Danish artist Per Kirkeby is a world-renowned renaissance man, known primarily for his geologically inspired paintings. He also, however, identifies as a sculptor, filmmaker, architect and writer.  

“Per Kirkeby: Paintings and Sculpture” opened at the Bowdoin Museum of Art on March 26 and currently dominates the entire second floor of the museum. The exhibit showcases approximately 45 of Kirkeby’s works in a variety of mediums.

Klaus Ottman, curator at large for the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. and co-curator of the Kirkeby exhibit, introduced the Bowdoin community to this contemporary artist’s work with his lecture titled “Per Kirkeby: Subjective Thinker, Anti-Artist, Historical Painter” yesterday afternoon. 

In his lecture, Ottman detailed Kirkeby’s artistic trajectory. The artist was born in 1938 and educated at the University of Copenhagen, where he studied  Arctic Geology while simultaneously enrolled at the Experimental Art School in Copenhagen. 

Geology is a key theme in the work of Kirkeby, who travelled extensively to Iceland, Greenland and the northern peninsula of Greenland called Pearyland (named after  Bowdoin alum Admiral Robert Peary) for both geologic and artistic pursuits.

“I have known about Per Kirkeby for a very long time,” said museum curator Joachim Homann. 
“I loved his work for a long time and when I came to Maine as a curator, I thought this would be something that I could offer to the Maine audiences because it resonates with the Northern landscapes that surround us.”

The exhibition made its American debut at the Phillips Collection, and Bowdoin has the distinction of being the only other venue to host this show. 

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for the museum; it’s a major European painter who has not yet been seen here in the States,” said Homann. “What I am most excited about is that we have beautiful, large canvases and sculptures by an artist who is investigating a lot of things that cannot be expressed in words or illustrated in digital illustrations of any quality. 

“It’s amazing that our museum presents the architectural environment for these works to truly shine,” he added.

According to Homann, the show brings together rocks and images of the geological formations to help people understand the connection between Per Kirkeby’s artwork and his perspective on the world as a trained geologist. 

The show is comprised of very large canvases and bronze sculptures of various sizes that span the entire career of Per Kirkeby as an artist, along with some of his other pieces that can’t be described by words but, according to Homann, “simply must be seen.” 

One of the works in the exhibit is a 1996 film showing Kirkeby in his studio. Standing in front of a large, blank canvas, the artist paints a colorful piece, interrupting his work only to say, “I hate it like the plague,” before tossing his hand-towel into a corner and walking off screen.

“I think people will get it and have a really good time at the exhibition,” said Homann.

The exhibit is shown alongside “Sense of Scale, Measure by Color: Art, Science, and Mathematics of Planet Earth” put together by Collin Roesler and Emily Peterman of the Department of Earth and Oceanographic Science as well as by professor of mathematics Mary Lou Zeeman.

“Per Kirkeby: Paintings and Sculpture” be on view through July 14.