It is with great sadness that Michael Werner Gallery announces the death of Danish artist Per Kirkeby on 9 May 2018. He died in Copenhagen at the age of 79.
Born in Copenhagen in 1938, Per Kirkeby achieved international recognition as one of the most influential European artists of the post-war period. An omnipresent figure in his native Denmark, Kirkeby was a tireless polymath who became widely respected as an accomplished painter, sculptor, filmmaker, and author. Kirkeby’s influence was felt throughout the art world with a steady schedule of major exhibitions and public commissions throughout Europe and North America.
Kirkeby is best known as a painter. Over his career of five decades he developed a personal palette and vocabulary of images derived primarily from observations of the natural world. Kirkeby’s ideas about landscape and his sensitivity to natural light and color are traced to his studies in natural history and geology at the University of Copenhagen. As a student in the 1950s Kirkeby participated in several expeditions to the Arctic and Greenland, life-changing experiences which provided the essential visual and conceptual foundation for Kirkeby’s future painting practice, which he often described as an ongoing “process of sedimentation.”
During the 1960s Kirkeby experimented with performance and began exploring the possibilities of architecture. He was a major participant in happenings and Fluxus events with Nam June Paik, Joseph Beuys, and Jörg Immendorff in Copenhagen and New York. Many of Kirkeby’s Fluxus-inspired activities seized upon notions of shelter and the interrelationship of interior and exterior spaces, both natural and man-made. Bricks became important pictorial and sculptural devices in Kirkeby’s paintings and performances and eventually led the artist to complete his first outdoor brick sculpture, inspired by Mayan architecture, in 1973. Kirkeby continued to produce major public works throughout his career, primarily in Denmark, Germany and Sweden.
Kirkeby is also recognized for his costume and stage design, namely his contributions to New York City Ballet’s productions of “Swan Lake” (1999) and “Romeo and Juliet” (2007).
In 1965, the same year as his first exhibition, Kirkeby published his first volume of poetry. Two years later he published his first novel, 2,15. He would continue to write essays, poetry and art criticism throughout his life.
Kirkeby’s first exhibition with Michael Werner took place in Cologne in 1974. The gallery has represented the artist ever since.
Kirkeby represented Denmark at the 1976 Venice Biennale and later participated in documenta VII and documenta IX. Among his many solo museum exhibitions are important showings at Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; Kunsthalle Bern; Whitechapel Art Gallery, London; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk; Tate Modern, London; BOZAR Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels; and the Beaux-Arts de Paris. Works by Kirkeby are found in many museum collections worldwide including Tate, London; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Kirkeby is survived by his wife Mari Anne Duus and four children.