Interview with Knud W. Jensen ; part 2
BROADCAST: 1968 | DURATION: 00:23:24
Interviewing Knud W. Jensen, founder and director of the Louisiana museum while Studs was in Denmark.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel As you're saying this, again I can't help but think -- of course, I just came up to your office here about three quarters of an hour ago -- the people, their familiarity, they're at home with it because it is so natural. They're not there to say, Gee, I must understand this or else I'll, I won't be up to my friend when it comes to cocktail parties.
Knud W. Jensen No. [laughter] No, I think they enjoy it in a very natural and unpretentious way, and they get familiar with it. That's the idea of it, that they gradually get familiar, because modern art is not easy to understand, always. It is created by people who have tried to solve philosophical or artistical problems, and who are expressing themselves in a certain way, which is complicated. And you've got to know something about the history of modern art to find out whether it is constructivistic or expressionistic, whatever it is. And this, it is, in fact, a language which you must learn. Picasso once said that, "I don't understand English, but anyhow English is a language, and if I wanted to talk English I had to study it, to talk it, and to speak English." And this is the same with modern art. I mean, this is a thing -- you can't just go into a museum of modern art and have all the fun and pleasure and delight you should like to have at once. You've got to get accustomed to it, you've got to learn something about it, gradually, getting familiar with it.
Studs Terkel As you're talking, perhaps a couple more questions. Seated with Mr. Knud W. Jensen, who is the founder and the director of this Louisiana Museum. Young Danish artists, this Picasso exhibition right now, the works of internationally known artists. In your catalog, you speak of international art, too, the breaking down of boundaries, too, this aspect, this universal language. At the same time, we know too, you spoke of the roots of different cultures, having different roots. Are there young -- you show the work of young Danish artists, too.
Knud W. Jensen Yes. Up till now, the collection is mainly a Danish collection, and now we are gradually trying to enlarge it and getting more and more foreign art, because 10 years ago, everybody was much more provincial. In every country, there was a kind of provincialism where one was more or less having, giving preference to to local artists. But art has been internationalized, and there's a huge public in the whole world now for modern art. And so the the boundaries have been broken down, and through the many exhibitions, through the whole, the circulation, through the growth of tourism and so on. And this demands that a museum of modern art should be an international museum and not only confined to national art. On the other hand, it's no idea that every museum of modern art in the whole world is having the same, showing the same artists. There must be a special touch, a special idea behind every collection. And I think it's very valuable that we should continue collecting young Danish artists and Danish art in general also in this place.
Studs Terkel I'm thinking we should tell the people listening just exactly where we're at once more in case they visit Denmark. Copenhagen's about 20 miles away to the north, along the sound, and there is Sweden. Not at this moment can I see it, but you can during the day. On a clear day you can see forever--
Knud W. Jensen And this garden delights. Perhaps we could end with reading just a piece of your own writing, for the, your own credo really, the foreword there to that, Mr. Jensen. And this is -- and I head back for Copenhagen after a very delightful afternoon here. A very rewarding one, indeed.
Knud W. Jensen Well, if you really think that the listeners would care for that, I'll do it. I think I've been talking too much and too long and and too boring. But anyhow, if you want me to read it I'll do it. "Louisiana. Each generation forms its own specific cultural milieu, and creates new institutions to meet its requirements. The radical changes of living conditions in our time, better possibilities for education, travel, and leisure, have increased man's need for knowledge and experience. Cultural institutions are therefore confronted with new demands, having a hu- a much larger public than in the past. A young museum like Louisiana has benefited by the situation. In spite of its position 30 kilometers, 20 miles, from the capital it had over 2 million visitors during the first 10 years of its existence, and its exhibitions, publications, and musical evenings are regularly attended by a wide public. Louisiana is a place for recreation where art can be met on equal terms. The work of art can be enjoyed in the setting of modern architecture, emphasizing the interplay between the various forms of art. The abundant vegetation surrounding the museum, the park, and the sea beyond create a congenial atmosphere for quiet contemplation. On the other hand, Louisiana is not just an idyll. Art demands something from us. It challenges us. That is the reason why the museum, apart from showing its own collection, has arranged about 10 visiting exhibitions of foreign art every year, which have had a stimulating effect on Danish cultural life, inviting debate and widening knowledge of activities in other parts of the world. Apart from creating a milieu rich in impressions and variety, Louisiana aims at presenting material for the assessment of our own situation." And I would like to add that of course modern art is not just an idyll. It is very often a very aggressive art, a very phys-philosophical art, a very problematic art, inviting debate. And you've got to to to -- it challenges us. You've got to to give a response to that. You've got to work with these problems, and it is also a critical art, very critical against our modern society, our, the whole society of our western countries. And so a very important part of a museum of modern art is to invite, to debate of the time we live in, and to take up the most essential problem. [pause in recording]
Studs Terkel Essential problems, he's about to say. He will. The word, the second syllable will come through as Marty Robinson turns over the tape, that was on a portable machine. Knud Jensen was just reading part of the credo that was included in the catalog as you enter the museum, that he had written himself, and now he continues talking on the theme, the theme of the modern artist and the world he lives in today. The artist as commentator, perhaps, too, as prophet. We continue with Mr. Jensen's conversation. [pause in recording]
Studs Terkel The last part of what Mr. Jensen was talking about, you you're talking about contemporary art, [particularly?] being the challenge it is, perhaps more than ever in the history of art, an actual challenge to preconceived notions and thoughts.
