Bruno Cora, 2017



This summer many people will stand before the sculptures The Shadow, 2016-17 and The Crowd, 2017 in Piazza del Duomo in Pietrasanta, and then before the marble While We’re Waiting, 2017 erected in the parvis of the church of Sant’Agostino further ahead. But very few of those people are aware, or can even remotely imagine, the enormous work performed in the creation of sculptures by Jørgen Haugen Sørensen prior to now. Numerous sculptors from Europe and from other continents have, at a certain point, decided to live and work in Italy. Among them, Sørensen is one of those who has at length richly deserved a tribute of the kind that the city of Pietrasanta is now finally awarding him. There are, moreover, a host of good reasons why the attention being given to Sørensen in this Tuscan city ought to be more widely spread, throughout Italy at the very least. His spheres of action have indeed extended from Milan to Verona and beyond, where he was artistically and culturally engaged, starting from the liveliest Milanese milieu of the 1960s gravitating around Fontana, Manzoni and Castellani. Sørensen met them while collaborating and exhibiting with the Il Naviglio gallery in Milan [p. 205] and in Veneto – in Padua and especially in Verona – where from 1961 he exhibited his work at the Concorso Internazionale del Bronzetto and later (from 1967) at the Galleria Ferrari [p. 204]. In this period, he also had contacts with Ghermandi and Somaini, garnering useful pointers for the development of his own sculpture. Sørensen’s relationship with Italy has thus been singular and passionate, excepting a few episodes that unjustly penalised him and distanced him from the country – for debatable motives – at the onset of the troubled period between 1972 and 1974 [p. 207]. Indeed, Sørensen has never made any secret of his political views or his firm anti-military stand, facing and suffering weighty sanctions as a result. 

His bond with Italy and that with his homeland, Denmark, have not prevented Sørensen’s wanderings in Jugoslavia, India, Turkey, Mexico, Spain and Portugal, constantly driven by the quest for materials – mostly stone – to stimulate his plastic activity. Likewise, his interest in stone has not hindered his activity with bronze, or ceramics, or any of the other materials he has employed in his intense and polymorphic production.

I have already expressed in a recent essay some observations about certain of Sørensen’s cycles of works produced by moulding clay which is then finished with white glaze. I am referring to the group of works titled A Dark Story in White, in which I admired how he succeeded in enhancing the quality of the clay with his masterfully eloquent gestures. Here he exploits powerfully effective metaphors, rendered even more vivid by a craftsmanship both knowledgeably expert and also nervously and emotionally engaged. Like a Balzac of sculpture Sørensen has modelled a comedie humaine in the guise of dogs in lethargic poses, which is one of the most dramatic to appear in the history of modern and contemporary art after Bacon and Nauman. In this intrinsically maieutic experience of striking visual impact Sørensen has achieved results of a kind comparable only to those Fontana obtained using the same material. The main distinction between Sørensen and the Italo-Argentine artist is the inherent expressionist and dramatic vein which is increasingly present in Sørensen’s work in recent years. Moreover, on closer consideration, his work has always displayed an element of reaction to the pathetic condition, the suffering undergone, the state of disintegration or that of ineluctable death, from as far back as works such as Rappo, liggende hund, (Rappo, lying dog), 1955 [p. 203] or Salvador Puig’s sidste måltid, (Salvador Puig’s last meal), 1974 or Selvportrætter (På skrå sokkel) (Self-portraits - on inclined base), 1997 [p. 216] or, finally Jeg Mener Jeg Ser (I Think I See), 1998 [p. 218], a sculptural installation of Pompeiian redolence, and among the works now exhibited in Sant’Agostino.

However, before dwelling on some of these, I should like to make a few remarks regarding the large works in bronze displayed in Piazza Duomo. The Crowd, for instance, reveals at least two unavoidable and extremely evocative aspects. The first is the type of aggregation of the anthropomorphic group, which inevitably brings to mind The Burghers of Calais (1889) by Auguste Rodin. But here there is a substantial difference, in which the value of the work resides. While one of the eminent qualities of Rodin’s group is the number of movements of the individuals portrayed, giving the whole a differentiated immobility corresponding to the identity of the figures. The group does not fail to express an interior individuality. In The Crowd, on the contrary, Sørensen’s working of the plastic mass is deliberately almost devoid of identifications; the crammed bodies tend to merge into each other. The working of the matter does not free any of the subjects, failing to distinguish them or to provide them with somatic traits or details of any other kind. The group is the gloomy apparition of an alienated and blurred human mass. Only the clayey matter – feverishly moulded by Sørensen with nervous and anxious gestures that eloquently respond to our common condition – before the casting in bronze is throbbing, lively and restless, whereas the group of people seem to share only an obscure destiny.

It is as if Sørensen ritualises the expressive modes of James Ensor or Francisco Goya who, at dramatic moments in history perceived in their inexorable incipiency, had no qualms about exposing the darkness of the times and human brutalisation in abuse, violence and the slide towards bestial degeneration. 

No less explicit, or rather with even greater admonitory power, The Shadow and While We’re Waiting display disturbing equivalencies between the body and its shadow, or the individual’s atrocious and euphoric dalliance with his own fate before death: a parable no less bitter and incontrovertible. Sørensen has frequently offered glimpses and traces of such aspects, indicative of thanatological concerns, in numerous previous works in clay, and also in entire installations of sculptures in bronze. Indeed, as I see it, while works such as Apocalypse, 2010 and That’s Why They Call Them Dogs, 2002 [p. 220], or I Think, I See, 1998 are explicit examples of this production, no less so is a work such as Portrait of an Old Agreement [p. 208], dating to the early 1970s. Here the disintegration of the forms and the fragmentation of the body reveal the same sentiment, albeit not stated with the emotive evidence of the present works.

Sørensen’s current work is not indicative of the onset of saturnine humour or of a melancholy phase of his creation, but is a salutary reaction to our times. It is a new manifestation of his unchanged youthful frankness in naming reality for what it is, even at the cost of jolting the composure of the one or the many, just as the ethical and poetic tension of an artist demands.

May 2017