Asger Jorn: Wikis


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Asger Jorn
Birth name Asger Oluf Jørgensen
Born March 3, 1914(1914-03-03)
Vejrum, Denmark
Died May 1, 1973 (aged 59)
Nationality Danish
Field Painting

Asger Oluf Jorn (3 March 1914–1 May 1973) was a founding member of the Situationist International, and a prolific artist and essayist. He was born in Vejrum, in the northwest corner of Jutland, Denmark and baptized Asger Oluf Jørgensen.


Early life

He was the second oldest of six children, an elder brother to Jørgen Nash. Both his parents were teachers. His father, Lars Peter Jørgenson, was a fundamentalist Christian who died when Asger was 12 years old in a car crash. His mother, Maria, née Neilsen, was more liberal but nevertheless a deeply committed Christian. This early heavy organised Christian influence had a negative effect on Asger who began progressively to inwardly rebel against it, and more generally against other forms of authority.

In 1929, aged 15, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis although he made a recovery from it after spending 3 months on the west coast of Jutland. By the age of 16 he was influenced by Nicolai Grundtvig, and although he had already started to paint, Asger enrolled in the Vinthers Seminarium, a teacher training college in Silkeborg where he paid particular attention to a course in Nineteenth century Scandinavian thought. Also at about this time Jorn became the subject of a number of oil paintings by the painter Martin Kaalund-Jørgensen, which encouraged Jorn to try his hand in this medium.

Early career

When he graduated from college in 1935, the principal wrote a reference for him which said that he had attained 'an extraordinary rich personal development and maturity' - especially because of his wide reading in areas outside the topics required for his studies. While at College he joined the small Silkeborg branch of the Danish Communist Party and came under the direct influence of the trade unionist Christian Christensen, with whom he became close friends and who, Jorn was to later write, was to become a second father to him.

In 1936 he traveled (on a BSA motorbike he had scraped together enough money to buy) to Paris to become a student of Kandinsky. However when he discovered that Kandinsky was in straitened circumstances, barely able to sell his own paintings, Jorn decided to join Fernand Léger's Académie Contemporaine; it was during this period that he turned away from figurative painting and turned to abstract art. In 1937 he joined Le Corbusier in working on the Palais des Temps Noveaux at the 1937 Paris Exhibition. He returned again to Denmark in the summer of 1937. He again traveled to Paris in the summer of 1938, before returning to Denmark, traveling to Løkken, Silkeborg and Copenhagen.[1]

From 1937 to 1942, he studied at the Art Academy in Copenhagen.

World War II

The occupation of Denmark by Nazi Germany was a time of deep crisis for Jorn, who had been deeply inculcated with pacifism, initially sinking him into deep depression. He subsequently became an active communist resistant. During the war he also co-founded with Robert Dahlmann Olsen the underground art group, Helhesten or "hell-horse," and was a contributor to its journal. In 1941, he wrote the key theoretical essay, "Intimate Banalities," published in Helhesten, which claimed that the future of art was kitsch and praised amateur landscape paintings as "the best art today." He was also the first person to translate Franz Kafka into Danish.


After the war, he complained that opportunities for critical thinking within the context of the communist arena had been curtailed by what he characterised as a centralised bourgeois political control. Finding this unacceptable, he broke with the Danish Communist Party, while nevertheless remaining a lifelong philosophical communist.

He traveled again to France where he was a founding member of COBRA (a European avant-garde art movement), and edited monographs of the Bibliothèque Cobra.

He returned, impoverished, to Silkeborg in 1951 and resumed work in the ceramics field in 1953. The following year he traveled to Albisola in Italy where he became involved with an offshoot of COBRA, the International Movement For An Imaginist Bauhaus.


Situationist International

He met Guy Debord in 1954, who was to became a close friend. The two men collaborated on two artist's books, Fin de Copenhagen (1957) and Mémoires (1959), along with prints, and forewords to each other's work.

