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

The Pyramid
Influential Danish constructivist Poul Gernes is the focus of a new exhibition entitled 'I cannot do it alone – want to join in?' at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark. Pictured: The Pyramid, scale model, from an unrealised 1967 concept
(Image credit: 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.

museum with Genres work

Twenty years after his death, the museum is revisiting Gernes' work, burying the fractious relationship the artist had with the museum. Pictured: Untitled, 1962

(Image credit: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art)

large-scale art displays and commissions to decorate public buildings and institutions

Gernes is best known for his large-scale art displays and commissions to decorate public buildings and institutions, including the Herlev Hospital and the Palads cinema on Axeltorv, Copenhagen. Pictured: Untitled, 1992.

(Image credit: Lea Nielsen)

brushstrokes, circles and hammer blows

The intention, explains curator Anders 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 a lifelong effort to make life better and more beautiful with art'. Pictured: Untitled, 1992.

(Image credit: Lea Nielsen)

Dot Painting

The collection 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.' Pictured: Untitled (Dot Painting), 4 parts, 1968

(Image credit: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art)

INFORMATION

’Poul Gernes: I cannot do it alone – want to join in?’ is on view until 16 October. For more information, visit the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art’s website (opens in new tab)

Photography courtesy Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

ADDRESS

Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
Gammel Strandvej 13
DK 3050 Humlebæk

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Elly Parsons is the Digital Editor of Wallpaper*, where she oversees Wallpaper.com and its social platforms. She has been with the brand since 2015 in various roles, spending time as digital writer – specialising in art, technology and contemporary culture – and as deputy digital editor. She was shortlisted for a PPA Award in 2017, has written extensively for many publications, and has contributed to three books. She is a guest lecturer in digital journalism at Goldsmiths University, London, where she also holds a masters degree in creative writing. Now, her main areas of expertise include content strategy, audience engagement, and social media.