Thorvaldsens Museum

15 March - 3 August 2014

Justitio and the witnesses

– Thorvaldsens Museum was mounting an exhibition presenting the sculptor Jørgen Haugen Sørensen’s preparatory works for the extensive decoration of a courtroom in the City Hall and Courthouse on Nytorv in Copenhagen.

The Darker Sides of Mankind

The decorations in Courtroom 60 are made up of five large reliefs on a longitudinal wall, each in its own niche. On the end wall of the courtroom we see the individual sculptures of “Justitio” and “The Witnesses” from which the title of the exhibition is derived. These works relate to the courtroom and its function, but they also play a role entirely of their own. Haugen Sørensen shows us the world that is enacted outside the courtroom and inside ourselves. A violent world full of violence and bestiality that reveals the darker sides of mankind. Those darker sides that we all have to a greater or lesser extent. And in this, Haugen Sørensen’s works represent a powerful expression of how difficult it is to judge between good and evil.

Jørgen Haugen Sørensen has himself described his intentions with the decorations in the following words: “The motifs in my reliefs are taken from the life that unfolds in the street, which is also the life to which those working in the Courthouse relate every day, or rather: the life in the street that challenges the concept of law and order. The architecture of the City Hall and Courthouse represents harmony, and with its order and its monumental proportions it aims to be an ideal for our society, whereas my reliefs introduce the drama that surrounds us every day and with which we are confronted through the work in this building. In this way, the reliefs will form part of the overall objective of the Courthouse, which is to create a balanced relationship between order and disorder, and to attempt to fit the human drama, often violent in itself, into the social framework.” And “I want to show that life outside the walls of the Courthouse is vibrant, violent and relevant to each individual entering the building and that justice is a complicated concept with which that life is confronted”.

About the Exhibition

Thorvaldsens Museum was exhibiting the sketches for the major decoration in the City Hall and Courthouse along with a number of more recent works by Jørgen Haugen Sørensen concerned with the same violent theme. The clay models and paper sketches along with diary notes showed the large number of sculptural models and sketches made before the works acquired their final shape and revealed the chain of thought fundamental to both content and expression.

Jørgen Haugen Sørensen at Thorvaldsens Museum

One of the reasons why Thorvaldsens Museum was mounting this exhibition is that Jørgen Haugen Sørensen is one of the most important of Danish sculptors. And as the museum dedicated to the most famous sculptor Danish sculptor of all time, Bertel Thorvaldsen, it also wished to turn the spotlight on important contemporary sculpture.

But in addition to this, Thorvaldsen was in 1806 entrusted by the architect responsible for the building, C.F. Hansen, with the task of creating sculptures and reliefs for the City Hall and Courthouse. He made several sketches for reliefs intended to adorn the façade of the Courthouse, but the project was never realised. The ambitious sculptor Thorvaldsen was well on his way to world fame in Rome, and the Copenhagen undertaking was not all that attractive because, for financial reasons, C.F. Hansen only wanted Thorvaldsen himself to do these sketches and designs. Others in Copenhagen, basing themselves on Thorvaldsen’s sketches were then to fashion the final embellishment for the building – which remains devoid of decoration to the present day.

The architect who had designed the the City Hall and Courthouse had also intended to install a figurative decoration in the building though this plan also remained unrealised. And it was not until a few years ago that the idea was taken up again that a major decoration of one of the courtrooms should be carried out. The choice of sculptor fell on Jørgen Haugen Sørensen, who was working on the task for a couple of years.

Embellishment of Public Buildings

Jørgen Haugen Sørensen’s decorations for the courtroom in the City Hall and Courthouse constitute a fine example of how sculpture has in recent years again begun to be actively used as an important element in the narrative and atmosphere that are to be imparted to the users of public buildings. It has long been the case with church embellishments, but it is becoming a common practice in other public buildings. The absolute monarchs used sculpture to express power and authority and to betoken a distance between citizen and ruler. Today, it can be used to express the general human condition and at the same time adopt a position on contemporary order – or lack of order.

The exhibition was arranged by curator William Gelius and director Stig Miss.

See installation photos af Simon Lautrop