Asger Jorn (1914-1973) was a Danish painter, ceramist, printmaker, sculptor, and writer, who was intimately involved with a series of postwar avant-garde groups, from the Revolutionary Surrealists to CoBrA to the Situationist International.
Asger Jorn holdings at the Beinecke
The Beinecke holds a range of material related to Asger Jorn, dispersed across a number of different collections. One holding is comprised of six letters from Asger Jorn to Edouard Jaguer, that address CoBrA and the Internationale des Artistes Expérimentaux, and discuss artists affiliated with these groups, including Pierre Alechinsky, Corneille, and Christian Dotremont, and a series of photographs taken with Jaguer visited Jorn's studio in Silkeborg in 1953. The Jacqueline de Jong Papers include correspondence and manuscripts from Jorn. The Beinecke also has a number of CoBrA publications, Jorn's artist books, as well as journals, such as Internationale situationniste, to which Jorn contributed.
Asger Jorn material at the Beinecke
Pigen i ilden, 1939, text by Genia Katz Rajchmann, illustrations by Jorn.
Asger Jorn Letters and Photographs, 1941-55.
Helhesten: tidsskrift for kunst, 1941-44, periodical.
Leve livet, 1948, text by Jørgen Nash, illustrations by Jorn.
Artistes libres, 1950, portfolio of prints by different artists of the time.
Held og hasard: dolk og guitar, 1952, text and illustrations by Jorn.
Immagine e forma, 1954.
Asger Jorn: toiles, lithographies, dessins, 1956, exhibition catalogue by Christian Dotremont.
Fin de Copenhague, artist book with Guy Debord, 1957.
Guldhorn og lykkehjul, 1957.
Contre le fonctionnalisme, 1958.
Mémoires: structures portantes, 1958, with Guy Debord.
Nervenruh! keine Experimente!, 1958, first manifesto of the German section of the Situationist International.
Structure et changement, 1958.
Le long voyage, 1960.
Pinot Gallizio, 1960, includes essay by Jorn.
Stavrim, sonetter, 1960, concrete poetry by Jørgen Nash, illustrations by Jorn.
Gruppe SPUR, Galerie Birch, Admiralgade 25-Minerva 1606, 1961, exhibition brochure.
Musique phénomenale, 1961, sound recording with Jean Dubuffet.
"Critique européenne des Corps Académiques des Universités," 1962, tract attributed to Jorn and Guy Debord.
Signes gravés sur les églises de l'Eure et du Calvados, 1964, published by Jorn's Institute for Comparative Vandalism.
Aid os etudiants quil puise etudier e aprandre en liberté, 1968, poster.
Brisez le cadre qi etouf l'image, 1968, poster.
Pas de puisance d'imagination, sans images puisante, 1968, poster.
Vive la revolution pasioné de linteligence creative, 1968, poster.
Asger Jorn. Au pied du mur et un trilogue de l'artiste avec Noël Arnaud et François Dufrêne, 1969, exhibition catalogue, inscribed by François Dufrêne to Henri Chopin.
Magi og skønne kunster, 1971.
Born Asger Jørgensen (he changed his surname to Jorn in 1945) in Vejrum, Denmark, in 1914, Jorn's family moved to Silkeborg when he was fifteen. He began to paint the following year, and in 1936 Jorn moved to Paris, where he spent ten months studying at Fernand Léger's Académie contemporaine. He worked for the architect Le Corbusier on a large mural for the 1937 Paris International Exhibition, and the following year exhibited his paintings at a gallery in Copenhagen (his first solo exhibition in Paris, at the Galerie Breteau, would not occur for another decade). Over the years, Jorn’s artistic activities were wide-ranging, and would come to include painting, collage, book illustration, prints, drawings, ceramics, tapestries, commissions for murals, and, in his last years, sculpture.
He returned to Denmark for the duration of the Second World War, and during the German occupation printed and circulated a banned periodical. After the war, Jorn traveled widely, including to Lapland, Tunisia (where he spent six months), France, Holland, and Belgium, where he met Constant, Karel Appel, and other artists and writers. The artistic affinity among these figures, along with Corneille, Christian Dotremont, and Joseph Noiret, led them in 1948 to found the CoBrA group—an acronym for Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam, the home cities of the members. Each of the artists pursued independent projects, but the group’s unifying doctrine was the complete freedom of expression. They emphasized color, brushwork, and a gestural all-over quality. Jorn edited monographs of the Bibliothèque Cobra before disassociating himself from the movement, and the group dissolved in 1951.
Immediately following his involvement with CoBrA, Jorn spent a year in a sanatorium in Silkeborg, fighting tuberculosis. It was during this time that he painted the series The Wheel of Life and On the Silent Myth, works that signaled his interest in Nordic mythology, narrative, symbol, and typology; in the early 1960s he would go on to compile an in-depth study of early Scandinavian art. In 1953, Jorn spent time in Switzerland, Italy, and France, in from that time on he regularly passed his summer months in Albisola in northern Italy, where he experimented with ceramics; in 1959 he made monolithic ceramic mural for a school in Aarhus, Denmark. It was in Albisola that Jorn first intersected with a number of other avant-garde collectives active at the time, and he participated in a continuation of CoBrA called Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus, active from 1953 to 1957. He encountered the Lettrist International, in the person of Gil J Wolman, as well as Guy Debord, who was by 1957 leaving Lettrist circles to found the Situationist International.
Jorn was active in the Situationist International from its conception, collaborating with Debord and contributing a number of key articles to the group’s journal, Internationale situationniste. He left the group in 1961, recognizing that Debord was reticent to embrace his predominantly aesthetic rather than political focus. For a decade, Jorn was involved with the painter Jacqueline de Jong, also a core member of the Situationist International, although she left the group in 1962, in protest of Debord’s expulsion of the remaining artists. De Jong started an English language spin-off journal, The Situationist Times, which was diverged markedly from the concerns of the Internationale situationniste, incorporating more artwork and images, and publishing figures from a range of disciplines, including science and mathematics. Jorn contributed articles and artwork to the journal, although he was not directly involved in its creation. From the mid-1950s on, Jorn divided his time between Paris and Albisola, and following his first solo show in New York in 1962, he began to travel frequently to the US, as well as to England, Scotland, and Cuba. From 1966 until his death in Aarhus in 1973, Jorn concentrated on oil painting, the medium for which he is best known today.
Three Researchers, One Jorn, film produced by Statens Museum for Kunst, 2014.
Selection of posters Asger Jorn made in support of the Paris May 1968 uprisings.
Asger Jorn texts and photographs on NOTBORED! a pro-situationist digital 'zine run by Bill Brown.
Asger Jorn biography on DADA and Radical Art website.