Poul Gerne's sketch for the artwork Pyramide shows a number of people on the large-scale pyramid, which becomes a lively meeting place. The artist described his pyramid as a place “where people would be able to hang out” and emphasize his thoughts about the social purpose of art. The six-metre-high pyramid of wood was initially a proposal submitted to a sculpture competition in 1967 for a public artwork at Israels Plads in Copenhagen. The submission didn’t win, but in 2016 it was realized for the first time at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk outside of Copenhagen in connection with a solo exhibition of Gernes’ works.
Gernes’ ideas about the purpose of art aligned with the spirit of the times. In the 1960s, he contributed to the founding of the experimental art school known as “Eks-skolen” in Copenhagen. In line with the political ideals of the time, the school’s students were encouraged to create art with emphasis on the collective—art was created to serve society and should be easily understood, appeal to many, and impact the environment and the people that the art surrounded. Gernes wanted to create art for a better society. He found it disturbing when art became a marketable product and therefore refused for many years to exhibit at commercial galleries. Instead, he dedicated his energy to public commissions which gave him the space to work on a large scale and have an immediate impact. When he received the commission to create an artwork for all floors of Herlev Hospital in Copenhagen (1968–1976), he called himself a decorator instead of an artist. Throughout the hospital’s rooms and corridors, everything from walls, doors, signs, clocks, and an entire lecture hall was painted in his characteristically bright colours.
The pyramid that is now being constructed at Wanås—adaptation of the original sketch by the artist Anders Krüger—combines a place for resting, a bench and a sculpture. Gernes called it a “social sculpture.” Several artworks at Wanås invite and create directly or indirectly collective activities. Some artists are closely related to Gernes in their manner of thinking. Jeppe Hein has used the bench as a starting point for his art since 2000. He transforms the anticipated construction, making the benches become active rather than restful places. He mixes the conventional functional understanding of a bench with an artistic perspective of creating dialogue between the artwork and its viewer. When he exhibited in 2013, he described it in this way: “Certain works will appeal to people’s senses, while others demand active engagement. Some will create a fun situation and encourage people to begin a dialogue with each other, while others confront people with basic questions that only they can answer.” The following year, Molly Haslund exhibited her coordination models. Her sculptures are minimalist in their expression but lead to play and activity, and they create movement. At Wanås, Haslund has works with well-known objects, such as the wall bars commonly found in Swedish gymnasiums and swings which she reworks and multiplies. Visitors activate and become a part of the artwork, either by themselves or as a part of a group. She describes her artwork: “I portray pleasure and conflict in the contradictions that are inherent in everyday objects and situations, in rituals, music, and popular culture. By constructing challenges and using personal expressions, I want to create new poetic interpretations.”
More than 50 years after Gernes made his sketch, the sculpture is being realized thanks to a donation by Klara Karolines Fond, established by Aase and Poul Gernes. The sketch shows such visitors as a woman in a bridal gown, a child in a soapbox derby car, a resting dog, people in sunhats holding ice cream cones. The image gives a clear instruction: the pyramid is to be used. Gernes also created a scale model of the pyramid, which can be found at the Museum of Artistic Process and Public Art in Lund. There, visitors will also find another draft by the artist that shows his suggestions for colouring the water tower in Munka-Ljungby, where Gernes lived for 30 years in the later part of his life. In the model, the tower is striped from top to bottom. It is dizzying to think of the 48-metre-high tower being painted according to Gernes’ vision. The sketch is dated 1969. Maybe it’s about time?
– Albin Hillervik