Probably Poul Gernes (1925–1996) would not have wanted his name to be mentioned in this text. He never wanted his artworks to be about himself, or even about the artworks themselves. The person behind the art was irrelevant, he believed, and he favoured a collective mindset, both artistically and politically. Gernes created several public artworks in Copenhagen that are also some of the city’s largest. The idea was not to leave his personal mark—instead, he was thinking about the general public and wanted to provide aesthetic impressions and experiences.
Gernes’ ideas about the function of art reflect the spirit of the times. In the 1960s, he was one of the founders of the experimental arts school Eks-skolen in Copenhagen. In line with contemporary political and social ideals, the school’s students were encouraged not to create art simply for art’s sake. The collective was emphasized, art was created to serve society and had a clear purpose: it should be easy to understand, appealing, and should impact the environments and people surrounded by the art. Based on these ideas, Gernes developed an idiom in which he used clear shapes and bright colours in the belief that these characteristics made people feel good. He wanted to create art for a better society. He disapproved of art becoming a commodity and therefore refused for many years to exhibit at commercial galleries. Instead, he dedicated himself to public commissions where his name became less important and where he had the space to work on a large scale and with spontaneous expressions. When he was awarded the commission to create an artwork on each floor in Herlev Hospital in Copenhagen (1968–1976), he called himself a decorator instead of an artist. In the rooms and hallways of the hospital, everything from walls, doors, signs, and clocks, to an entire auditorium was painted in his bright colours.
Many of these ideas are collected in Gernes’ pyramid. Like a platform in four directions, the distinct shape has been created for the public to use, sit on, climb, and play on. The artwork is in dialogue with several other artworks at Wanås that invite and either directly or indirectly create collective activities. In 1991, Gunilla Bandolin made her own variation of the pyramid form, one through which visitors can walk. Yoko Ono asks us to write on pieces of paper for her wish trees. Jacob Dahlgren works with exact measurements and bright colours in Primary Structure, on which we can climb as well. Take a seat on Poul Gernes’ pyramid—and do it together!
– Albin Hillervik