For ten years until recently Kirsten Ortwed had a studio close to our flat. I have often passed by, and every time I was struck by the same sort of perception or, rather, by a feeling stemming from the perception.
Since we have to do with a feeling, it is difficult to describe. Nevertheless, I often had to think about the character of this perception. They were vague thoughts, not very productive, which accumulated over time. When I look back, it becomes clear that when looking at Kirsten Ortwed’s sculptures when still being modelled in clay, I had at the back of my head a painting by Anders Zorn – the selfportrait he did for the Uffizi. A studio scene with a clay bust of his wife in the foreground, cut by the edge of the canvas. The modelled clay is wonderfully painted: Zorn has managed to make the painted surface and the representation of the modelled clay become almost congruent.
The single parts of the portrait bust (hat, hair, fur collar) are not explicitly representational, their representation flows from their totality. But in the picture the single parts are representational simply because they are painted, in the sense that the way they are painted corresponds to the represented modelling.
What I have experienced in Kirsten Ortwed’s studio is something similar. Her works are, as one says, abstract, but cannot be reduced to neither form nor material. They are not representational, yet reach beyond their purely physical properties. Just like Zorn’s painting casts a veil of perception, as it were, over the real sculpture, Kirsten Ortwed’s works are, when looked at, surrounded by a layer of space, a by the modelling modelled layer, which furnishes a description of the sculpture, of the peceived.
A sculpture by Kirsten Ortwed comes about step by step as a series of perceptions and the changes they undergo, and in this sense one might say it sets up a mirror in space in which perception perceives itself. I shall here confine myself to the mere experience of the work and not elaborate it theoretically, although it would touch quite a few interesting points. But perhaps I have indicated where the source of the forceful vitality lies – a vitality without which a work of art is nothing.
This leads me to another perspective of which I wasn’t aware until recently and which I found in the writings of Frank Stella. Stella occupies himself in several articles with some phenomena in contemporary art and criticises what he calls their “literalness”. By this he means works of art that are principally not different from everyday objects and function along the same patterns as these, art, that is – that’s how he describes the situation – that no longer takes place in an illusionistic space, that doesn’t try to reach beyond itself, where aesthetic quality exhausts itself in design and where “Grandeur” is an unknown word.
I think some of the concepts used by Stella could be made clearer by closer analysis, but what he has seen, he has seen correctly. For instance, to indicate it briefly, I would say that we have to do with a discarding of semantical space in which even abstract art such as Stella’s took place. And I think it has to do with the appearance of the computer: it is a frame in which everything is given meaning and, conversely, all contents witout this “home” becomes mere material and therefore, as Stella says, literal.
This produces an art so overwhelmed by the systems that gives it meaning (technology, the art business, pop culture, etc.) that it, without noticing, surrenders a priori. It is an impoverished way to make art – so as if one were satisfied by kicking things when playing football is a possibility.
Here lies the significance of Kirsten Ortwed today: She shows it can be done differently, that it is possible to make art by constantly inventing everything oneself. That’s difficult but therefore more important than ever. Is it worthwhile to occupy oneself with art that doesn’t depend on imagination and inventiveness? No art “says” as much about itself as handmade art: only here can we read off what hasn’t succeeded. Only where errors may occur can, conversely, something be “right”.
I once wrote that a painting is a sketch for a painting – for exactly the painting that it is. The same thing must be true of sculpture, for also with a sculpture the artist says: “This is how this problem should be solved – or better: formulated”. This is the fundamental meaning in art, and the sharper it is done the more interesting it is as art. This preoccupation is alien to literal art.
That art is a sketch for itself is in principle what determines that it of its own, so to speak, carries meaning and it is what creates its semantic space. That’s why Kirsten Ortwed’s work, in relation to the contemporary mainstream, is radical. It doesn’t just produce an object in space, it builds the space that the sculpture takes up so that the semantic reach it creates comprizes itself. In a text, ‘Lenhard Holschuh’, Frank Stella writes how it became possible with modern sculpture to draw in space – but how Holschuh has managed to paint with steel in space. When I now think of the painting by Zorn I was often reminded of in Kirsten Ortwed’s studio I would say: She has managed to paint with space.