English translation of Creation Ouvert published by Unpopular Books

He was participant in the conference that led to the merger of COBRA, the Lettriste Internationale, and London Psychogeographical Association to form the Situationist International in 1957. Here he applied his scientific and mathematical knowledge drawn from Henri Poincaré and Niels Bohr to develop his situlogical technique. Jorn never believed in a conception of the Situationst ideas as exclusively artistic and separated from political involvement. He was at the root and at the core of the Situationist International project, fully sharing the revolutionary intentions with Debord.[2][3] The Situationist general principles were an the attack on the capitalist exploitation and degradation of the life of people, and solution of alternative life experiences, construction of situations, unitary urbanism, psycogeography, with the union of play, freedom and critical thinking. Such general principles were applied by Jorn to painting.[4]

In 1961 he friendly quit his activity in the SI, still fully supporting its contents and goals, and keeping to financially support it, but believing that the new strategy of the SI was little effective.[5][6]

He went on to found the Scandinavian Institute of Comparative Vandalism and contributed material to the Situationist Times. Later, he donated a museum for modern art to the Danish town of Silkeborg, near where he grew up. He was to remain close to Debord, however, and continued to fund Situationist publications.[7]

His philosophical system Triolectics was given a practical manifestation through the development of Three sided football.

Later years

His first American solo exhibition was at the Lefebre Gallery in 1962. After 1966, Jorn continued to produce oil paintings while traveling throughout Europe collecting images with photographer Gerard Francesci for his vast archive of "10,000 Years of Nordic Folk Art." He traveled extensively, to Cuba, England, and the far east. Jorn traveled to the United States for the first and only time in 1970, for a gallery opening at Lefebre Gallery. He had earlier asserted that he refused to travel to a country that made visitors sign a statement maintaining that they were not communists.

In 1964, he was awarded a Guggenheim International Award including a generous cash prize, by an international jury assembled by Lawrence Alloway.[8] The following day Jorn sent this telegram to the president of the Guggenheim, Harry F. Guggenheim:[9][10]


During the course of his artistic career he produced over 2500 paintings, prints, drawings, ceramics, sculptures, artist's books, collages, décollages, and collaborative tapestries.

He died in Aarhus, Denmark on 1 May 1973. He is buried in Grötlingbo, on the island of Gotland in Sweden.


Luck and Chance: Dagger and Guitar (1952)

The first edition of Luck and Chance was Jorn's first published book, issued privately to subscribers in 1952. It was written at the Silkeborg Sanatorium during his convalescence from a serious attack of tuberculosis aggravated by malnutrition and scurvy. Later in the process, it also became intended as a doctoral dissertation which was refused by a professor of philosophy at Copenhagen University. It is, amongst other things, a critique of Kierkegaard's triad of aesthetic, ethical and religious stages, and of his definition of truth. Another powerful influence appears to be present in ghostly form : Friedrich Nietzsche. It is one of the most fundamental texts to understand Jorn's undertaking of "a reconstruction of philosophy from the point of view of an artist".

Internationale Situationniste (1957-1961)

  • Originality and Magnitude (on Isou's System) (1960), article in Internationale Situationiste No. 4. [1]
  • Open Creation and its Enemies (1960), article in Internationale Situationiste No. 5. [2]

Value and Economy

Critique of Political Economy and the Exploitation of the Unique (1961)

This book consists of two parts. The first is a concise critique of the apparent contradictions in Marx's Das Kapital which Jorn uses to prepare the ground for a discussion of how the work of "the creative elite" can have "value" in any future society aligned on communist principles. This was originally published in French in 1959 by the Internationale Situationniste and is the most straightforward and least discursive of all of Jorn's texts, probably because Guy Debord had a hand in the editing. The second part is a long polemic against contemporaneous Russian revisionism and the failed attempt by Denmark and Britain to join the Common Market, before coming to Jorn's main proposal, an economically independent international "creative elite" adopting typical Scandinavian institutions to realize "artistic value" for the greater universal good. He also attempts to reconcile the unique and individual position of the "creative elite" with his socialist principles. The second part alternates between objective and subjective modes.