Knud W. Jensen Yes. I I think that a lot of modern artists are really very critical against our society, and they are trying to show the the weak- weakness of our modern civilization. And this critique must be discussed, of course, and modern art is challen- challenging challenging us in a way. And we've got to find out who we are, and which time we live in, and what we could do with ourselves and our lives. And this is for me the most interesting. It's not just an aesthetic point of view, that you enjoy a piece of art, like sitting in a good, big armchair with a good cigar. You've got to get more alive, being confronted with art. You've got to find out who you are yourself. And this is the question which art is posing you. So Louisiana is not just meant to be an idyll, as I said before. It must be a place where things are discussed, where problems are discussed, where sometimes rather hot debates or polemics are being carried out, because if art just becomes a kind of a pleasure, or a hobby, or whatever it could be, you don't understand what the artists really tell you. Because they want you to confront the problems of our time, because they work with them themselves. They are desperately working with the most essential problems of the time we live in. So you've got to take up this challenge.
Studs Terkel It's more than, obviously more than just aestheticism. It's life and -- we come back to another whole. You felt you felt more like a whole man, art and nature, now you're talking about art and life itself. Not the -- you're talking about the non-separation of the two, the fusing of the two, aren't you?
Knud W. Jensen Yes, of course, this this has a kind of a moral aspect, you, one could say, because you could have a person who would be a big lover of art. You have had, for instance, you had for instance, during the Second World War, certain co- commanders of the concentration camps who played Mozart on records and who was very keen on on listening to Beethoven or reading poems by Goethe, and doing the most atrocious things in in their work. One could also imagine that, say, for instance, an American gangster would collect a wonderful collection of the most [ritual?] things in the whole history of art, having works by the French impressionists, or by Degas, or by Cezanne, and so on, and getting a certain kind of social status, having such a collection around him. But the things he does every day in, more or less, im- immoral, or - not not rather-
Knud W. Jensen Inhuman things, in his business life, would be very big, a great contrast to his love for the arts. So you can't just judge a person from whether he's loving art, or collecting art, or something like that.
Studs Terkel All right. We come into what it's all about, coming back to where I am right now, and the man with whom I am. Aren't we coming to what it's all about, really, the arbitrary separation of art from life? The collector's tax deductions, status, as against what is happening right here, and how it affects the people viewing it. When you speak of the separation of life and art, you spoke of the concentration camp commandants who liked certain music, there are some young men today, too, in all countries, working on on matters of destruction, and working on H-bombs. They are scientists, they're technicians. They have nothing to do, it seems, with the end product of what they're doing, which is destruction of man. At home, they listen to good music, they play chess, listen to Mozart. And, of course, what you represent, obviously, with this place, is exactly the opposite of that -- how separation can do it. We have the metaphor of course, in in the concentration camps. The very thing you're talking about.
Knud W. Jensen Yes, of course, it's very difficult to judge the scientists of our days because they've got to work in their own field. They've got to listen to the inner voice they have of the scientific truths which they have to work upon. On the other hand, they can't avoid that the society we live in are taking taking hold of the, taking over all the inventions they make and so on. This is a very deep and very terrible problem. I am not quite sure whether it can be compared directly to the problem of of of art and-. But for me, the -- knowing art, and and being involved in in art, and being an amateur of the arts, I think this should all serve one purpose. To give yourself richer life and to give yourself a chance to know who you are as a person, and also to get in better contact with other people. I mean after all, reading books and knowing the [unintelligible], you get more sensible to the people around you. You listen more, you feel that you know the reactions from things you have read, you can make comparisons, so on. That is to say that, in my opinion, art is serving your own personal life. And that you can -- I wouldn't say it would improve you, because probably you would be more or less the person you are -- but at any rate you you get--
Knud W. Jensen It enriches you, and you get -- besides the pleasures this gives you, I think it gives you the material for judging yourself, and a chance to to get in contact with other people in a better way other than than if you were just having any other kind of interest in in, say, in sport, or in whatever you could be interested in. I think the arts serves your life in a wonderful way, and it makes you, if not a better person, it makes you a richer person, and a more experienced person who is more capable of living his life.
Studs Terkel And I suppose this particular challenge, and this hope, too, is even more dramatic now, this time in the last third of the twentieth century, with technology, with what we call the impersonal aspects overwhelming us in something highly personal as art. This too, we earlier said, helps you try to find out what you are, you know, in an impersonal time.
Knud W. Jensen Yes.
