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5 Fast Facts: Kirsten Justesen

Blog Category:  5 Fast Facts
A black-and-white self-portrait of a light-skinned older woman with shoulder-length blonde hair who lays on the middle shelf of a large wooden cabinent. She is in a relaxed fetal position; one hand props her head up and the other is draped over the shelf. Above her a collection of tiny statues are arranged by size, on the shelf below her are a tea pot and two boxes.

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Kirsten Justesen (b. 1943), whose work is on view in NMWA’s collection galleries.

1. Academy Rewards

Known for performance, photography, and installation,Justesen initially studied classical sculpture at Copenhagen’s Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. The conservative institution did not welcome women until 1908 and forbade co-ed life drawing classes until 1924. It denied fellow Dane Anna Ancher (1859‒1935) admission solely because of her gender less than a century earlier.

2. Acting Out

In 1970, Justesen participated in Damebilleder (Women’s Images), one of the first feminist exhibitions organized solely by women artists. The collective performed a series of actions—cleaning dirty dishes in Washing Up, offering self-defense lessons in The Defense, and living in The Camp for four days, conversing with visitors about women’s social experience.  

A self-portrait of a light-skinned woman who is naked save for a black hands gloves and black calf-high boots. She sits cross-legged on a block of ice surrounded by walls of ice. Her short white hair hangs in front of her face and her arms are crossed in an "x" over her chest.
Kirsten Justesen, Ice Pedestal #3, 2000 (printed 2015); Chromogenic color print, 36 x 36 in.; NMWA, Gift of Peter J. Lassen; © Kirsten Justesen, Denmark

3. Ice Breaker

Attracted to the physical and temporal qualities of ice, Justesen has incorporated it into sculpture, photography, conceptual works, and performances, including her 17-part exploration “Meltingtime” (1980‒2013). More unusually, she has employed ice in sound pieces, mail art, jewelry, and set design. Speaking of set design—

4. Making a Scene

Given Justesen’s passion for using her own body in performance-based art, it may come as no surprise that she has designed stage sets for about 50 theatrical and ballet productions since the late 1960s. She also helped establish the scenography program at the Danish National School of Theatre.

5. Danish (Post)Modern

Justesen marked her 70th birthday—and almost half a century as a pioneering body artist—with Portræt i arkiv med samling (Portrait in Cabinet with Collection) (2013). She lounges comfortably in a capacious cabinet beneath a regiment of sculpture reproductions. They include the famed Venus of Willendorf and Athena Parthenos as well as popular commercial figures like the mass-produced, 19th-century Venus Callipyge, and Munny, a contemporary art toy by Kidrobot.

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