The Natural Order (1962)

If this is a critique of Neils Bohr's theory of complementarity, then it is also to just the same high degree a critique of that dialectical materialism, that I in my earliest youth took to my heart and perceived to be the only acceptable principle for thought. (Asger Jorn)

See also


  • Jens Staubrand: Asger Jorn - On the author Ager Jorn and his five books from the Scandinavian Institute of Comparative Vandalism and Index to Asger Jorn’s five books from the Scandinavian Institute of Comparative Vandalism, Copenhagen 2009. ISBN 978 87 92259 89 9. The book is in English and Danish.
  • Jens Staubrand: Asger Jorn-aforismer, og andre korte tekststykker”, Valby 1995 . ISBN 8721001758 / 9788721001759
  • Niels Viggo Bentzon (chamber music work): ‘Det Banale’[The Banal], for mezzosopran og cello, Frederiksberg 1995. At The Royal Library, Copenhagen, Denmark.
  • Asger Jorn: Naturens Orden [The Natural Order] , København 1962
  • Asger Jorn: Værdi og Økonomi [Value and Economy] , København 1962
  • Asger Jorn: Held og Hasard [Luck and Chance] , København1963
  • Asger Jorn: Ting og Polis [Thing and Polis] , København 1964
  • Asger Jorn: Alfa og Omega [Alpha and Omega] , København 1963-64
  • Graham Birtwistle: ’’Asger Jorn’s comprehensive theory of art between Helhesten and Cobra 1946-1949’’, Utrecht 1986.
  • Troels Andersen, Brian Rasmussen and Roald Pay: ‘’Jorn in Havanna’’, Copenhagen 2005. The book is in English and Danish.
  • "Jorn, Asger Oluf" (3 ed.). 1990.  
  • Comparative Vandalism: Asger Jorn and the artistic attitude to life by Peter Shield, Borgen/Ashgate (1998)
  • The Natural Order and Other Texts by Asger Jorn (Translated by Peter Shield), Ashgate (2002)
  • Asger Jorn : en biografi Troels Andersen, Copenhagen (1994) 2 volumes.
  • Tom McDonough (2002) Art in America July 2002


  1. ^ Atkins, Guy. Asger Jorn, Methuen, 1964
  2. ^ Mario Lippolis (2000) Notizie su Asger Jorn, situazionista iperpolitico published in Asper Jorn La comunità prodiga (edited by Mario Lippolis). Publisher: Zona, Rapallo, 2000.
  3. ^ Mario Lippolis (2000) Un dialogo tra vandali civilizzatori nello sfacelo dell’impero della merce published in Asper Jorn La comunità prodiga (edited by Mario Lippolis). Publisher: Zona, Rapallo, 2000.
  4. ^ Poli, F. (1991), Sulla scia dei surrealisti, published in I Situazionisti e la loro storia
  5. ^ Leonardo Lippolis (2000) Togliti i baffi, ti abbiamo riconosciuto - La vera storia di un bluff (il Luther Blissett Project e i suoi padrini) e della sua cattiva coscienza (l’Internazionale Situazionista)”. Published in journal Invarianti n. 34, 2000, section Una lezione di ripasso della storia quote:

    nella realtà storica,dopo le finte dimissioni del 1961, Keller-Jorn si era appena amichevolmente defilato dalle attività dell’IS, appoggiandone in pieno i contenuti e gli scopi (al punto da continuare a finanziarle), ma giudicandone poco efficace la nuova strategia.

  6. ^ Jorn, Asger [1964] Guy Debord and the Problem of the Accursed published in book Contre le Cinema (1964, Institute for Comparative Vandalism ). Translated from the French by Roxanne Lapidus.
  7. ^ Atkins, Guy. Asger Jorn, the Crucial Years 1954-64, Lund Humphries 1977 p57
  8. ^ The New York Times (1964) Guggenheim Prize Of $2,500 Refused By Danish Painter. January 17, 1964, Friday. Section: Business Financial, Page 41
  9. ^ Guy Debord, Correspondance, vol. 2 ("September 1960-December 1964"), ed. Patrick Mosconi, Paris, Librairie Artheme Fayard, 2001, p. 273.
  10. ^ Tom McDonough (2002) p.6

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Asger Oluf Jorn (March 3, 1914May 1, 1973) was born in Vejrum, in the northwest corner of Jutland, Denmark and baptized Asger Oluf Jørgensen. In 1946 he changed his name into Asger Oluf Jorn. He was a founding member of the COBRA-group and later of the 'Situationist International'; he was a prolific artist, active organizer and essayist. He felt himself strongly connected to Nordic myths, as well as to modern times.