Knud W. Jensen Well, yes, this is of course the difference between art and industrialism, so to say, that the industrialized society tends to get a society where people really don't see any meaning anymore, where they feel just like little--
Knud W. Jensen Yes, that's the right. And the artists are really giving their personal, their personal views, a personal approach to the problems. And they stand for themselves alone. They are the defenders of individualism, of the integrity, of the personality, the freedom of men, and so on. And I would like to to tell you a story, in the last couple of minutes we have here. Once I I got the visit of a delegation from North Vietnam, which, as we both know, is a country in war today, and this delegation visited the museum during the evening. And we looked at the paintings and the sculptures at the exhibition, and we ended up with a discussion in the cafeteria. And I I felt that these people, being deeply involved in war and terrible problems in every sense, they would, they mu- they they they they felt that this place was a luxury, that one could could devote oneself to showing art and discussing art. And in a world which is so serious and so filled with problems as the world of today, it was, to them it was a kind of, if not an anachronism, it was a kind of a treasure, a tre- what you call it? Treatise against the problems of the world today. At any rate, I tried to to explain them that modern art was more or less defending the human rights, the basic human rights of of people, that modern art, modern artists, were the defenders of freedom and the opposers to any oppression, whatever it could be in the world, whether economic or military or any other kind of oppression. And of course very much against any kind of war. So that, being a place where modern artists could show their works, could discuss with the public, could have a place where, of their own, was very important, and, in a way, a contribution to humanism and to tolerance and whatever it could be. But after having made this beautiful, rhetoric speech about defending what we were doing here in a world of brutality, of problems, of famine, of overpopulation, and so on, I returned to the table where I was sitting with some of the officials of North Vietnam, and there was one minister of the hospitals and sanitary installations in that country sitting at that table. And without any means to discuss this problem I had raised, he just cut through and said, "Mr. Jensen, how do you believe we could raise money in this country for medicaments and instruments for hospitals? Do you think that the labor unions could get together in raising money, say, one krone -- that is 20 cents -- being paid by each worker, that I could get, how much could it be -- 800,000 kroner, I think it could be -- which I could spend for buying, for--"
Studs Terkel Medicine.
Knud W. Jensen "Medicine and medicaments and and instruments in this country." So there I was. I had tried to develop a kind of cultural thought, and making a nice speech. But what was the need of these people was medicaments, and nothing else. They wan- wanted to get down to facts to find out whether they could get any help in their situation.
Studs Terkel Doesn't this this story, the story you tell is so terribly moving, and the dilemma it raises is so deep. People in agony and suffering, and you're talking about modern art, and he completely cut through, ignored what you said and thought only of the medicine. And, here again, we come to the problem, don't we, of the world today. And the very artists you're talking about, the ones who are very much for justice and humanity, and how, then, this is a deep one, so we come back to art and life again, don't we? And and the gap that is there.
Knud W. Jensen I quite agree, this is a big problem, because there's no doubt that we invest a lot of strengths, a lot of our energy and spirit in cultural problems like museums, like the situation of literature, of the promotion of the arts, and so on. And this could seem a kind of luxury in the world we live in, where the problems are so terrible in the way of overpopulation, of of famine, of the poor people, and the enormous growth of population in certain parts of the world. All these problems are so terrible and so accelerating that you shouldn't lose time in investing your strength and your energy in what we could call minor problems, in a way, in the world today. But, on the other hand, I think that it is not possible to to to pose the question this way. Everybody has to do what he thinks is is essential to him, and to his own life, and to his own vision of life. And the artists, why should they leave their studios to do political work or to go out as kind of volunteers, or Peace Corps members in underdeveloped countries? They can't do that, they shan't do that. Artists [can't? can?] express political views in their art but only doing - they have to make good art. And then, as private persons, they can express their private views, their personal views, on political matters and try to help with this and that and the other, sometimes by signing a resolution, sometimes by giving money to something, sometimes by all kinds of personal--
Knud W. Jensen
Studs Terkel whatever it might be. Yes, yes, that's right. But it comes right down to it, doesn't it? Each person, each creative person, each person really -- everyone is created his own way -- but each artist must do what he can do, but do what he wants to do, and what he does best through his way. And as far as this big gap you're talking about, perhaps some day -- this is, I'm sure, your vision, the vision of all of us -- that when this agony is over, if it ever is, a new kind of agony will develop. But beauty, still, beauty is truth, truth is beauty. We come to Keats again, don't we?
Knud W. Jensen Well, I think you're actually, you're right, because after all, you can't do everything. And to work for truth, and to work for a real evaluation of the time you live in, is so important. And so, I think that you can't just avoid to have this bad conscience sometimes about what you do, but you shall just try to say to yourself, well let's muddle through, let's do as good as we can, and let's try to to work on various levels to do our job as well as we can, and to work for freedom and tolerance and better human conditions in the world, in the little way each of us can do.
Studs Terkel I think that Knud W. Jensen does what he can, and doing what he can is quite beautiful, quite moving to me on this cool, autumnal day, facing the sound, facing Sweden here in North Denmark, Humlebaek, at the Louisiana Museum. Thank you very much. And the word, I suppose, the word for "thank you," I know, is "tak".