Lars Kærulf Møller, 2017





Situated in front of the Bornholm Art Museum, on a small Danish island in the Baltic Sea, is the sculpture “A Self-Inflicted Miracle Waits for a New One”. 

It is an enormous, white-enamelled pig, grunting and flaccid, reclining with silver tears running down its cheeks after having just ejaculated. A terrifying image of human self-obsession and indolent impotence, sluggish, without initiative, just waiting for a new miracle that will save us from our own folly and self-destruction. The sculpture is from 2006 and it formed the focal point of Jørgen Haugen Sørensen’s outstanding exhibition at the National Gallery of Denmark (Statens Museum for Kunst). It was set up in front of the Bornholm Art Museum in 2014, when the artist celebrated his 80th birthday with astounding generosity by donating more than 300 of his works to the museum’s collection, which at the time already included several important works of Haugen Sørensen. 

The earliest of these include two naturalistic dogs in bronze: “Rappo” seated and “Rappo” lying down. They had originally been exhibited at the Venice Art Biennale in 1958, when Haugen Sørensen was Denmark’s official representative. 

Haugen Sørensen had a special relationship with dogs from the time he was a child. He would have dreams and then tell his older brother cock-and-bull stories about the many (imaginary) racing dogs he owned, and the dogs would become almost human in these stories. This is an image he would subsequently pursue many times, such as in the group “That’s Why They Call Them Dogs”, actually a quote borrowed from Robert Rauschenberg. But it is especially a pictorial narrative and an acknowledgement of the fact that dogs, devoid of shame and morality, frivolously copulate and fight till the fur flies – just as we humans would if we were not restrained by norms and laws, as is so lamentably documented almost every day in trouble spots around the world.

Jørgen Haugen Sørensen has had a lifelong affiliation with Bornholm. He spent periods of his youth here with his grandparents during World War II and returned in the early 1960s to create a wide range of notable ceramic sculptures. The ceramic tradition has centuries-old roots on the island, and Jørgen himself became an apprentice plasterer and ceramist in his early youth. Before long, however, his talent for modeling prompted him to develop into a sculptor and, at the early age of 19, he made his début at his first judged/selected exhibitions. In addition, his own artisan skills instilled in him a respect for the technical qualifications of an adept ceramist, stonecutter or bronze caster, and this has followed him throughout his life. 

The 35 sculptures he created on Bornholm during the summer of 1960 were afterwards sold in less than two hours, and he donated the only one left to the workers at the ceramics factory. He characteristically named it “Tak for kaffe” (Thanks for the coffee) and it is now part of the Bornholm Art Museum collection.

In 1961, he took part in an international sculpture exhibition at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where New York City’s MoMA seized the opportunity to buy “Woman” (Portrait of a Couple) [p. 203], made in burnt clay in 1960. 

Haugen Sørensen had already decided to settle abroad in 1968, and he spent the first years in Paris and later moved to Italy. Initially he lived in Verona, but after taking part in demonstrations against the Vietnam War, he had to leave Veneto, and that same summer he worked in Denmark with his friend Giovanni Meloni [p. 207]. Afterwards, he returned to Istria [p. 207] to rent a house for a while before settling down in Pietrasanta in 1973, where he has lived and worked ever since.

In his early youth, art critics described him as a modern Thorvaldsen, and it seemed only natural that he was commissioned to produce an eminent decorative work to the City Court House in Copenhagen, 2010-2014, originally commissioned from Thorvaldsen two centuries earlier, but which he had never made. Jørgen acknowledged this by creating a gigantic masterpiece in his oeuvre: five large ceramic reliefs [p. 219] and two sculptures in travertine [p. 219], sculpted in Pietrasanta. 

At one point, we feared that this outstanding work would be Jørgen’s swan song, but fortunately he regained his strength, and he has subsequently created a wide variety of works in both clay and bronze. He is now crowning his oeuvre with the large bronze “The Crowd”, which will be a deserving monument to his more than forty years of affiliation with Pietrasanta.

Jørgen is my friend. We initially met in the late 1980s when, as a young curator, I was eager to put on an exhibition with him. I suggested a concept of three generations that, in continuation of the ceramicist traditions on Bornholm, should involve clay. At the time, Jørgen was a member of the middle generation, but due to his personal situation after the death of Jette Mühlendorph in 1989, the exhibition never came about. 

After Eli Benveniste entered his life, his joie de vivre returned and he also went back to modeling directly in clay, which he masters with almost inconceivable virtuosity. This subsequently resulted in several exhibitions, both solo and in dialogue with other notable European artists, and, over time, a warm friendship has developed between us as well. 

One might ask if it possible for a friend to objectively judge an artist’s work? And the answer is definitely “No”. But it is unlikely that anyone can assess art objectively, whereas friendship makes it possible to have an entirely different understanding and idea of why the artist is expressing himself as he is. 

Jørgen is a pleasant and beguiling person to spend time with. He has a devil-may-care attitude, he is well read, he has vast experience of life, and he loves to be provocative. And a great many museum visitors are provoked when they encounter the big pig in front of the museum. In this way, Jørgen Haugen Sørensen lives up to the splendid definition expressed by a Danish politician: “Brilliant artists get up in the morning in order to agitate people.”

June 2017