- Heerup and the art of play


Did you remember to play today? Play is important for adults and children alike, because it is through play that we get to know ourselves and each other. ‘The reverse of play is not work but depression’, the Danish professor of developmental psychology Dion Sommer has stated, underlining the importance of both good play environments and playful adults. So look forward to an entire exhibition devoted to Henry Heerup’s playful universe!


The licorice bird, stone sculptures created for the Tivolaj artificial playground in Tivoli, and fabulous sketch drawings for the children’s story “Littlefant” are just some of Henry Heerup’s imaginative works, which you can experience for the first time at the Heerup Museum in the exhibition PLAYFUL. Works with playful motifs, and works that Heerup has consciously made available for us to play with, will fill the museum’s space. The exhibition will focus on Henry Heerup as both visual artist and playful adult. Heerup consciously investigated the concept of play and not least that of participating in play, which is more relevant than ever, because through play we create relationships and develop our empathy and ability to create together.


Heerup was preoccupied with play as a way of describing his artistic creation process and proclaimed: ‘My Work is Play and I Like to Play All Day’. He saw play not only as children’s play, but as ‘a free expression of something you have inside you, an expression of life’. Play in connection with Heerup’s art is therefore an expression of his lifelong work in the space between the abstract and the figurative. In the exhibition, you can hear various stories about Heerup’s work directly and spontaneously in the material, e.g. when he, together with a number of contemporary artist colleagues such as Asger Jorn and Carl-Henning Pedersen, created an imaginative decoration for Folkebørnehaven Hjortøgade 3 in Copenhagen (today Børnehuset Cobra). With the aim of inspiring and entertaining the children, the then young artists filled the nursery room with colorful fairy-tale creatures, floating horses and crazy masks in the spontaneous-abstract style. Heerup’s free and spontaneous play becomes particularly clear when he creates art from untraditional everyday materials such as garbage or sweets.


In 1967, Høeghs Pingvin Lakrids Fabrik (on the occasion of Copenhagen’s 800th anniversary) invited 24 leading Danish artists, including Henry Heerup, Per Arnoldi, Poul Gernes and Albert Mertz to create visual art from licorice! Heerup was initially averse to the idea that he would have to work with something edible, but agreed to the game. As Heerup himself said: ‘I don’t know if it was my frugality that did it. But once I got started, I was hooked. I usually talk about the power of motive. Here you can talk about the power of licorice’.

Fun, experimental and on a highly artistic level, Heerup created the licorice bird, not only from the licorice’s black color, but with a rich variety in both colors, shapes and patterns. A tightly built bird of prey, he called ‘Høegh ‘en’, the hawk, composed of various licorice confetti with the body of pink coconut licorice candy pieces, the top of the head made of licorice, the tail of the licorice cigarettes of the time and a licorice beer stopper. The licorice bird and the other licorice pictures were exhibited in Crome and Goldschmidt’s window panes in Copenhagen, and subsequently toured around Denmark – and were later also exhibited in Oslo, Stockholm, Paris, London and New York. The licorice bird has, with the help of private donors, now come to Rødovre and is a new acquisition for the museum’s collection, which you can experience for the first time in the exhibition PLAY.


At Heerup Museum, we want to work with an open and inviting approach to art dissemination, which gives greater opportunity for visitors to the exhibition to contribute their own experiences and play along. In the spring of 2022, we therefore sent out an OPEN CALL, and have subsequently entered into a collaboration with Karen Juhl Petersen, who is a trained play designer from the Design School Kolding. Inspired by current play research, new approaches are thus put into play, i.a. with the help of Juhl Petersen’s new exciting play designs which, through the sensuality and spontaneity of play, turn the rules of the museum on their head, and invite both young and old to play along!


In the exhibition space, there are two giant garbage structures standing on green dots – a clothespin and a capsule. Can you build an airplane, the Red Horse from Heerup’s garden or other junk art? We invite museum visitors to engage with these giant garbage constructions and construct their own playful expressions. A father and his daughter are together attaching a giant crumpled paper ball to the side of the clothespin. ‘Now it’s got a tail’, they say, laughing. Visitors are invited to not only look and think – but act and interact in a different, more bodily and active way – with the art and each other. With the interactive giant garbage constructions and other playful touches in the exhibition, we want to open up greater and more imaginative involvement of visitors and give both adults and children the opportunity for a meaningful play experience at the museum.