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Absolute Installation

Olav Christopher Jenssen

"Forgetfulness, like microorganisms at work under the beautifully varnished surface."¹ Berlin-based Olav Christopher Jenssen had his breakthrough at the prestigious international exhibition Documenta in 1992. Since then he has been exhibiting at major European museums and galleries and is considered today to be one of our most renowned contemporary artists.

© Olav Christopher Jenssen, Untitled (Meditations on Georges de La Tour), 1991–1992, installation

Untitled (Meditations on Georges de La Tour) consists of 107 small paintings recessed into the wall, like slits or small windows into a peculiar world. The work was made for Paal-Helge Haugen’s critically acclaimed collection of poems by the same title. Jenssen frequently looks to literature, as inspiration, or as elements to be directly incorporated in the form of text fragments. The title gives the work an extra dimension, as it harkens both to Haugen’s poetry and the French baroque artist George de La Tour, known for his sacred, unadorned scenes in the glow of flickering candlelight.

This installation is a departure for Jenssen. He moves from a tighter more painterly vernacular, to a simpler more playful and primitivistic expression evocative of such artists as Paul Klee (1879–1940). But where Klee is thematic and narrative, one gets the sense that Jenssen is a mediator, simply bearing these – already existent – archetypal forms forth. The figures suggest organic phenomena, like rime frost and fossils. A microcosm like nature in a mystical way takes form. Sacred, yet fleeting – qualities one also encounters in La Tour’s universe.

The brush work varies from thickly painted, broad strokes to delicate lines with an accidental and “doodling” aspect. Jenssen occupies a unique position in European contemporary painting; he is in many ways at a remove from modernism’s seriousness and postmodernism’s irony. There is something fundamental and obvious in his expression. Something fragile, weightless and yet also extremely physical. Jenssen himself says that he wants to reach a zero point, where the image no longer needs explanation, where it is enough in and of itself.²

Olav Christopher Jenssen was born in Sortland, Norway, in 1954. He lives and works in Berlin.

Line Engen

¹ Paal-Helge Haugen, Meditasjoner over Georges de LaTour, J.W. Cappelens Forlag a.s. Kleinheinrich, 1993, xi.
² Peter Herbstreuth, «Olav Christopher Jensen: Ausdruck, der keiner Erklärung mehr bedarf», s. 258 i Kunstforum Bd. 156, juni 1994.