Workers’ Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark
Temporary exhibition April
24th – August 15th 2010
Since the 1960s, Erik Hagens has consistently, and with great social engagement, drawn and painted pictures of today’s people, living in a world characterized by pollution, consumerism and a constant bombardment by the mass media.
Because Erik Hagens holds a position all his own in the world of Danish art, and because there has been no major, comprehensive presentation of his work since 1994, The Workers’ Museum has decided to let his 70th birthday on the 21st of April, 2010, serve as the occasion for a retrospective exhibition.
Erik Hagens’ pictures invite comparison with the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen. They tell a good story, while at the same time uncovering several underlying layers and taking a sharp, critical look at the reality being illustrated. His art is thus both thought-provoking and a sight for sore eyes, often approaching a propagandistic social criticism.
The museum has found it important to unfold his complete oeuvre, first of all because in significant ways Erik Hagens’ work as a whole exemplifies the breaking down of boundaries we have experienced in the last half of the 20th century between artistic creation and communication, and between art and political action. Also, and not least, the intention has been to document the consistency and perseverance that have set the agenda for Erik Hagens’ entire practice as an artist.
The art of Erik Hagens has been called many different things over the years – social realism, naïve art and naturalism, for example – but none of these designations seems an especially precise characterisation of his particular contribution to Danish art. He is in a way rooted in the avant-garde of the 1960s, which had as one of its aims to let art into everyday life. To this, Hagens added a complementary strategy: to let the noise of everyday life into art.
Everyday life depicted figuratively has become the distinguishing feature of Erik Hagens’ work. He has sought out places where ordinary life was to be found, for example represented in Sommer i den sorte firkant (Summer in Nørrebro, Copenhagen) of 1975, the first of a series of large paintings of Copenhagen with emphasis on the city’s atmosphere, vitality, and local communities. It is characteristic of these pictures that they explode the traditional linear perspective to make room for the story to unfold. Sommer i den sorte firkant employs a bird’s-eye perspective, while in the painting Palads of 1978, the outer wall of the large movie theatre is opened up to make room for numerous side stories about what takes place behind the scenes. Palads presents a gigantic pleasure and money-making machine, with glimpses of the teeming life inside the building, from the rats on the loft, the director at his desk and the amorous couple to the dishwashers in the kitchen.
The formats employed by Erik Hagens have not diminished in size over the years, and neither have his stories. One of the points made by Erik Hagens in his more recent pictures is the threat against intimacy. Oversupplied with information and impressions, modern man appears lost in a new way: at the mercy of a sensual bombardment from the surrounding world that seems unstoppable, making it difficult to keep intact the personal, inner space needed to survive.
The book about Erik Hagens is in both Danish and English. With this book, the museum wants to fill a gap in the art-historical treatment of Erik Hagens’ work and a particular period in Danish art when, on the one hand, he was a very active player, for example in relation to the continuation of the Ex-School, and, on the other hand, completely went his own way, developing a language that in both form and content is more in line with artistic currents in South and Central America than with Danish traditions.
The book presents two essays, “Conflicting Forms of Visual Images” by Lars Morell and “A Contrary Course. Erik Hagens’ Pictures of Danish Everyday Life” by Hanne Abildgaard. Erik Hagens himself has contributed to the book with an autobiographic overview, and he has been in charge of the graphic layout. The size of the book is 192 pages, the price 178 D.kr.