Bowdoin College Museum of Art Curator Joachim Homann reflects on the exhibition Per Kirkeby: Paintings and Sculpture, which ends its run this weekend.
The major exhibition of paintings and sculpture by the Danish artist Per Kirkeby (born 1938) is about to close. It will be on view in the magnificent upstairs galleries of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art until this Sunday, July 14. If you haven’t seen it, please do. If you have already been in the show, you know that it’s worth another visit.
As the Museum’s curator, I have spent time in the exhibition almost daily since its opening in late March. This is what happened to me: In the first weeks, I began to recognize more and more figurative elements in Kirkeby’s work. That abstract sculpture? It features the profile of a human head, shielded by a painter’s palette. The purely gestural chalk drawing on blackboard? It’s a depiction of three horses!
Once I felt more comfortable with the unstable relationship between the representational and abstract elements in Kirkeby’s art, I began to develop a sense for the application of paint. Layered like geological sediments, loosely brushed or built up with a palette knife, diluted or saturated, Kirkeby’s colors are in a constant conversation with each other. Dynamic color fields with bold contours, hatching, and crystalline patterning energize every inch of the often very large canvass and define the picture’s plasticity.
Now, after weeks of looking, Kirkeby’s paintings and sculptures seem urgent and real; I understand them as discoveries in the vast unknown territories of art. As a student of arctic geology, Kirkeby felt that scientific exploration of the natural world needed to be bolstered by more specific, material forms of expression. He discovered them in the visual arts. For a few more days, we have the opportunity to learn about his findings. For me, that turned out to be a transformative experience.
Joachim Homann, curator