Join us for a journey through barricades, barren landscapes and celestial bodies as ARKEN presents Else Alfelt’s poetic world
19 March to 18 September 2022
Luminous mountains and lonely moons have entered ARKEN. This spring and summer we present a major exhibition of Else Alfelt’s work, focusing on her ability to evoke a sense of intimacy, presence and healing. The exhibition showcases a fascinating life’s work full of inner and outer landscapes that capture, with rare sensitivity, the human quest for immersion and harmony in an often chaotic world. Created in close collaboration with the Carl-Henning Pedersen & Else Alfelts Museum, the show is the artist’s first retrospective for the last 20 years.
Art in times of change
Else Kirsten Tove Alfelt (1910-1974) was active during times of great upheaval. She was a child during the First World War and made a name for herself as an artist in the 1930s and 40s, achieving her international breakthrough at a point in time where many pressing existential questions for humanity were on the agenda. The world wars prompted keen self-scrutiny and a need for reconstruction, and art had to be operative for the individual human being. In response, Alfelt created a light-filled and colourful world that invites us into nature’s undulating and jagged forms and out into the cosmos. Among her luminous works we can find calm, depth and dynamism, and today we could certainly use some of the healing radiating from her works.
Alfelt was keenly interested in the political and revolutionary potential of art. She held a very special position among the artistic avant-garde movements of the time. Her works commanded attention, but as a person she deliberately underplayed her own position, letting the collective take precedence over the individual. She insisted on working for the community as part of the ‘people’. Art ranked above all else for Alfelt, and she was fuelled by an ideal of fighting habitual thinking and established hierarchies of power with creativity and humility.
Between heaven and earth
Right from the outset of her career, Else Alfelt’s imagery is full of recurring figures such as sharp points, spirals and circles that direct one’s thoughts towards mountains, crystals and cosmic celestial bodies – not least the moon. These elements reflect her own sensuous encounters with nature, imbued with a strong sense of immediacy and presence. With her works, she conveys an experience of presence and dissolved time, which she herself articulates in this description of her experience of the mountains:
‘I think mountains are a boundary between the real and the unreal, they are the place where heaven and earth meet […] When I walk in the mountains, I feel this fantastic sense of connection with all times. Nothing here is linked to a specific time, I believe that this is how the world was at the very beginning, and this is how it will be at the end. It is a place of enduring certainty in a world that is constantly changing.’
A groundbreaking artist
Else Alfelt was a central and pioneering figure at the time when Danish art had to redefine itself around the Second World War. Though self-taught, she was everywhere on the artistic avant-garde scene. She achieved an international breakthrough, exhibiting her work in the United States and France. Together with Carl-Henning Pedersen, with whom she formed a couple from 1933, she was part of the circle around the journal Helhesten (1941–44) and of the international Cobra movement (1948–51). She was one of the many women artists of the time who played a crucial role but were later written out of art history. With her original and consistent style, she is an important artist in a Danish and international context who, with her focus on immediacy, presence and healing, has something very special to offer us today.
In an art world consisting mainly of men, she worked with figureless tableaux and complex symphonies of basic geometric shapes. She emphasised mood over rationality in her open-ended works, which call for empathy rather than deciphering. Her keen sense of dynamic forms and texture gives her a much greater affinity with artists such as Sonia Delaunay (1885–1979) and Sonja Ferlov Mancoba (1911–1984) than with the leading male, Danish figures of the Cobra movement such as Asger Jorn and Henry Heerup. First and foremost, her consistent style saw her carve out a very special position within the avant-garde movements of the time, which makes her an important artist in a Danish and international context alike.
The exhibition is generously supported by
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