Bjørn Nørgaard, The Promised Land, 2005. Copyright Bjørn Nørgaard.

Bjørn Nørgaard, The Promised Land, 2005. Copyright Bjørn Nørgaard.

A brief look at The Promised Land

The sculpture The Promised Land is part of a series of seven Venus figures which Bjørn Nørgaard calls Venus mirrors mirrors Venus.

Bjørn Nørgaard has reinterpreted the classical sculpture Venus de Milo in a range of plaster and stoneware casts. The famous original Venus de Milo from the 2nd century BCE is itself a marble statue and is now housed at the Louvre in Paris

The sculptures in the series Venus mirrors mirrors Venus engage tradition in new dialogues, referring – among other things – to other works of art, to myths, and to Nørgaard’s own works.

The title of the series, Venus mirrors mirrors Venus is in itself a mirroring, pointing to how Bjørn Nørgaard playfully engages art from the past with present situations.

The works are structured as densely built installations, each incorporating many materials. Such well-ordered accumulations are characteristic of Nørgaard’s sculptural practice.

Four introductions and interpretations

Here we offer four different introductions to and interpretations of the sculpture The Promised Land and the series Venus mirrors mirros Venus. The interpretations provide their own takes on how Bjørn Nørgaard stages a dialogue between classical art – i.e. tradition – and the political situation prevalent in his own day:

Art mirroring itself in Antiquity
Through the ages, the art of Antiquity has been the object of admiration, copying, and reinterpretation among artists. Art has always mirrored itself in Antiquity and then reinvented itself. At times tradition has formed an inspiration, and at other times artists have rebelled against past ideals.

Bjørn Nørgaard’s Venus figures are based on references to art; not just to the art of Antiquity, but also to the artist’s own works, to works by other artists, and to art history in general. One of the works also incorporates political content.

The Promised Land
Possible meanings and interpretations jut out in all directions in the work The Promised Land, where Venus has had a black silk scarf tied across her eyes so that she is both “Justice” – albeit armless and without the scales – and “Justine”, the fallen woman in Marquis de Sade’s story of a virtuous woman falling prey to desires of the flesh. Above her a red warning light is flashing. Sade wrote his story while incarcerated at the Bastille, and perhaps that is why the figure is fenced in by barbed wire. But I do not know why the Ten Commandments are written on smashed tablets in front of it. If The Promised Land is Venus herself, not Israel and the birthplace of Christian monotheism, you can only get back to her, a heathen goddess, once the tablets are broken and the aid of de Sade has been procured.

Written by curator Henrik Holm as a presentation of selected works in the Royal Cast Collection for www.smk.dk, 2008

Venus de Milo,
2nd century BCE
Since the early 19th century, the Louvre in Paris has been able to present audiences with the original marble sculpture. Since then, various editions of this goddess of beauty and love have helped make the sculpture familiar to all. Venus de Milo is a pre-eminent work within the realm of sculpture. Her naked torso, slightly curved posture, and missing arms have become iconic within art.

Bjørn Nørgaard has reinterpreted the Venus de Milo in a series of plaster and stoneware casts, creating works that are no longer copies, but originals. Bjørn Nørgaards Venuses refer to art, to the art of Antiquity, and to modern art.

Written by art historian Britta Tøndborg in: Quick Guide for the Royal Cast Collection, the National Gallery of Denmark

In her book ”Bjørn Nørgaard. Troen er håbet - tvivlen vilkåret” (“Bjørn Nørgaard. Faith is Hope – Doubt the Condition”), art historian Marie Vinther has pointed to how The Promised Land refers to ”the abysmal Israeli-Palestinian conflict … Here, a plaster cast of the Venus de Milo is lit by red warning lamps behind electric barbed wiring. She is blindfolded like the Christian allegorical figure representing Judaism, Synagoga, which depicts her as blinded because she refuses to see that Jesus is the Messiah. Before her feet are broken tablets, made of travertine from Jerusalem and inscribed with the Ten Commandments in Hebrew. She is standing by a daub-and-wattle cottage with a wooden doorframe marked in sheep’s blood as in Exodus, where Death passes by the houses of the Israelites.”

The Promised Land seems to be a picture puzzle greeting us with a range of signs: The title itself, referring to Palestine, Israel, or perhaps just the dream of a country where you can live in peace? Live your dreams? The tablets, some of them shattered, with the Ten Commandments written in Hebrew: Love thy Neighbour, Though Shalt No Kill … Venus, shown here blindfolded like Justice, yet without arms and so carrying neither sword nor scales. Venus is confined, but this time the grid is an electric fence …

Written by Anne Grethe Uldall in the guide accompanying the exhibition

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