  • The great works of art is the complete banality, and the fault with most banalities is that they are not banal enough. Banality here is not infinite in its depth and consequence, but rests on a foundation of spirituality and aesthetics.(1941)
    • Intime Banaliteter, Helhesten 1, 1941, Denmark, p. 75
  • There is also, for instance, a direct symbolic strength in the words ‘Say it with flowers’, which makes that poem one of the cornerstones of Danish lyricism. It has stood out like a boot of an exceptionally fine fit.. (1941)
    • Intime Banaliteter, Helhesten 1, 1941, Denmark, p. 75 – 79
  • Those who try to combat the production of shoddy pictures are enemies of the best art today. Those woodland lakes in a thousand sitting-rooms with gold-tinted wallpaper belong to the profoundest inspirations of art. It always feels tragic to see people labouring to saw off the branch they are sitting on.(1941)
    • Intime Banaliteter, Helhesten 1, 1941, Denmark, p. 75 - 79
  • What we have and what is our strength, is our joy in life; our interest in life, in all it moral aspects. That is also the basis of our contemporary art. We do not even know the laws of aesthetics. That old idea of selection according tot the beauty-principle Beautiful – Ugly, like to ethical Noble – Sinful, is dead for us, for whom the beauty is also ugly and everything ugly is endowed with beauty.(1941)
    • Intime Banaliteter, Helhesten 1, 1941, Denmark, p. 75 - 79
  • The reckoning with idealism as a view of life is universal, but it also touches on something central in art-its life’s substance. One must understand that it is impossible to distinguish between a picture’s form and its substance. As the flower’s structure is governed by the intentional tension (when it loses the sap the form is lost), so also with art the substance creates the tension. Form and substance are one and the same. Form is the life expression and substance the living painting.(1941)
    • Intime Banaliteter, Helhesten 1, 1941, Denmark, p. 75 - 79
  • The picture’s substance reflects the painter’s substance, showing how much he has felt of himself and his society, how much he spans and how deep his experience goes.(1941)
    • Intime Banaliteter, Helhesten 1, 1941, Denmark, p. 75 - 79
  • We cannot inherit a fixed, unmoving view of life and of art from the past generation. The expression of art is in any period different, as are our experiences. A new experience creates a new form. We like to learn all we need from earlier generations, but we have to find out for ourselves what we need; nobody else can do that for us. It is not our business to receive and work on what the earlier generation might want us to work on. On the other hand, it is its business to help us where we wants its help.(1941)
    • Intime Banaliteter, Helhesten 1, 1941, Denmark, p. 75 - 79
  • If one tries to understand the position of art today, one must also try to understand the conditions that have created the development of our perception of art and our perception of the relation to the individual and to society. The artist takes an active part in the campaign to deepen this our knowledge of the basis of our existence, the basis which, for him, makes possible an artistic creation. The artist’s interest cannot be restricted to a single field; he must seek the highest perception of everything, of the whole and its details. Nothing can be sacred to him, because everything has become important to him.(1941)
    • Intime Banaliteter, Helhesten 1, 1941, Denmark, p. 76 - 77
  • There can be no question of selecting in any direction, but of a penetrating the whole cosmic law of rhythms, forces and material that are the real world, from the ugliest to the most beautiful, everything that has character and expression, from the crudest and most brutal to the gentlest and most delicate; everything that speaks to us in its capacity as life. From this out follows that one must know all in order to be able to express all. It is the abolition of the aesthetic principle. We are not disillusioned because we have no illusions; we have never had any.(1941)
    • Intime Banaliteter, Helhesten 1, 1941, Denmark, p. 77
  • ..and the fault with most banalities is that they are not banal enough. Banality here is not infinite in its depth and consequence, bur rests on a foundation of spirituality and aesthetics.(1941)
    • Intime Banaliteter, Helhesten 1, 1941, Denmark, p. 75 - 77
  • We are not disillusioned because we have no illusions; we have never had any. What we have, and what constitutes our strength, is our joy in life, in all of its moral and amoral manifestations.(1941)
  • Beautiful, ugly, impressive, disgusting, meaningless, grim, contradictory etc.. It makes no difference, as long as it is life, vigorously pouring forth.(1944)
