Per Kirkeby

Biography of Per Kirkeby

Per Kirkeby was a Danish painter, sculptor, poet, and filmmaker. He was a pioneering Neo-Expressionist who first achieved widespread recognition alongside German artists Georg Baselitz and Sigmar Polke, as they revolutionized the traditional medium of painting. In contrast to his contemporaries, Per Kirkeby’s work alluded more frequently to geological formations and landscapes rather than figurative subjects and emotional states.


Per Kirkeby specialized in large-scale, dynamic, and colorful paintings and rough black bronze sculptures. He was heavily influenced by nature, art history, and particularly his Danish background and culture. While his technique was similar to that of the Abstract Expressionists in that it involved an intense layering of paint, he thought of his practice as softer than his American counterparts, relying on an emphasis of color rather than form. He is widely recognized for his use of earthy greens and browns.


Born in 1938, Per Kirkeby completed his master’s degree in artic geology at the University of Copenhagen. This academic background in geology heavily influenced his artistic practice. He spent time in Berlin in the 1980s on a DAAD scholarship and maintained a close relationship to Germany throughout his life, holding esteemed teaching positions at the Karlsruhe Academy of Fine Arts and the Städelschule Academy in Frankfurt.


Per Kirkeby has been the subject of numerous exhibitions at major institutions worldwide. Solo shows of his work have been held at the Royal Museum of Fine Art in Copenhagen, Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, Michael Werner Gallery in London and Julius Werner Gallery, Berlin (2009). His works are held by leading public collections worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Tate Gallery in London and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Per Kirkeby was also shown as part of documenta in 1982 and participated in four editions of the Venice Biennale. Notable awards he received include the Herbert-Boeckl-Preis award, the Coutts Contemporary Art Foundation Award, and the Henrik-Steffens-Award.

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