Soon, visitors to the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art Aalborg will be able to see the painting The Flight into Egypt. An Asger Jorn piece that adds a new and highly significant chapter to the museum’s collection.

‘The painting The Flight into Egypt represents an important aspect of Jorn’s work that has not previously been represented at Kunsten. We look forward to giving our visitors even broader insight into Asger Jorn and his extensive oeuvre, and we are very grateful to the New Carlsberg Foundation for making it possible,’ says Gitte Ørskou, director of Kunsten Museum of Modern Art.

A protest against consumer society

The Aalborg museum is already well known for its extensive Asger Jorn collection, which includes 70 pieces dating from 1935 to 1972. Nevertheless, the museum has lacked an example of Jorn’s famous modifications, where cheap copy paintings from the junk dealer’s dusty back room were transformed to represent new, intriguing stories. Asger Jorn bought paintings at Parisian flea markets, superimposing his own work on the existing motifs using graffiti-like strokes and dominant figures.

‘The original images took on entirely new expressions, which continue to startle and maybe even provoke the audience. Jorn sought to challenge tradition and question what we surround ourselves with – and, not least, to jab at bourgeois conventions,’ says Gitte Ørskou. 

Renewed focus on Jorn

In recent years, the New Carlsberg Foundation has contributed to a renewed interest in Jorn’s extensive and diverse work. Most recently in 2016 when the foundation donated Jorn’s iconic modification L’avantgarde se rend pas ((The avant-garde does not surrender) to the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

‘To many, Asger Jorn is seen as synonymous with the monumental abstract paintings, not least due to the museums’ somewhat one-sided earlier focus. In recent years, fortunately, a new and fresh focus has emerged that addresses other aspects of Jorn’s truly avant-garde work, including his playful and experimental modifications. It was important for the New Carlsberg Foundation to support this change of course in the study and presentation of Jorn, and thus it is a great pleasure to us that Kunsten is now able to show this fine but also rarely seen piece,’ says Karsten Ohrt, chairman of the New Carlsberg Foundation.

The painting – or modification – stems from Jorn’s work as part of the artists’ movement Situationist Internationale, which he was a co-founder of in 1957, and which led to his international breakthrough. Briefly put, Situationist Internationale was a radical left-wing movement that sought to challenge capitalism through the medium of art by exposing a worldview where human beings were reduced to consumers. It was an important trend that played an instrumental role in the build-up to the 1968 student revolt.

About the painting

Jorn painted The Flight into Egypt in 1959, only two years after co-founding the Situationist Internationale movement, the same year as he presented his first modifications: paintings done on top of kitsch copy paintings that could often be bought for cheap from junk dealers or flea markets. The present painting is a copy of Luc-Olivier Merson’s painting from 1880, depicting the holy family during their escape into Egypt. They are depicted resting in the desert near a large Sphinx, where Mary rests, holding the infant Jesus with his radiant halo, while Joseph is stretched out on the sand next to the camp fire.

In itself an unusual and unsettling motif lit by the dim rays of the moon, that becomes even more ominous in Jorn’s modification: the motif is overpainted with a large head-like spectre that dominates the canvas completely, painted in expressive bone-coloured, blue and black brush strokes.

The Flight into Egypt is on display at Kunsten Museum of Modern Art Aalborg from 15 September.