HEERUP & THE COLD WAR
On 14 September, the exhibition ATOMBLOMSTER – HEERUP OG DEN KOLDE KRIG (ATOMIC FLOWERS – HEERUP AND THE COLD WAR) opens at the Heerup Museum. Rockets, nuclear bombs and space ghosts from Henry Heerup’s hand are juxtaposed with cultural-history artefacts in an interdisciplinary exhibition project between the historical experience centre Oplevelsescenter Vestvolden with the bunker Ejbybunkeren, and the Local History Department, Rødovre Library.
Although distant in years, the Cold War is still with us, especially in Rødovre, where civil defence shelters and stores are part of the city scene. Here, west of Copenhagen, preparations were made to receive around 90,000 fleeing Copenhageners in the event of nuclear war and the threat of the cataclysmic nuclear bomb was ever-present in the everyday lives of ordinary people.
Nowadays, few associate this cheerful artist with nuclear bombs and space races, but Heerup found much inspiration in contemporary seminal events. The irreconcilable contrasts typical of the Cold War were ideally suited to his pictorial universe where symbols of life and death often go hand in hand. The exhibition highlights themes such as the fear of all things nuclear, the peace movement, space and arms races, and contemporary popular culture. The exhibition sets peace doves, family life, and visions of the future against alarming growths, nuclear clouds, and warplanes.
Heerup was not, as an artist, in any way afraid of confronting the shady sides of life, but he insisted that they should always be accompanied by hope and love. Thus, via the imagination, the most alarming of scenarios were made human, recognisable, and manageable. Heerup himself said that he fought to maintain an optimistic view:
’Well, I think there is so much that’s good in our times. I’ll admit that I’m not generally scared of nuclear things, not at all. I’m not a pessimist, you understand, for it’s no good to live your life in a downbeat fashion.’
The exhibition title ATOMIC FLOWERS comes from one of Heerup’s work titles and is, in itself, an exquisite linguistic reference to the contrasts prevailing at this time: the fear of destruction as against the faith in economic growth. The post-war period saw important technological, social, and medical developments, sources of both fascination and optimism about the future. Via works loaned from both private collectors and public institutions, we examine how Heerup, as a man of his time, repeatedly transformed the new sentiments and phenomena of reality into imaginative and relevant visual narratives.