Bjørn Nørgaard (b. 1947) is known by many. Throughout his long career he has had a profound impact on the Danish art scene with his happenings, sculptures created for public spaces, architecture, and major decorative commissions, including the acclaimed tapestries for HRH Queen Margrethe II.
Bjørn Nørgaard in brief
Bjørn Nørgaard is an artist with a keen interest in the society of which he is part. With his art he seeks to communicate with his surroundings and fellow men. Bjørn Nørgaard is a versatile artist who has worked with many different modes of expression, ranging from magazines and happenings to festivals, sculpture, film, painting, graphic art, and, most recently, residential architecture. To him, art is a touch point where the personal merges with the impressions left by one’s surroundings. Through this focal point, he discusses our present, society, culture, politics, history, and much else. He was part of Eks-Skolen, which was founded in 1961 as an alternative to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Here, he first began exploring different materials, their properties and how they relate and respond to each other. Such explorations are characteristic of much of his work.
Works which are essentially actions form a significant portion of Bjørn Nørgaard’s art. In 1969 Bjørn Nørgaard’s wife, Lene Adler Pedersen (b. 1944), walked naked through the Copenhagen Stock Exchange, and the following year he carried out his much-discussed horse sacrifice. In recent years, sculpture and decorative work has accounted for a large share of his work, leading to the creation of a large body of work. This oeuvre is characterised by often bringing together various elements from art history and cultural history in allegorical narrative that addresses contemporary matters. He has a well-developed ability to reflect on history, which was part of the reason why he was commissioned to create the 17 large-scale designs used for the Queen’s tapestries.
Bjørn Nørgaard and HEART
The works by Bjørn Nørgaard housed at HEART today include Marat – hvem var Corday (Marat – Who Was Corday) (1976). The work is a tableau full of references to world history. It is an allegorical reflection on the murder of one of the great heroes of the French Revolution, Jean-Paul Marat, who was killed by the young woman Charlotte Corday. Bjørn Nørgaard’s work shows Marat sitting in a bathtub, just as in the famous painting by Jacques-Louis David from 1797. The body is a plaster cast which Bjørn Nørgaard took of his own body. It is surrounded by everyday elements, pictures of the faces of famous champions of various causes, but also pictures of unknown faces; lights, and a mirror; the latter forms the background to and repeats the entire scene. The work gives new topicality to the story, providing a comment on history, and also addresses how we perceive historical heroes. In addition to this work, HEART also owns a number of lithographs and prints by Bjørn Nørgaard. All these works form part of a larger collection of works from the 1960s and 1970s. The other artists represented in the collection include Per Kirkeby, Poul Gernes, Peter Bonnén, and Egon Fischer. All of these artists were part of the experimental art school, also known as Eks-Skolen, which was a working community rather than a formal school; a place where the hierarchical distinction between teacher and student was broken down in favour of an open, experimental vein of collaboration. The result was a radical new perception of art in the 1960s, and the initiative provided a significant contribution towards changing Danish art history.