Public art pioneer: Poul Gernes at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Public art pioneer: Poul Gernes at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Danish constructivist Poul Gernes and the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark have had a fractious relationship over the years. In 1970, during the now scandalised ’Tabernakel’ exhibition, ’Gernes and three close allies of the Experimental School drove a Trojan horse into a temple of modernist sensibilities’, explains current curator Anders Kold. ’They provoked founder Knud W Jensen into deciding whether this was a museum or an art centre. As we know, he chose the former.’

Perhaps because of this, the relationship between artist and art-institution lay dormant for decades. In fact, Gernes all but turned his back on galleries, switching his attention to public, interactive art. Now, 20 years after his death, the museum is burying the hatchet and revisiting Gernes’ work.

Gernes is best known for large-scale art displays and decorations of public institutions, including the Herlev Hospital (which took almost a decade of the artist’s time), and the Palads cinema on Copenhagen’s Axeltorv. Louisiana’s new exhibition, aptly named ’I cannot do it alone – want to join in?’, covers this facet of Gernes’ ouevre, as well as including smaller works and an impressive scale model of the unrealised The Pyramid, which was intended for the Israels Plads public square in Copenhagen in 1967.

The hope of the exhibition, explains Kold, is to follow Gernes’ work not sequentially but as ’a mix of attitudes, brushstrokes, circles and hammer blows, systems and collages, as well as expressing Gernes’ lifelong effort to make the world better and more beautiful with art’. But, he admits, including such an eclectic range of media and styles wasn’t easy, ’and nor should it have been. Only by confronting and potentially entangling yourself with each dimension of Gernes’ work can you get a true sense of it.’

Not only is the collection diverse, it is extensive. ’The other day an esteemed colleague from abroad came to view the exhibition,’ Kold says, ’and she assumed that one whole gallery full of work by Gernes was another show – a group exhibition.’

It’s easy to see why this assumption was made, when looking through the paintings on toilet seats, to the intricate collages and room-sized immersive installations. If Kold’s intention was to ’provide an opportunity to think anew about the contributions of the artist’, this thorough showcase is a great place to start.

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