Denmark Figurative Arts and Architecture in the 1960’s
Figurative Arts. – The artistic evolution in the various Scandinavian countries has not followed parallel paths. Danish art, which in the Thirties had been dominated by artists who referred to expressionism, such as O. Rude, E. Weie, O. Høst and J. Søndergaard, had, in the postwar period, much more lively developments, for eg, of the Swedish one. In the early 1940s the scene was dominated by exponents of concrete art such as V. Lundstrøm, inclined to a certain classicism, and the cubist-expressionist V. Bjerke-Petersen.
Bille and R. Mortensen, on the other hand, after an initial phase of geometric abstraction, turned to an informal art in which space and movement were exalted. Movement was also present in E. Møller-Nielsens sculptures, designed for children’s playgrounds. H. Heerup, painter and sculptor, began to use assemblages of metal residues to construct human figures. Ritual emblems, primitive symbols, peasant decorations exalting nature, characterize the iron sculptures by R. Jacobsens, with experimental, geometric and spatial shapes. E. Jacobsen painted ornamental masks and moving figures, C.-H. Pedersen portrayed people and animals with violent humor, W. Freddie, starting from a painting of surreal objects, became more and more abstract and subtly ironic.
The movement of abstract spontaneism had its organ, in Denmark, in the magazine Helhesten, which proclaimed a primitive joie de vivre and attempted an opening towards other forms of artistic experience, such as jazz, poetry and cinema. “Cobra” (1948-1951) has, in a certain sense, continued his work in the direction of informal art. The name COBRA was composed with the initials of COpenaghen, Brussels and Amsterdam, referring to the members of the group, composed of the Danish A. Jorn, the Belgian C. Dotremont and the Dutch K. Appel and Constant. Their purpose was to weld a free experiment without dogma and surrealist spontaneism to the most popular forms of art. An important aspect of their theories is the idea that art should be realized as a collective intervention on the environment. To the group’s activities, true manifestations of artistic freedom, artists such as C.-H. also took part. Pedersen, H. Heerup, E. Alfeldt, E. Bille, E. Thommesen and others.
In the paintings, graphics and sculptures of S. Wiig-Hansen the fantastic element dominates, with human figures that expand and hover in the air. P. Nielsen dedicated himself to graphics with his own particular world of images, made up of ghostly visions: in the Orfeo ed Euridice series, today’s society appears to be described as the world of the afterlife.
Around 1960 a neo-realistic trend began to emerge which, in some respects, merges playful experimentalism with geometric simplification. This finds expression in the work, among others. by A. Mertz and S. Dalsgaard – the latter dedicated to collage and assemblage – and in that of JJ Thorsen and J. Nash who during the Sixties will operate in the field of happenings:
What has characterized the last three decades are precisely these frequent oscillations between the two – non-antagonistic – poles of classical simplification and playful anarchism. O. Schwalbe, P. Gadegaard, A. Andersen and I. Geertsen have directed their work towards concrete, architecturally decorative forms, with works often carried out in the context of orders for the decoration of public buildings. It is an art that structures spaces, that opens a dialogue with the observer, who – and this is a typically Danish characteristic – has a precise social role.
Architecture. – According to findjobdescriptions, the obligatory stages of the evolution of Danish architecture prior to its inclusion in the international Modern Movement are roughly the same as those known by other European countries: from neoclassicism to revivals, from eclecticism to a new classicism. However, the interest in broader social themes, linked to the general historical context of the country – workers’ houses, schools, rural town halls, collective facilities – redeems the new classicism from its rhetorical, nationalist and celebratory connotations.
It is therefore natural that around 1930, under the influence of European rationalism, Danish architecture abandoned the traditional classicist platform, common to the Nordic countries, to adopt without particular trauma the methods and the figurative language of rationalism itself. The protagonists of this transition phase are PVJ Klint (Grundtvig church, 1913-40), Kaare Klint (functionalist furniture, 1929), CF Møller (Aarhus university, 1931; in coll. With K. Fisker and P. Stegmann), Kay Fisker (Hornbaekhus, Copenhagen 1923). After 1930, and until the last decade, the most representative figure, the one who summarizes the experiences and researches of Danish architectural culture, surpassing them and imprinting them with a very high artistic quality, is identified in the prestigious name of Arne Jacobsen (born 1902), the greatest architect of modern Denmark His main works span a period of time between the late 1920s and today. Jacobsen’s production passes from an initial romanticism (Streensen house, 1932), in which the vernacular is purified through a careful control of functions and image, to a rationalism of international observance (“Bellavista” complex, 1934). From this moment on, Jacobsen elaborates his own original version of the Modern Movement, connecting, design, social, intimate tradition frankly Nordic and looking for a n egg transmissible language and repeatable, although strongly characterized in the individual solutions. Among the numerous works he designed and built, the most significant remain the Aarhus Town Hall (1937), the Gentofte residential complex (1946), the SAS skyscraper in Copenhagen (1937-62), St. Catherine’s College in Oxford (1964). Remembering the exceptional importance of the personalities of K. Klint and K. Fisker, especially from a pedagogical point of view in the fields of social housing and industrial design, it is still necessary, to conclude a summary drawing of contemporary Danish architecture, to recall the name of Jørn Utzon (born in 1918), whose best known achievement is the project for the Sydney Opera, but whose most interesting experiment is probably identifies in the Kingö residential complex (1960). While apparently Utzon seems to escape the social matrix that underlies the modern Danish tradition, in reality its inspiration expressed in an extraordinarily flexible language introduces a stimulus in the contemporary panorama in the direction of the recovery of a creative autonomy of architectural discipline. The close relationships that have long united social needs and architecture, subordinating this to those, seem to be with the last Jacobsen and with the Utzon approach resolution in terms of architecture.