    • Ansigt til Ansigt, A-5, 1, 1944, Denmark p. 14
  • If the image was sketched onto the canvas and spontaneously drawn, colour would often be restrained and unfree... The most important and the most difficult liberation process we went trough, the one that has distinguished our art, was the freeing of colour, the transition to a painterly spontaneity. (around 1944, on automatic drawning, fh)
  • We are not talking about a new cognition in relation to abstract art, rather a new area of cognition…. This is where abstract art steps in, in a stronger sense of life, a stronger contact with the growing life, a feeling of the pulsation of life and growth in oneself, an activation of deep-seated powers a staple vitality far deeper than our cognition, not instead of science but inspired by.. (1945)
    • remarks by Jorn, after Egill Jacobson’s exhibition in Kunstforeningen, 1945 Denmark
  • An example of this way of thinking is an exchange that took place when someone told Goethe that he admired him for his genius, towering over German intellectual life like a gigantic mountain, to which Goethe replied that ‘great mountains are found only in mountainous landscapes.’ The traditional history of art is concerned exclusively which such mountain peaks, and often, as Goethe critically pointed out, they are not even seen in relation to each other.(1948)
    • Jorn's remarks on the publication of the book 'Thidrek of folk art', 1948, Denmark
  • This is not an objective, historical or psychological evaluation of Danish experimental art and its historical roots, but an ideological and artistic, collective representation of our own work, thoughts, and ideas. It shows how we ourselves view our work and our way of working, and considers which of the many traditions that make up our foundation we feel connected to.(1948)
    • Notebook, Jorn's notitions, containing the draft for a book on Danish experimental art, 1948
  • Breton’s Surrealists wanted to place themselves outside. What is it what they want to put outside? Pure thought. That is, the only metaphysical world, reflection. But from a materialistic standpoint thought is a reflection of matter – as in a mirror. The metaphysical world is not able to surmount the material world which produces it. One has to think of SOMETHING. But for thought to be dialectical, it's object / it's 'thing' must cease to be attached to everyday life.
    • Discours aux pingouins, Cobra 1, 1949, Paris
  • The basic function of thought is to find ways of satisfying our needs and desires. The Surrealism of Breton and the functionalism of architecture which was more concerned with the way in which thought functions rather than with its function, - was initially idealistic. But is this not something which we can extract from Breton’s definition of automatism?
    • Discours aux pingouins, Cobra 1, 1949, Paris
  • Our experiments (w: Cobra, fh) aim at letting thought express itself spontaneously without the control which reason represents. By means of this irrational spontaneity we get closer tot the vital source of life. Our goal is to liberate ourselves from the control of reason which has been and still is the thing which the bourgeoisie has idealized to seize control of life.
    • Discours aux pingouins, Cobra 1, 1949, Paris
  • contrast to Breton we believe that – behind the false ethical and aesthetic, indeed metaphysical understandings which are out of contact with the vital interest of ‘man’’ – we (w: Cobra, fh) find the real, the materialistic ethics and aesthetics. One includes our needs, the other is an expression of our sensual desires. It is exactly in order to liberate the true ethics and the true aesthetics that we make use of 'automatism'.
    • Discours aux pingouins, Cobra 1, 1949, Paris
  • The law of aesthetics is the same as the law for our desire… ..Need says: ‘You must eat.’ Aesthetics says: ‘You can do it in a thousand different ways.’ Ethics: ‘You need a woman.’ Aesthetics: ‘Which woman do you want?’ Thus the purpose of art is first and foremost ethical than aesthetic – even when the wish becomes need. The goal changes from the general to the individual from need to wish, from ethics to aesthetics.
    • Discours aux pingouins, Cobra 1, 1949, Paris
  • You can often give a better description of the fight between people, the essentials of it, by means of fantastic animals, the simple, primitive, naked instincts, than by depicting a specific situation. It is not the human animal we should describe, but ourselves as human animals.(1950)
  • on reality as motion: Everything is in constant flux, from state to state, from good to bad and back again.., only in transmutation, perpetual motion, lies truth.(1950, on reality as motion)
