Time meets time J.F. Willumsen / Jørgen Haugen Sørensen

21 June – 30 December 2019

J.F. Willumsens Museum

In the exhibition “Time meets time. J.F. Willumsen and Jørgen Haugen Sørensen” Willumsens Museum has invited one of Denmark’s most distinctive living sculptors, Jørgen Haugen Sørensen (1934), to engage in dialogue with a selection of J.F. Willumsen’s works. Haugen Sørensen has produced new sculptures for the exhibi­tion, but existing works from the last 15 years will also be shown. In the exhibition localities his bronze sculptures, ceramic reliefs, drawings and lithographs meet Willumsen’s monumental marble relief, colourful paintings and expressive etchings. Common to the exhibited works is a focus on human life as it is lived for better or for worse. Both Willumsen and Haugen Sørensen deal in their art with human existence – how we perceive what is outside us ad what is inside us, and what we do with and to one another. Their interpretation of the existential theme finds expres­sion in a variety of ways, as they work in various media and look at the challenges of life from different ages. There will thus be points in common, convergences and clashes between the works of the two visual artists in the exhibition.

In the exhibition Willumsen’s monumental and classically inspired sculptural work The Great Relief (1893-1928) is paid a visit the by a number of Haugen Sørensen’s life-sized and expressively formed bronze figures bearing titles such as Innocent Guilt and The Superfluous. The Great Relief, which Willumsen also called “a poem about human life”, is an integrated tale of human existence created in a time of up­hea­vals when the advance of modernity was undermining belief in ‘the grand narra­tives’. In the relief Willumsen depicts his faith in humanity’s ability to create its own values and give meaning to human life when that meaning is no longer given in advance, through self-awareness and a reflective attitude to one’s actions. Haugen Sørensen works in an age when the grand narratives have finally broken down. He does not, like Willumsen, postulate a belief in the strong and powerful human being, and with his existential sculptures – standing, walking with despondent expressions, without goal and direction – he discusses the decline of modern humanity and the absurdity of life in a world in the grip of globalization, individualization, economic inequality and meaningless war.

The ideas for the existential content of The Great Relief came at a time when Nazism had not yet vitiated Nietzsche’s concept of the superman, and when the notion that the world was still developing in the direction of the better still pre­vailed. The horrors and atrocities of the First World War did however affect Willumsen’s view of humanity, and in a series of prints from the period he ex­pressed the most shadowy sides of humanity as they are lived through and experi­enced in wartime, and in his motifs brings out the animal side of mankind – the instincts, the brutal and the primitive. Haugen Sørensen’s work That’s why they call them dogs, a large tableau with dogs careering round in a huge fight, similarly points to phenomena one experiences in theatres of war where any kind of humane beha­viour is out of the question. The behaviour of the dogs reflects that of humans, and Haugen Sørensen offers a raw interpretation of the human animal in its most ruth­less and brutal. It is the struggle of all against all where only the strongest survive.

At other points in the exhibition Willumsen’s expressive paintings are seen with Haugen Sørensen’s expressive sculptures modelled in ceramics. Figures of naked, twisted human bodies covering their eyes and ears huddle together and bow their heads to the ground as if to protect themselves against outer or inner danger, and are seen in relation to Willumsen’s painting of a woman collapsing helplessly and despairingly on the beach while nature rages around her, and the family portrait around the supper table where danger and the unheimlich lurk just beneath the surface.

The last room of the exhibition is dedicated to the more caricaturish, grotesque and absurd works done by both artists. Throughout life Willumsen had a good eye for eccentric and odd characters, and in his art he cultivated the grotesque and out­ra­geous. In eccentricity and deviation he found something interesting and expressive in painterly terms. In several works he portrays the subjects with distorted features, caricatured smiles and grimaces emphasized by abnormal arms and hands. The motifs lie very close to the art of the caricature with its exaggerated presentation, with comical effects in the characteristics of the people or situations. Caricature is also a device Haugen Sørensen makes use of in a number of morbid but entertaining sculptures. The figures are painted in intense colours dominated by a pink shade that most of all recalls sunburnt Scandinavian skin or pigksin. While Willumsens gro­tesque motifs are situated somewhere between humorous lightness and reflections on the absurdity of life, Haugen Sørensen’s caricatured expressions are more politically incisive and socially critical. With their highly relevant castigations of the events of the age they have the appearance of a kind of three-dimensional satirical cartoons.

Willumsen and Haugen Sørensen have both spent most of their lives outside the borders of Denmark and lived in voluntary exile in southern Europe; Willumsen settled permanently in the south of France from 1916, and Haugen Sørensen had his base for the last 40 years in the artists’ town Pietrasanta in Tuscany. Both have however always been highly present in their native country in exhibitions and in artistic debate. Despite an age gap of 71 years the two visual artists have physically crossed paths – at Charlottenborg in Copenhagen around 1950; Willumsen as an elderly man who was in Denmark to round off a long artistic life and set up a museum for his works; Haugen Sørensen as a very young artist and debutant in the artistic milieu around Charlottenborg. Now their paths cross again with this exhibi­tion at Willumsens Museum.

J.F. Willumsens Museum would like to send its warmest thanks to the many people who have helped to realize the exhibition and this catalogue. The sculptor Jørgen Haugen Sørensen has engaged in the task with great energy, and his wife, the visual artist Eli Benveniste, has been a formidable and quite indispensable partner and coor­di­nator in the process. The art historians Mikael Wivel and Jens Tang Kristensen have contributed insightful articles to the catalogue, and the author Morten Sønder­gaard has edited an interview with Haugen Sørensen. We thank the photographer David Stjernholm for the photographic material, the graphic designer Jacob Birch and Finn from Spine Studio for the beautiful layout and ¼ for the fine typography. For quite indispensable economic support to the exhibition and catalogue we thank the foundations Augustinus Fonden, Beckett Fonden, Grosserer L.F. Foghts Fond, Knud Højgaards Fond and the Danish Arts Foundation. We further thank Statens Museum for Kunst, Bornholms Kunstmuseum, Hans Alf Gallery and private lenders for loans of works for the exhibition, and the film director Malene Ravn and Li Vildstrup as well as film editor Edda Urup for their interesting film about Jørgen Haugen Sørensen. Warm thanks also to the board of J.F. Willumsens Museum and its staff members Anne Gregersen, Louise Bugge Jacobsen, Rune Bo Jonassen, Thea Flint Ryberg, Dorthe Appelgren Larsen, Mille Søndergård, Seline Rørbech, Dina Rawat, Camilla Lund Rasmussen, Vibeke Sandby, Nette Børkdal Ebbesen and not least the museum’s many volunteers.

Lisbeth Lund

Director J.F. Willumsen Museum