his belief in Jorn’s continued relevance, transforming the archive into a public Wunderkammer that also presented such curiosities as the receipt for Jorn’s 1964 telegram rejecting, in no uncertain terms, an award from “Mr. Guggenheim.” It was plain to see where Vind’s fascinations dovetail with Jorn’s research in Nordic folk culture, as when Vind documents murals depicting hell in a medieval Norwegian church. Vind revisits graphic strategies favored by Jorn in Hvidpapirfeber (Whitepaper-fever), 2004, a book of illustrations, but also spoofs CoBrA as folk art in the collage Local Celebrity, 2007, showing a figure in contemporary streetwear and equipped with one of the CoBrA artist Egill Jacobsen’s unmistakable heads of mythical creatures.

Vind’s work mixes appropriation and visual poetry, moving from subcultural styles to high modernism, church art to pigment prints of Internet search results. But for him, unlike Jorn, there are no myths or utopias on which the individual work can fall back, so what ultimately holds his oeuvre together is his authorial signature. One could argue that Vind’s intervention reveals his own work to be haunted by conflicts pertaining to the contemporary mediation of modernism; an intuitive approach to culture, such as Vind’s, is vastly different today from how it was in Jorn’s time. This doesn’t diminish the fact that the exhibition’s dialogue between works, old and new, animated the museum in ways unexpected as well as erudite—something to which the catalogue, designed by Vind, also testifies. No doubt Jorn would have enjoyed taking part.

Lars Bang Larsen