Dont forget that you will die! Christian Lemmerz new exhibition at Statens Museum for Kunst
goes against the tide of the contemporary blinkered worship of all that is up-beat and youthful. The sculptor has produced a number of completely new works in bronze, creating a monumental installation reminiscent of a chapel, paying homage to slowness and focuses on death as both the inevitable end of everything and also a transmitter of culture.
New Movement in Heavy Metal
The German-born Danish sculptor Christian Lemmerz (b. 1959) demonstrates the critical meeting of the present with classical education and romantic wit. The main thematic interests in the artists production have been death and transitoriness ever since his debut in 1982. Lemmerz has focused uncompromisingly on the process of decomposition, decay and physical death, among the few remaining taboos in Western culture, for example with his notorious rotting pigs bodies or the more recent original interpretations of the massive pictorial bombardment by the mass media.
His new exhibition LARGO is no exception, although it marks a decisive new development in Lemmerz work as regards both material and reflection. This is the first time Lemmerz has worked in bronze on such a large scale: all the works exhibited weigh between a half and a whole ton. His preferred subject is also expanded in a more cultural-theoretical direction. Death is depicted in all its banality both as the concrete termination of physical life, and as existential emptiness and absence. The exhibition has a rather sacred atmosphere which has an almost redemptive view of death as the well-spring of culture, the unavoidable factor which lies at the root of our longings and efforts to speculate beyond the limited horizons of life.
LARGO has been specifically created for Statens Museum for Kunst, and its conception is an integrated sculptural installation consisting of seven large reliefs and five free-standing sculptures. The tone of the exhibition is struck by the title: largo is also the musical notation for a broad, slow movement which is usually the tempo of solemn and melancholy elegiac melodies. Solemnity, weight and slowness are similarly inherent in both the format of the exhibition and the material of the works.
The works all refer to Christian burial rituals and their appurtenances. The symbolism insistently confronts the viewer face to face with the long period between birth and death. We find an oversized foetus, a hermetically closed coffin, a large bell with no tongue, and a golden flower lying on the floor like a severed head. The seven reliefs refer to the seven days of the Creation poetically displaced so that they deal with the repressed nights of Creation during which darkness and death assume shape.
The Artist as Priest
The exhibition draws comparisons not unironically between the exhibition room and that of the church. Lemmerz has thought about the viewers relationship to the installation from the very first and created a point of departure for a sensory experience that can set both body and thoughts in motion. LARGO possesses an almost religious authority as a contrast to the fast-paced and superficial consumer society of our time; the interplay between the works with the surrounding architecture and light create a spiritual environment.
Christian Lemmerz was born in Karlsruhe in Germany and trained as a sculptor at the Academy of Arts in Carrara in Italy (1978-82) before he settled down in Copenhagen and went to the Royal Academy of Arts there (1982-86) and participated in the working community Værkstedt Værst, which included artists like Erik A. Frandsen and Lars Nørgaard. Lemmerz has worked on several projects together with the painter Michael Kvium since 1985.
Lemmerz has participated in a number of important exhibitions, mostly in Europe and the USA, including Brussels, Cologne, Barcelona, The Hague, Paris, Toronto, Sao Paolo and New York. He is represented in the Saatchi Collection in London as well as in many Danish museums, including AROS, Horsens Museum of Art and Statens Museum for Kunst. Lemmerz has also received a number of grants and prizes, most recently this spring when he received the Thorvaldsen Medal, the highest distinction accorded a Danish sculptor.