Henning and Heerup International
On June 16th 1962, the 31st Venice Biennale opened its doors to a magnificent exhibition in the Danish Pavilion, featuring more than eighty paintings and works on paper by Carl-Henning Pedersen and thirty-five stone sculptures by Henry Heerup. That year, the national committee had departed from the logic of the previous Biennale of selecting only one artist to represent the nation. Instead, the choice fell on what the Danish press described as an ‘odd couple’. At a personal level, their friendship seemed obvious as inferred by a note in Carl-Henning Pedersen’s archive with the words: ‘I’ve sent the kids off to the Heerups’.
At a professional level, Henning and Heerup remained closely linked throughout their lives. They met in their twenties and both occupied a central position in the group of artists who spearheaded the spontaneous-abstract figurative painting in Denmark. Particularly their critical contribution to the journals linien and Helhesten as well as their being part of the international Cobra movement tipped the balance in favour of asking the two friends to represent Denmark and Danish art on the main stage of world art. The committee’s choice was characteristic of the Danish self-image back in 1962 while the massive interest from the world press is an indication that these two artists hit a special nerve at the time.
With Henning and Heerup International, the Heerup Museum and the Carl-Henning Pedersen & Else Alfelts Museum welcome visitors to examine for themselves what these two artists wanted to show the world as Danish representatives in 1962. More specifically through the works that earned them acclaim, but equally why, at this point of time, the two artists roused the interest of the international art world. What kind of chord did they strike that allowed them to collectively enrapture the world press?
The Danish Pavilion at the 31st Venice Biennale acts as a prism, illuminating how Carl-Henning Pedersen and Henry Heerup, in their separate ways, mirror significant ideals in post-war Denmark. Popular and antielitist ideals are glimpsed in their representation, side by side with complex ideas such as freedom and national identity. In light of its special history, therefore, the Venice Biennale illustrates the strength of the two Danish artists in an international context, well aware that both had an extensive programme of important international exhibitions that year.