Sunday, June 25, 2017

Asger Jorn 1914-1973

Asger Jorn
Letter to my son
1956-57
oil on canvas
Tate Britain

Asger Jorn
Paris by night
1959
oil on canvas
Collection Pierre Alechinsky, Paris

"If this frame of reference for Abstract Expressionism turns out to work at all, one of the things it ought to be good for is rethinking the stale comparison between America and Europe.  European painting, after the war, alas, comes out of a very different set of class formations.  Vulgarity is not its problem.  In Asger Jorn, for example  to turn for a moment to the greatest painter of the 1950s  what painting confronts as its limit condition is always refinement.  Painting for Jorn is a process of coming to terms with the fact that however that set of qualities may be tortured, exacerbated, or erased, they still end up being what (European) painting is; and the torture, exacerbation, and erasure are discovered in practice to be refinement  that is, the forms refinement presently takes if a painter is good enough.  They are what refines painting to a new preciousness or dross (it turns out that preciousness and dross are the same thing)."  

Asger Jorn
Disquieting Ecstasy
1956
oil on canvas
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

Asger Jorn
Happy New Year
1958
oil on canvas
Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid

Asger Jorn
Fugitive and Dutch Windmill
1953
oil on canvas
private collection

"In calling Jorn the greatest painter of the 1950s I mean to imply nothing about the general health of painting in Europe at the time (nor to deny that Jorn's practice was hit and miss, and the number of his works that might qualify as good, let along great, is very small).  On the contrary.  The cliches in the books are true.  Jorn's really was an end game.  Vulgarity, on the other hand, back on the other side of the Atlantic, turned out to be a way of keeping the corpse of painting hideously alive  while all the time coquetting with Death."

Asger Jorn
Soul for Sale
1958-59
oil and sand on canvas
Guggenheim Museum, New York

Asger Jorn
The Black Flight
1955
gouache on paper
Tate Britain

Asger Jorn
Untitled
1956
oil on canvas
Guggenheim Museum, New York

Asger Jorn
Jungle Drama
1952
oil on masonite
Essl Museum, Vienna

"An Asger Jorn can be garish, florid, tasteless, forced, cute, flatulent, overemphatic; it can never be vulgar.  It just cannot prevent itself from a tampering and framing of its desperate effects which pulls them back into the realm of painting, ironizes them, declares them done in full knowledge of their emptiness.  American painting  by contrast  and precisely that American painting which is closest to the European, done by Germans and Dutchmen steeped in the tradition they are exiting from  does not ironize, and will never make the (false) declaration that the game is up.  Hofmann and de Kooning, precisely because they are so similar to Jorn in their sense of "touch" and composition, register as Jorn's direct opposites."

 from the chapter In Defense of Abstract Expressionism from Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism (Yale University Press, 1999)

Asger Jorn
Aganaks
1950
watercolor, gouache
Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

Asger Jorn
Le Bon Sauvage
1969
oil on canvas
Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

Asger Jorn
Kyotosmorama
1969
oil on canvas
Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

Asger Jorn
Untitled
1956-57
oil on canvas
Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice

Asger Jorn
Green Ballet
1960
oil on canvas
Guggenheim Museum, New York

In 1964 the Guggenheim Foundation in New York awarded Asger Jorn one of its lucrative Fellowships, electing him to the honor without prior notice. The text of his telegram of response is reproduced below --

"GO TO HELL WITH YOUR MONEY BASTARD—STOP—REFUSE PRICE (sic) —STOP—NEVER ASKED FOR IT—STOP—AGAINST ALL DECENSY (sic) MIX ARTIST AGAINST HIS WILL IN YOUR PUBLICITY—STOP—I WANT PUBLIC CONFIRMATION NOT TO HAVE PARTICIPATED IN YOUR RIDICULOUS GAME.  JORN"