Distinguished alumnus 2013 Jens Erik Sørensen

I find myself in art

Art can blow you away. That was what the young electrician Jens Erik Sørensen experienced, causing him to change direction and take up art history at Aarhus University. Since then he has been dedicated to conveying art to others and he has created an art museum of international format. Director for Aros, Jens Erik Sørensen, is the 2013 distinguished alumnus.

Jens Erik Sørensen had just taken over as Museum Director for what was in 1984 Aarhus Museum of Art, when Mayor Thorkild Simonsen paid him a visit with an important message. The young Museum Director was to make sure that Aarhus got a new museum of art.

»I floated home on cloud nine. It was a dream of mine to be allowed to create an art museum from scratch.«
He spent the next twenty years – while working as Museum Director – planning an ambitious new Danish museum with a world-class art collection to be located in the heart of Aarhus. The result was ARoS, an architecturally striking nine-storey mu- seum that opened in April 2004.

Tired of his life

Jens Erik Sørensen was originally trained as an electrician. Aged 23 he was working on one of the Danish Navy’s frigates. When the ship reached Bergen in Norway, he visited the town’s art museum and saw a number of paintings by Edvard Munch. Here were dark, sombre landscapes. And here were pale faces with eyes full of angst, that moved towards him like ghosts. The paintings did something to Jens Erik Sørensen’s mind – and con- vinced him that his life had to change direction.

»Munch’s paintings are full of emotions, and when you find yourself in a stressful situation, you experience those emotions yourself. I was feeling rotten at that time. I was just tired of my life. I didn’t like being an electrician. Munch’s paintings blew me away. I said to myself: If paintings can do that, then I will work with paintings too.«

After returning home, he left the electrician profession, took his upper secondary school-leaving examination and started studying art history at Aarhus University. It was a completely dif- ferent – and better – world.

A spellbinding world

The young electrician, used to trudging around cold, rainy building sites, was suddenly sat in the warmth of the former Aarhus Museum of Art in Vennelyst Park, listening to art histo- rian Poul Vad analysing paintings. The students sat on the art museum’s grey carpet, which was thick and soft.

»I had gone to heaven. A new, spellbinding world was opened for us. I was completely amazed that it was possible to get so much out of paintings.«

Jens Erik Sørensen got together with some of the other stu- dents who, like him, wanted to bring art to the people.

»At that time, art was often viewed as something especially fine, which was only for the middle classes. Museums were boring. We wanted to change all that; we will open the art mu- seums for everybody. We wanted to bring reality, knowledge dissemination and the new art into the museums. We wanted more activities and we wanted to get hold of children and the young. We rebelled against the museums and against our own schooling.«

Today, five art historians from the same intake are directors of art museums around Denmark.
Jens Erik Sørensen has maintained his connection to Aarhus University ever since, and has continued to collaborate with his professional colleagues at Art History. This collaboration has resulted in a number of co-financed PhD fellowships. Most re- cently, a guest curator from Art History was involved in the ARoS exhibit gold – Treasures from the Danish golden Age.

Photo: Lars Kruse, AU Foto

AROS and Jens Erik Sørensen

Jens Erik Sørensen has put on a steady stream of spectacular exhibits at AROS, which have made waves both in Denmark and abroad. ARoS has shown works by Michael Kvium, Asger Jorn, Bill Viola, Mariko Mori and Edvard Munch, among many others. The Munch exhibit attracted 280,000 visitors, a record number.

Sørensen has also put on a controversial but very popular exhibit of racing cars and Sculpture by the Sea, an annual exhibit of sculpture on the beaches along the Bay of Aarhus that has already become an institution.

Jens Erik Sørensen stepped down as director of ARoS at the end of 2013.