John Kørner Tongue Out Galleri Bo Bjerggaard, Copenhagen 19 January – 11 March


One of the first things a viewer sees in John Kørner’s Tongue Out is a greyish quartet of floor-based sculptures depicting boxy buildings, all with the word ‘Problem’ on their frontage and a smokestack chimney above it. The Danish artist then leads us – literally, via a cartoonish, traillike cutout of a pathway on the floor – into a show of paintings primarily depicting melting glaciers, sometimes dotted with human figures and human inventions. Kørner’s pictorial sources apparently included a 2013 book entitled The Greenland Ice Sheet: 80 Years of Climate Change Seen from the Air, and the ‘tongue’ of the exhibition’s title evidently refers, at least in part, to the kind that glaciers have: platforms of ice projecting into the sea, evidence of thaw. The show, in these terms, seems built on unsubtle environmen­talist rhetoric. But then you look at the paintings themselves, with their liquescent, colourful acrylic handling on acres of spotless white, and things get complicate­d.

Kørner’s ‘take’ on this subject matter is, for want of a better word, sunny. In Tongue Hanging Out (all works 2023), a lavalike pink protrusion emerges from a tangerine horizon and dips into a bluey-green ocean wherein bobs a regiment of triangular icefloes; to either side of the tongue are psychedeli­c swathes of paint, bright shades bleeding into each other. Light Eruption is a widescreen Arctic vista that’s partly frosty, partly already melted and turned to earth-brown, and features a variety of trails, allowing the eye to take a virtual tour of the scenery. Dancing over the landscape, mean-while, is a luscious, Northern Lights-like glow of green, pink and orange, the heavens gracing the dissolving region in sympathy. In Holding Back a Train, a foreground­ed figure in winterwear surreally uses one foot – while checking his phone – to keep a shrunken white train from barrelling forward. In the background, the landscape breaks weirdly into a planar collage, the horizon variously rotating through 45 and 90 degrees, woodland erupting from the earth diagonally and, once again, that pinky-orange glow su‹using the icescapes.

Amid all this, there’s a frequent sense of unreality – thanks to Kørner’s bright colours and sheeny handling – that suggests an artist knowingly unable to convey the scale of the disaster, perhaps unable to wrap his mind around it. Frequently he defaults to the anecdotal and odd: the single flower seen in closeup against an icescape in Lilium Bulbiferum with Glacier, the nude man tipping a panful of water over himself while standing in a frozen landscape in Ožce of Antarctic Programme Foundation. If, as a result, the viewer has a strong sense of not seeing an image commensura­te with the crisis, maybe that’s Kørner’s way of admitting that painting isn’t up to the task, while neverthele­ss continuing to paint. Martin Herbert

 ?? ?? Tongue Hanging Out, 2023, acrylic on canvas, 180 × 150 × 3 cm. Courtesy the artist
Tongue Hanging Out, 2023, acrylic on canvas, 180 × 150 × 3 cm. Courtesy the artist

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