Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark
April 21 – July 04, 2021
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art presents the Danish painter Troels Wörsel – on Paper. When Wörsel died in 2018, a considerable number of paper works were left in his studio. The great majority have never been exhibited, and this sudden wealth of works on paper gives us an obvious opportunity to shed new light on an important artist whose paintings are represented in Louisiana’s collection.
Troels Wörsel (1950-2018), who would have been 70 this year, lived abroad from 1974. His production, up to the end of the 1980s when he achieved permanent gallery representation here in Denmark, is on the whole unknown. This applies to among other things his participation in important exhibitions on the German art scene in the years 1979-1983. In 2007 he represented Denmark at the Venice Biennale.
Wörsel was a thoughtful and in his own way fastidious artist. The material is nevertheless permeated with an insatiable appetite, especially for all the verbal aspects of painting, understood as text in pictures and as the wealth of signs embedded in every picture. In his art, Wörsel never revealed himself – in that respect he was ‘cool’; but he shared what preoccupies every original artistic talent: a world on a surface. And for that reason, he was in many respects also often a man for the art and the artists.
Wörsel‘s point of departure is the legacy of the conceptual art of the 1960s, which he freely combined with painting in line with a number of artists of the period. The 90 works in the exhibition are all on paper, but are clearly the work of a painter. Hence the title ‘Painter on Paper‘. His art is not evidence of the artist’s internal life, nor does it to any great extent embrace the external world. The motifs and materials of the studio were in more than one sense the world that the works encompassed.
The exhibition is a whole cornucopia of art-internal phenomena – not in a dry and didactic way; on the contrary with an insatiable appetite for the relative mystery that the genesis of any artwork is. When you know that throughout the years Wörsel enthusiastically read philosophical texts and had a strong interest in gastronomy, the idea that every artwork is a ‘recipe‘ for a picture suddenly becomes palatable.
In 1985, the artist himself pointed to the analogy between painting and sauce, and in the same way, the work titles not infrequently hint at their production by referring to sheets of paper, tape, notes, copying and handling, or to motivic clusters of film strips, paint pots, wallpapering tables, brushes and the harsh, artificial light of their conception from the workshop studio lamps.
The exhibition shows how nothing was alien to him, and that everything finds an expression. He cultivated the old masters, at times comparing the grammars of art to the processes of gastronomy, and was intensely preoccupied with both cycle racing and theoretical science. And while his knowledge thus reaches out in many directions, the works also constitute a true cabinet of insights into the visual world. His oeuvre was not about what art should be, but rather about what it can be when it fastens on the white surface.
Wörsel was cool, a constructor. Even when the works seem to consist of swathes of expressive strokes in gaudy colours, they are devoid of spontaneous emotions. In a way they show us the becoming of art: On the knife-edge of the brush stroke, as Danish professor of art history Jacob Wamberg puts it in Louisiana Magasin no. 52.
Mastering the material was not in vogue in art when Troels Wörsel appeared on the scene in the mid-1970s. Nevertheless the exhibition shows clearly, through all the experiments, that he did just that. Wörsel created art in a way and at a level where conventional descriptions of style – abstract, expressionist, Pop and conceptual – were far from his thoughts and could hardly be used as labels.
The exhibition shows art from four decades and as such has everything: well-known features such as small emblematic horsemen made with a drill, and superb configurations of older motifs from his final year. But a number of material experiments with airbrush from the 1970s and a sketch in watercolours for the Rococo service ‘Nymphenburg‘ from the 1980s have never been seen before. Similarly, a 2 x 9 metre allegory of smoke and wine painted with tempera in Florence in 1980 will be new material for most people. In the context of Danish art, it will also be clear that the viewer stands before an artistic output that still needs some ‘digesting’. ‘Painter on Paper‘ is a contribution to this.