SILKEBORG, Denmark (CN) — “It only takes a few seconds; that´s what´s so terrible. And even though the painting is, technically, a dead object, it has great significance to many people. To me, it is incomprehensible that someone can destroy a national treasure simply to start a discussion that they consider important."
So says Jacob Thage, director of Museum Jorn in Silkeborg, Denmark. He describes the recent vandalism of Asger Jorn´s main work, “The Disquieting Duckling,” as a physical attack and severe abuse of trust between guests and museums.
It happened Friday last week when local artist Ibi-Pippi Orup Hedegaard created — what she called — a happening. The Jorn painting got sprinkled with glue, while “Ibi Pippi” was written on the lower right side of the painting.
Furthermore, a photo of the artist appearing from an open eggshell was mounted in the center.
Ibi-Pippi was not alone. A small group entered the museum with a press card, filmed the vandalism and shared it live on the Facebook page of the right-wing political group “The patriots go live”. Another provocative artist, Uwe Max Jensen, was also present.
The painting was immediately sent to the conservators, who managed to remove most of the wet glue. But it remains uncertain whether they can completely restore the art piece. It will take at least a couple of months, said a sad Thage.
He notes many consider Asger Jorn the most influential Scandinavian artist, just after Norwegian painter Edward Munch ("The Scream"). Jorn is a famous member of the CoBrA-group, known for making abstract artwork with a distinct cold-war criticism and innovative juxtapositions of good and bad.
He created “The Disquieting Duckling” in 1959. Today, the painting still evokes strong sentiments in many viewers.
“It is an easy and fun picture to relate to. But it holds different dual meanings. A cute duckling turns into a monstrous and alien creature about to destroy a somewhat petty-bourgeois idyllic scenery,” Thage said.
The duckling´s head also has the shape of a mushroom cloud that forms after a nuclear explosion. A timely theme at the time, given the Americans´ testing of atomic weapons at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean up to 1958.
It was typical of Asger Jorn and his peers to use their art to protest war.
Another trademark of his was to buy “outdated” art, such as landscape portraits, at flea markets and modify them. Ultimately to re-create their relevance by adding a surreal duality. That is precisely what he did with “The Disquieting Duckling."
Ironically, Ibi-Pippi Orup Hedegaard now claims to have done the same by adding what she calls her own modification.
“It is an important discussion. Everyone agrees that Asger Jorn is a great artist — amongst other things, because of this iconic work. But I think one denies that he has overpainted another artist´s work without permission. And that is problematic. So, I have made a double modification, where I believe I take control over the work from Asger Jorn,” she told regional newspaper Midtjyllands Avis.
However, Thage flatly rejects having any discussion with perpetrators of vandalism.
“I neither can nor will support that one destroys art to promote oneself. It is completely misunderstood," he said.
The museum director noted Asger Jorn was an artist who loved to collaborate and give back his earnings to art projects and the museum. In Thage´s view, it is a place of incredible generosity, which guests feel when exploring the exhibitions.
For example, the paintings aren´t protected with glass frames because it puts a layer between the viewer and the art piece that the artist never intended, Thage said. Moreover, by obscuring the textural quality of a painting, glass robs the viewer of the whole sensual experience.
“It is difficult. We´ve had millions of visitors. Now, do we have to change our strategy just because one person has broken our trust?” Thage asked.
He said the vandalism has spurred the need for security discussions about the very open way guests have until now been able to “meet” paintings — both at the Jorn Museum in Silkeborg and art institutions across Denmark.
Thage and his employees are still recovering from the shock.
“It feels like a physical assault. As if it is also violence against us. The experience has been brutal," he said.
Meanwhile, Ibi-Pippi Orup Hedegaard faces charges of destroying museum property, potentially facing a six-figure claim for damage. She says she openly accepts the risk and stands 100% by her art and accepts the court´s decision.