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Asger Jorn-- A Fascist Group Vandalized One Of His Most Iconic Paintings: Culture War

Bernie and I grew up in the same Brooklyn neighborhood and went to the same elementary and high schools, albeit a few years apart. The neighborhood was almost entirely Eastern European Jewish and Italian. I feel confident enough to say there were no Danes in the 'hood. So where does he get his penchant for talking about Denmark so much? I don't know but maybe it was because he admires Denmark as the only country in Europe occupied by the Nazis that actively resisted the Nazi regime's attempts to deport its Jewish citizens. 90% of Danish Jews survived the fascist onslaught.

Denmark was the only occupied country that actively resisted the Nazi regime's attempts to deport its Jewish citizens. On September 28, 1943, Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz, a German diplomat, secretly informed the Danish resistance that the Nazis were planning to deport the Danish Jews. The Danes responded quickly, organizing a nationwide effort to smuggle the Jews by sea to neutral Sweden. Warned of the German plans, Jews began to leave Copenhagen, where most of the almost 8,000 Jews in Denmark lived, and other cities, by train, car, and on foot. With the help of the Danish people, they found hiding places in homes, hospitals, and churches. Within a few weeks, fishermen helped ferry some 7,200 Danish Jews and 680 non-Jewish family members to safety across the narrow body of water separating Denmark from Sweden.

The Danish royal family and the country's democratic government collaborated with the Nazi occupiers and the resistance got off to a slow start, at first non-violent and then focused on sabotaging German war efforts. In 1943, German pretenses ended and the Nazis took over directly running the country. That's when the Danes formed an underground government and when Danish resistance turned violent. Eventually resistance agents killed around 400 Danish Nazis, informers and collaborators as well as some German nationals.

I never spent much time in Denmark, although I lived for almost 4 years in Amsterdam and visited Copenhagn a few times. I have been a long time fan of the northern European CoBrA art movement of which anti-fascist Danish painter Asger Jorn was a founder. Jorn died in 1973 and the last of the CoBrA founders, Erik Ortvad, also a Dane, died in 2008 (age 90). Jorn is as well known as a situationalist painter, an international movement of social revolutionary avant-garde artists and intellectuals-- basically libertarian Marxists and surrealists who critiqued the disaster of advanced capitalism.

As a young man, Jorn was a committed pacifist but gradually became involved with the communist-led resistance movement against the Nazi occupation. The first I ever heard of Jorn was when I was about to graduate from high school and he sent a telegram to the head of the Guggenheim Foundation, Harry Guggenheim. It was the day after they awarded him the prestigious Guggenheim Award, and Jorn called him a "bastard" and told him to "to to hell with your money" and demanded "public confirmation not to have participated in your ridiculous game." I went to look at a painting of his at the Museum of Modern Art the next day. I've been fan ever since and always look for his work when I visit an art museum. Most of his work, though, is in Denmark at the Museum Jorn.

This morning, Lukas Slothuus tweeted a thread about the vandalization of one of Jorn's most famous paintings, a vandalization Slothuus called "irreparable," noting it was done by a fascist organization that live-streamed it on Facebook. "This is one of the most celebrated and important works [Worrying Duck, above] ever produced by a Danish artist," he wrote. "Jorn was a member of the avant-garde Situationist International with Guy Debord, Raoul Vaneigem, etc. who engaged in subversive acts of 'detournement' for emancipatory purposes. Jorn was a committed anti-fascist and a passionate anti-war activist. His most famous work, Stalingrad, draws on Picasso's Guernica and expresses despair about the futility of war and fear of the Cold War turning into a nuclear catastrophe."

"The perp," he continued, "was accompanied by a member of political party Stram Kurs that called for all Muslims to be forcibly deported from Denmark, led by Quran-burning Rasmus Paludan. He recently used blackface while repeatedly shouting the n-word and 'acted out' the killing of George Floyd.That man posted about the vandalisation of the Jorn painting on his far-right blog, comparing it to the removal of the statue of the notorious 'slave king' Frederik V by anti-racist activists in Copenhagen in 2020."

The vandalism against Jorn attempts to use the avant-garde strategy of detournement but for fascist, not emancipatory ends. This is actual culture war stuff, the attempt by the far right to normalise their oppressive and exclusionary vision.
The vandalism was livestreamed by the organisation "Patrioterne Går Live" ("Patriots go live"), which is a breakaway splinter from the openly racist party Stram Kurs I mentioned above. Their strategy is open confrontation and agitation against minorities in public.
The threat from fascism and racism, and the normalisation of racist and far-right politics into 'mainstream' parties and discourse in Denmark, is genuinely terrifying. Beyond the flashy news bits that make it abroad, there's a rotten culture that permits extremism to flourish.

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