It has nothing to do with Jesus, even though they look like coffins. Instead try touching, sensing and playing with Peter Bonnén’s sculpture.

Peter Bonnén, Two Sarcophagus, 1997. ARKEN Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Miriam Nielsen

Peter Bonnén

What do you think about when you see Peter Bonnén’s sculpture? Does it remind you of anything? Does it evoke an emotion in you? Or does it just stand there as two silent, identical shapes in rust-treated steel? The questions are far from superfluous, although the title of the work, Two Sarcophagi, offers more than a hint. The sculp¬ture in front of you has a connection with sarcophagi, that is coffins in which a royal couple, for example, could be laid to rest. But you must sense for yourself whether it has a spiritual or religious meaning for you, whether you get a sensory experience from it, and whether you think it has any qualities to which you can put words: for example beauty, stillness, melancholy or weight.

Between play and aesthetic experience

To get closer to it you can try walking around and in between the two identical parts of the sculpture, stroking your hands over the rusted surfaces, curved and straight, feeling the sharp corners. Knock a little on them with a hand or a branch – do they have a sound? Perhaps you can get an idea of whether they are solid or hollow. Does it change the experience that there are two sarcophagi instead of just one? Try picking a few flowers or branches and laying them on the two parts of the sculpture, as if a royal couple from bygone times really rested forever in their sealed interiors.

The word ‘sarcophagus’ is of Greek origin and means ‘flesh-eating’ (sarx, flesh, and phagos, eating). Legend has it that sarcophagi were originally built in a special kind of limestone that could dissolve a body in forty days.

About Peter Bonnén

For Peter Bonnén the sculpture is not about religion or metaphysics, but about formal aspects like shape and materiality. His sculptures originate in so-called minimalism in art, where the form of the sculpture is absolutely simple and does not represent anything or tell any story. The minimalist sculpture must simply be expe¬rienced physically with the body, as it is. All the same – with the title and the coffin-like shapes – he gives us reasons to be playful, to sense and fantasize our way into the sculpture. Peter Bonnén has not only worked with sculpture. He has for example earlier created happenings, as in 1975, when he sowed a barley field on the square Nikolaj Plads in Copenhagen, and he also works with conceptual photo¬graphy. ARKEN has two of these photographs in its collection.

B. 1945 in Frederiksberg.

In 1961-62 a student at the Experimental Art School (Eks-skolen) which was also attended by Per Kirkeby, Bjørn Nørgaard and other important Danish artists.

Peter Bonnn was to play a central role in the so-called Rindalism debate which arose in the wake of the establishment of the Danish Arts Foundation in 1965. The warehouse manager Peter Rindal and his supporters were firm opponents of tax-funded state support for art, and they made an issue of the fact that Bonnén was awarded support on the basis of his Sculpture in Six Parts from 1964.

In 1973 Bonnén became the head of the society Art in the Workplace, which purchases art by young artists and hires it out to companies.

Peter Bonnén is represented in many Danish museum collections and has been awarded many honours. He has also had a road named after him on the outskirts of Ikast.


Peter Bonnén. Photo: Suste Bonnén

More works by Peter Bonnén


Peter Bonnén, Untitled, 2002-04, ARKEN Museum of Modern Art


Peter Bonnén, Untitled, 2002-04, ARKEN Museum of Modern Art