Despite a remarkably expressive hand and a pioneering range of styles, Asger Jorn’s work has long been somewhat under-appreciated in the United States. The Danish artist and COBRA co-founder’s work ranges across a broad series of compositional techniques and practices that defined him as a founding voice of post-war abstraction, yet his reputation seems almost underemphasized by comparison to his stature in Europe. It’s this contrast that makes his show currently on view at Petzel Gallery feel like such a well-kept secret, a balanced, well-organized exhibition that spans a wide range of the artist’s practice.
The show feels particularly at home in Petzel’s modest uptown space, with a small broad selection ranging across the artist’s range of styles and approaches. Works run from rapidly executed, cartoonish portraiture and more exploratory abstractions, to several of the artist’s repurposed canvases, paintings acquired and repainted by the artist to create strangely compelling interplays between subject matter and Jorn’s hand.
Momentary flashes of paint collide with longer slurs and pools of paint, rendering compositions as notable for their inventiveness as they are for their sheer range of expressive formats fit into any one piece. In one piece, the artist’s nuanced use of shading, capped by a free-flowing series of brushmarks, negotiates between renaissance portraiture and mid-Twentieth Century abstraction, while elsewhere, a stark white canvas serves as the background for a vivid, yet meditative layering that explores a range of different techniques while providing ample space for blending and conversation between each. In another, a series of spattered marks build into a vivid exclamation of red paint, underscoring the work’s construction as a process suspended in both time and space on the surface of the work.
Jorn’s adventurous canvases make for an impeccably refreshing show, underscoring his work’s constant reinterpretation and exploration of both sudden impulse and careful, studious brushstrokes. Despite the pieces’ often reckless appearance, the sheer range and consistency of the artist’s approach towards their construction serves as a master class of sorts in abstract painting, while remaining particularly prescient in the context of a new generation of abstractionists working today, artists’ whom Jorn’s work seems to anticipate.
The exhibition is on view through July 29th.
— D. Creahan
Asger Jorn at Petzel Gallery [Exhibition Site]