  • We are sparks that must glow as brightly as possible. (1950,: on being an pictorial artist)
  • This is what aesthetics, development and progress depend upon: that we go out on thin ice. (1959 on the task of modern artists)
  • Be modern / collectors, museums / if you have old paintings / do not despair / Retain your memories / but detourn them / so that they correspond with your era. / Why reject the old / if one can modernize it / with a few strokes of the brush. / This casts a bit of contemporaneity / on your old culture. / Be up to date / and distinguished / at the same time. / Painting is over/ You might as well finish it off / Detourn (détournez)/ Long live painting. (on his Détournements, modifications of old, existing paintings)
    • foreword catalogue of his exhibition 'Modifications', 1959, Paris
  • It has been the giver’s intention to create as complete a collection of European art as possible, with the aim of illuminating Surrealism and Spontaneous-Abstract art. 91962: (on an art-gift Jorn made the museum)
    • as quoted by Troels Andersen in Silkeborg Kunstmuseum – Jorn Samling, 1973, Denmark
  • To break and be able to grow together again in a better way: that is the difficult art.(1963)
  • If you add something to a painting, never let it be for aesthetic reasons. Only let it be for reasons of expression (to his younger painter-friend Pierre Alechinsky). (around 1965-1970)
  • We have defined art as the life form and aesthetic art as the life renewal: the stimulating, animating, agitating, inspiring, inspirational, fermenting, fascinating fanaticising, explosive and outrageous: the renewal of the unknown.(1963)
  • It is said that my art has some typically Nordic features : the curving lines, the convolutions, the magical masks and staring eyes that appear in myths and folk art. This may be. My interest in the dynamics of Jugend style probably also comes into it..(1963)
    • Tecken för liv, tecken till liv, interview by Marita Lindgren-Fridell, Konstrevy, 1963, Denmark
  • To get anywhere, one must choose one’s mistakes, I chose experimental acts. (1963)
  • In the beginning was the image..
    • title of one of his paintings, 1965
  • Being an artist is being an isolated individual. But the development of the creative foundation of the encumbers the individual artists more and more with the prevailing problems. You are of your time whether you like it or not. Developing ones foundation to an artist means continually revising it. The artistic formulae wear thin quickly and yet daily the artist – when developing his own foundation – must enter his own time and the problems of other contemporary artists. Paths cross and the soil of time is starting to be turned. (late 1960s)
  • My work is based on a tradition quite distinct from the Eckersberg tradition (named to the famous golden-age painter Eckersberg and his later school in Denmark, fh), a Nordic line of development that had never been clearly and consistently defined in the literature on art. This line is not a straight one; it has the strangest and most fascinating twists and curves, and includes such artists as Edvard Munch, Ernest Josephson, Hill, Hansen Jacobsen, Johannes Holbek, Jens Lund, and Emile Nolde. Not all of them equally well known.. (late 1960s)
    • Fortaelleren Asger Jorn, by Gunnar Jespersen, 1984, Denmark, p. 121
  • The reverse process is extremely important to me – that artistic images can inspire to words and different myths, and that in certain cultures this process has been the normal relation between images and words. It is known as a rule in the so-called Germanic art, and through the middle ages heaps of such stories are directly inspired by fantastic images. (on the relation between words and images)
    • a letter to anthropologist Francis Huxley, 1970
  • on the magical character of thinking and images: To understand the magic way of thinking you have to know non-magic thinking. If you see that clearly, you will see how many magic thoughts are necessary elements even of natural science today. There seems to be just as much magic thinking in modern thought as in older; only it takes place in other areas.
    • a letter to anthropologist Francis Huxley, 1970
  • To make the material speak to man in the name of man, this is the aim and reality of art. (1971)
  • If a symbolic language dies, it tortures us like a nightmare, like a thousand piece orchestra grating on our nerves and tearing our mind to pieces…. It is a corpse with no symbolic power or strength.. (on the old Nordic symbolic myths)


  • True realism, materialist realism lies in the search for the expression of forms faithful to their content. But there is no content detached from human interest.

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