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Asger Oluf Jorn (1914 – 1973) was best known as an incredibly creative Danish avant garde artist, a writer of gripping, unforgettable essays, and one of the founding members of the Situationist International, an organization of social revolutionaries between its inception in 1957 to its 1972 dissolution.
Asger Oluf Jorn Childhood
He was born and baptized as Asger Oluf Jorgensen in Vejrum, Denmark on March 3rd, 1914, in the upper northwest of Jutland, Denmark.
The second of six children, he was the older brother of Jorgen Nash. His parents, Lars Peter Jorgenson and Maria Neilsen Jorgenson, were both teachers and deeply devoted Christians. His parents’ heavy Christian views were something which caused him to rebel against the organized religion as well as authority in general. Asger’s father lost his life when Jorn was merely 12 in an automobile accident.
At the age of 15 in 1929, Jorn was diagnosed with tuberculosis, but a three month stay on the Jutland west coast saw him recover from it. By the time he turned 16, he was being heavily influenced by writer and Bishop Nicolai Grundtvig. It was then that enrolled in the teacher training college of Vinthers Seminarium in Silkeborg with his concentration being in a course of Scandinavian Thoughts of The 19th Century. Around the same time period, Jorn was the subject of several of artist Martin Kaalund-Jorgensen’s oil paintings. This in turn was what encouraged Jorn to pursue the arts as well.
The Early Career of Artist Asger Oluf Jorn
While in college, he became a member of the Danish Communist Party of Silkeborg. It was here that he met and became influenced by trade unionist Christian Christensen. The two became close friends and Jorn would even later describe him in his writings as a second father.
Upon his college graduation in 1935, the principal of the school wrote a personal reference for him which noted that Jorn had matured and richly developed as a person. This was especially reflected in the reading he had done outside of the realms of the topics his studies required.
By 1936, he bought himself a BSA motorbike with what little money he was able to scrape up and set out to travel to Paris France to become part of Fernand Leger‘s Academie Contemporaine. While he was there, he left behind traditional figurative painting and instead began to pursue abstract art. From 1937 to 1942, he furthered his studies at the Art Academy in Copenhagen. Between 1937 and 1938, he did a lot of traveling between Denmark, Paris, Lokken, Copenhagen, and Silkeborg.
Asger Oluf Jorn World War II
During the occupation of Denmark by Nazi Germany, Jorn sank into a deep depression brought on by having been deeply instilled with pacifism. This in turn caused him to become an active resistant of communism. It was during World War II that he co-founded an underground art group called Helhesten, which meant “hell-horse,” with Robert Dahlmann Olsen and was a major contributor to its journals.
His essay, “Intimate Banalities,” written in 1941 and published by Helhesten, theoretically claimed that the future of the arts was in poor taste, but appreciated in an ironic way. He also laid praise upon amateur landscape paintings, describing them as the best art of the day. Along with this accomplishment, he also translated the Franz Kafka into Danish, the first to do so.
Asger Oluf Jorn After The War
Once Nazi Germany’s occupation of Denmark had ended, Jorn broke away from the Danish Communist Party, citing that the context of critical thinking opportunities within the community of communists had been reduced dramatically by what he called a ‘centralized bourgeois political control.’ For him this was unacceptable, however in spite of leaving the party, he remained a philosophical communist for the rest of his life.
Once again he found himself in France where he became a founding COBRA member and went on to be the editor of the Bibliotheque Cobra monographs.
It was in the year 1946 that Jorn made the decision to change his last name from Jorgensen to simply Jorn.
He returned to Silkeborg in 1951 a poor man, and resumed working with ceramics in 1953. Jorn was a key in the merge of COBRA with the London Psycho-geographical Association and Lettriste Internationale which formed the Situationist International, also known as SI. It was at SI that he applied his knowledge of math and science he had drawn from Niels Bohr and Henri Poincare, thus developing his situlogical technique.
By 1961, Jorn was becoming an artist well-known in his own right. Consequentially this fact was not a popular one with the SI, so he voluntarily left the organization. This alone was unusual, as the SI was prone to purge and expel members of its own accord. Later on, Jorn donated a modern art museum to Silkeborg.
Asger Oluf Jorn Later Years
Jorn’s first American solo art exhibition was in 1962 at the Lefebre Gallery, however he was not present for this event. Jorn stated he had refused to visit a country which required visitors to sign a statement to the fact that they did not practice communism. Jorn’s first and only visit to the United States would be for a gallery opening ceremony at Lefebre Gallery in 1970.
After the year 1966, he continued his travels through Europe, producing oil paintings and collecting an assortment of pictures with a photographer by the name of Gerard Francesci that would go into his book of “10,000 Years of Nordic Folk Art.” His travels further took him to England, Cuba, and even the far east.
Over the span of Jorn’s entire career in art, he produced over 2,500 prints, drawings, paintings, sculptures, ceramics, artist’s books, collaborative tapestries, collages and decollages.
Jorn passed away on May 1st, 1973, in Aarhus, Denmark, and is buried on Gotland Island, Sweden, in Grolimbo.