With lightness of touch and painterly dexterity, John Kørner explores his medium’s fundamental duality - its physical presence and its descriptive powers - and the potential for communication or miscommunication that ensues. Kørner has referred to his apparently cheerful paintings as 'Problems'. The viewer is often presented with non-figurative forms including multicoloured ovals and dancing arabesques that symbolise a kind of pre-thought, and simple figurative elements that remind us of the ways in which paint can be used to evoke universally recognisable things: a bicycle, a crocodile, a ship, a person. When displayed simultaneously, often on grounds of intense colour in the works for which Kørner first became known, these abstract signs and nameable things cause the eye to dance between levels of recognition.
Kørner's work encourages musings that can seem contradictory: on the one hand it is apparently open and easy-going, on the other it seems freighted with awkward questions about representation, knowledge, or faith. Whether asking fundamental existential questions or alluding to specific world events, the work speaks unquestionably to our own moment.
The social aspect of the viewing experience is of particular interest to Kørner who sometimes shows his work outside the traditional confines of the gallery and creates installations in which elements of theatre and performance add to a sense of collective experience. Expanding his repertoire into three dimensions, Kørner has created painted ceramics incorporating some of his motifs, as featured in tableaux such as Mr and Mrs Smith at Work, 2006. Ceramic forms also featured in Fallen Fruit from Frisland, where they appeared in a boat built by Kørner’s great-grandfather on a manmade ‘wave’ covered in a geometrically patterned carpet – a grandiose theatrical element designed to accentuate the drama of looking and thinking.
In 2008 Kørner completed War Problems, a series sixteen large-scale paintings, each representing a Danish solider killed in combat in Afghanistan and each bearing a single name, which function as a collective expression of the human tragedy imparted by this war. For his 2011 paintings Women for Sale, issues of prostitution and trafficking in Denmark were a point of departure. More recently, aspects of contemporary geopolitics including imbalances of wealth and the displacement of populations are alluded to with various degrees of abstraction and metaphor. For his 2013 Victoria Miro exhibition Fallen Fruit from Frisland, Kørner made reference to an ancestral landscape that over the centuries has been under constant attack from the elements, endlessly renewed. His 2016 Victoria Miro Mayfair exhibition, Apple Bombs, featured a constellation of seemingly incongruous pictorial elements that set in motion dialogues concerning wellbeing, human relationships, consumption and survival.
Life in a Box, the title of the artist’s fifth solo show at the gallery, held in 2019, refers to the things – physical, emotional, conceptual – that constrain us and the ways in which we attempt to outrun or overcome them. The accelerated pace of contemporary life was a conceptual touchstone across the two- and three-dimensional elements on view, which drew on ideas of altered states and the sublime in nature while investigating the aesthetics and codes of sport as both a competitive pursuit and a galvanising spectacle. For Kørner a social aspect is key, and the exhibition was conceived to invite camaraderie and participation, as well as alter notions of momentum and scale, as viewers moved through the gallery space.
About the artist
Born in Århus, Denmark in 1967, John Kørner lives and works in Copenhagen. John Kørner: Intercontinental Super Fruits, the first solo museum exhibition of Kørner’s work in the United States, was recently on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, USA (18 November 2021– 30 January 2022). His work was also recently on view at Kunsten Museum of Modern Art Aalborg, Denmark, in Work it Out, a group exhibition addressing the working life of the future (24 September 2021–16 January 2022).
Previously, Kørner has had solo exhibitions at institutional venues including Konsthall 16/Riksidrottsmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden (2019); Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, Sint-Martens-Latem, Belgium (2018); Helsinki Contemporary, Helsinki, Finland (2018); Museum Emma, Espoo, Finland (2018); Brandts, Odense, Denmark (2016); Museum Belvedere, Oranjewoud, Netherlands (2016); Herning Museum of Contemporary Art, Denmark (2003, 2013); The Workers’ Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark (2011); ARoS Århus Kunstmuseum, Denmark (2006) and Moderna Museet, Sweden (2005).
Kørner’s work is held in institutional collections including Arken, Museum of Modern Art, Denmark; ARoS, Århus Museum of Art, Denmark; HEART – Herning Museum of Contemporary Art, Hearning, Denmark; Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden; National Gallery of Canada – Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Canada; National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark; Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Copenhagen, Denmark; Rubell Family Collection, Miami, USA; Statens Museum for Kunst – SMK, Denmark; Tate, UK.