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(1938 – 2018), Denmark

Per Kirkeby Biography

As one of Denmark's most significant international contemporary artists, Per Kirkeby's artistic career spanning over 50 years traversed the diverse fields of geology, painting, architecture, sculpture, film, writing, printmaking, graphics, and ballet set design.

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Although Per Kirkeby, who was born in Copenhagen in 1938, discovered a fondness for painting in his early teens, he initially pursued a career in natural history, beginning studies at the University of Copenhagen in 1957, from which he would emerge with a master's degree in arctic geology in 1964. His interest in geology, nature and the Danish landscape, would become the foundation of his poetry, films, and artworks.

In the 1960s, Per Kirkeby's art practice was influenced by prevailing avantgarde trends. Studying at The Experimental Art School of Copenhagen under Danish Conceptualist Poul Gernes, he experimented with graphics, collage, painting, film, and happenings, and met Joseph Beuys, Bjørn Nørgaard, and Henning Christiansen, amongst other influential figures. In 1966, he met Fluxus leader George Maciunas in New York, cementing his name in the international avantgarde scene.

Per Kirkeby's brick sculptures possess a distinct architectural clarity. The imposing red-brick structures reference both traditional Danish housing and Mayan temples. Many of the brick works, like Murstensskulptur (1994), loom large as both art and architecture, straddling the line between being sculptures within a space, and becoming the space itself.

Throughout his career, Per Kirkeby's paintings rejected conceptualism in favour of a dramatic, expressive and poetic style, abstract and yet whispering at the landscapes that preoccupied so much of the artist's mind during his scientific studies. In Composition (1978), layers of muted colours have been applied in swathes of gestural brush strokes, culminating in an abstract canvas full of movement and life.

Kirkeby worked on several design projects later in his career, including Danish postal stamps and set design for Peter Martins' Swan Lake at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen. Per Kirkebys drawings, made on numerous geological trips to Greenland, were published as etchings in Feltbogen (Field Book) in 1994.

In 2013, Per Kirkeby suffered brain damage due to a fall. He did not paint again, though he continued to create art and exhibit in various capacities, including opening a joint exhibition with conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner at Galleri Susanne Ottesen in Copenhagen in 2014. For the exhibition, the conceptual art heavyweights joined forces to create a signature Kirkeby brick structure painted with the phrase 'Torn Asunder with a Spark from Above'.

Per Kirkeby passed away in 2018, leaving behind a long and diverse legacy.

Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2020

Exhibition view: Per Kirkeby, Brick Sculptures, Axel Vervoordt Gallery, Antwerp (14 September 2019–1 September 2020). Courtesy Axel Vervoordt Gallery.

Per Kirkeby Featured Artworks

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Nordhorn by Per Kirkeby contemporary artwork
Per KirkebyNordhorn, 1991Red bricks, masonry
300 x 900 x 900 cm
Axel Vervoordt Gallery Contact Gallery
Læsø by Per Kirkeby contemporary artwork
Per KirkebyLæsø, 1982–1989Red bricks, masonry
230 x 131 x 71 cm
Axel Vervoordt Gallery Contact Gallery
London by Per Kirkeby contemporary artwork
Per KirkebyLondon, 1986Red bricks, masonry
78 x 491 x 491 cm
Axel Vervoordt Gallery Contact Gallery
Untitled by Per Kirkeby contemporary artwork
Per KirkebyUntitled, 2005Oil on canvas
200 x 150 cm
Almine Rech Contact Gallery
Arm by Per Kirkeby contemporary artwork
Per KirkebyArm, 1983Bronze
88 x 16 x 31 cm
Almine Rech Contact Gallery
Untitled by Per Kirkeby contemporary artwork
Per KirkebyUntitled, 1985Oil on canvas
300 x 450 cm
Almine Rech Contact Gallery
Untitled by Per Kirkeby contemporary artwork
Per KirkebyUntitled, 2001Oil on canvas
200 x 160 cm
Almine Rech Contact Gallery
Untitled by Per Kirkeby contemporary artwork
Per KirkebyUntitled, 2012Oil on canvas
90 x 65 cm
Almine Rech Contact Gallery

Per Kirkeby Current & Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Per Kirkeby, Brick Sculptures at Axel Vervoordt Gallery, Antwerp
Open Now
14 September 2019–1 September 2021 Per Kirkeby Brick Sculptures Axel Vervoordt GalleryAntwerp
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Asger Jorn, Per Kirkeby, Tal R at Victoria Miro, Mayfair, London
Closed
23 January–23 March 2019 Group Exhibition Asger Jorn, Per Kirkeby, Tal R Victoria MiroMayfair, London
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, A New Spirit Then, A New Spirit Now, 1981-2018 at Almine Rech, London
Closed
2 October–17 November 2018 Group Exhibition A New Spirit Then, A New Spirit Now, 1981-2018 Almine RechLondon

Per Kirkeby Represented By

Axel Vervoordt Gallery contemporary art gallery in Hong Kong Axel Vervoordt Gallery Antwerp, Hong Kong

Per Kirkeby In Related Press

Per Kirkeby (1938–2018) Related Press Per Kirkeby (1938–2018) 16 May 2018, Frieze

On 9 May, the Danish artist Per Kirkeby died at age 79 after a long illness. Internationally, Kirkeby is best known for his paintings, while his brick sculptures have also recently been winning acclaim. The many approaches available to Kirkeby’s work reflect his unlimited exploration of art forms and the energy with which he worked.

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