Text by Troels Wörsel
Kirsten Ortwed is born in Copenhagen
(Lives and words in Cologne and Pietrasanta, Italy)
Studies at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, in the sculpture class of Arthur Koepcke and Gunnar Aagard Andersen
Scholarship holder in New York
Awarded the Silkeborg Artist Award
Receives a three-year scholarship from the Danish Arts Foundation
Awarded the Edstrandska Stiftelsen Nordic Prize
Receives the Eckersberg Medal from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen
Starts working in Pietrasanta, Italy
Represents Denmark at the 47th Venice Biennale
Receives the Carl Nielsen and Anne Marie Carl-Nielsen Award of Honour, one of the most important accolades for Danish artists
Inauguration of the Raoul Wallenberg Monument which she created for the Swedish diplomat and hero of the resistance during World War II. This takes place in conjunction with a solo exhibition at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm
Receives the Thorvaldsen Medal from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen
Receives the Vilhelm Pacht’s Artist Award
Selected Solo Shows
Kirsten Ortwed. Turning Time – Galleri Susanne Ottesen, Copenhagen
Kirsten Ortwed. West Dealer – Galerie Nordenhake, Berlin
Kirsten Ortwed. Full Length – Installation of the sculpture, Havnegade, Copenhagen
Kirsten Ortwed. Skulpturen / Bozzetti / Arbeiten auf Papier – Galerie Fred Jahn, Munich
Run Time – Galerie Nordenhake, Stockholm
Kirsten Ortwed. Bozzetti und Zeichnungen – Galerie Fred Jahn, Munich
Kirsten Ortwed. Full Length – Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen (cat.)
Kirsten Ortwed. Favoritter – Galleri Susanne Ottesen, Copenhagen
Kirsten Ortwed. Heavymetalopenspace – Kewenig Galerie, Cologne
Cinque Terre – DCA Gallery, New York
Kirsten Ortwed. A Collection / An Artist – KUNSTEN Museum of Modern Art Aalborg (formerly: Nordjyllands Kunstmuseum), Aalborg, dk (cat.)
Kirsten Ortwed. Cinque Terre – Galleri Susanne Ottesen, Copenhagen
Kirsten Ortwed – Moderna Museet, Stockholm
Hommage to Raoul Wallenberg – Inauguration ceremony of the place and the monument, Raoul Wallenberg Square, Stockholm
The Sculptor’s Palette – Galleri Susanne Ottesen, Copenhagen
Stop Over – Overgaden Institute of Contemporary Art, Copenhagen
Kirsten Ortwed. The Sculptor’s Palette – Horsens Museum of Modern Art, Horsens, dk (cat.)
Kirsten Ortwed. Ghosts among others – Galleri Susanne Ottesen, Copenhagen
Kirsten Ortwed. Zeichnungen – Galerie Fred Jahn, Munich
Kirsten Ortwed. Sculptures – Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw (cat.)
Kirsten Ortwed – 47 Biennale di Venezia, Danish pavilion, Venice (cat.)
Kirsten Ortwed – Kunstforeningen, Copenhagen
DCA Gallery, New York
Kirsten Ortwed. Les yeux du portrait – Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes, Nantes, fr (cat.)
Kirsten Ortwed. Bronzen und Zeichnungen – Galerie Fred Jahn, Munich
Kirsten Ortwed. Torso in zwei Teilen – Städtische Museen, Heilbronn (cat.)
Kirsten Ortwed. Shift Head Turned Out Of The Blue Hit Distant Angles – Galleri Susanne Ottesen, Copenhagen
Kirsten Ortwed – The Nordic Arts Centre Sveaborg, Helsinki; The Living Art Museum, Reykjavik (cat.)
Galerie Nordenhake, Stockholm
Moderna Museet, Stockholm
Kirsten Ortwed. Skulpturen – Galerie Maria Wilkens, Cologne
Kirsten Ortwed. Skulpturen – Bonner Kunstverein, Bonn; Overbeck-Gesellschaft, Lübeck; Bremer Gesellschaft für aktuelle Kunst, Bremen (cat.)
Galerie Lång, Malmö, se
Kirsten Ortwed. Skulpturen – Städtische Kunsthalle Mannheim, Mannheim (cat.)
Kirsten Ortwed. Zeichnungen 1984–1986 – Galerie Fred Jahn, Munich
Kirsten Ortwed. Skulpturen / Zeichnungen – Galerie Tilly Haderek, Stuttgart (cat.)
Galleri Susanne Ottesen, Copenhagen (further presentations until today)
Kirsten Ortwed. Beelden – Galerie Jurka, Amsterdam
Kirsten Ortwed. Skulpturen – Galerie Fred Jahn, Munich
Galerie Olsson, Stockholm
Kirsten Ortwed. Durchschnitt – Galerie Fred Jahn, Munich (cat.) (further presentations until today)
Galerie Nemo, Eckernförde
Galleri Arnesen, Copenhagen
Galerie Nordenhake, Stockholm (further presentations until today, i.a. in Berlin)
Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Aarhus, dk (cat.)
Galleri 38, Copenhagen