Per Kirkeby’s Architectural Sculptures
by Wouter van Acker and Wouter Davidts
Per Kirkeby is an internationally acclaimed Danish painter, sculptor and writer. Looking back at the period when he started his career, he described the climate of the late 1960s and early 1970s as a landscape where each figurative gesture was troubled by the iconoclasms of the minimal art movement. In this period, paintings for which he is now well known achieved a delicate balance between iconicity and iconoclasm, populism and minimalism, the figurative and the literal. The architectural sculptures that he then built are as interesting as his paintings but have not received the same attention. In reaction to the articulation of materiality, structure, form and space in the work of artists such as Carl Andre and Donald Judd, Kirkeby’s early brick sculptures valued craftsmanship and exposed the figurative connotations of architectural language. While these first brick sculptures were exhibited in a museum setting, since the 1970s he has built architectural sculptures in the form of walls, labyrinths, towers, and donjons in public spaces all over Northern Europe. In the first part of this paper we critically examine how the artist’s brick sculptures confront romanticism with minimal art, ultimately in order to merge both into a grand classicism. Unlike many architectural sculptures produced in the 1970s and later, Kirkeby’s brick sculptures question neither the disciplinary boundaries between sculpture and architecture, nor the relevance of specific contexts for artistic practices. We argue that Kirkeby’s privileging of a popular romanticism over minimalism, the figurative over the literal, or iconicity over iconoclasm, while always striving towards balance, is the result of the ambition to create, in the same way as monuments express a perception of the meaning of time, an image in which he – and surrounding inhabitants or passers-by – can condense fragments of time and history.
Text Source: Wouter van Acker and Wouter Davidts, ”If Walls Could Talk: the Brick Sculptures of Per Kirkeby“ in Proceedings of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand: 31, Translation, edited by Christoph Schnoor (Auckland, New Zealand: SAHANZ and Unitec ePress; and Gold Coast, Queensland: SAHANZ, 2014), 613–622.