“One of L. A. Ring’s major themes is about being on the threshold of something new, and I think that’s epitomized by the painting Waiting for the Train. In our own day and age, we are a bit like him, standing by the tracks just watching the train pass by. There is a certain inscrutability to his waiting, perhaps a sense of wonder and puzzlement. New developments are arriving at breakneck speed, and he receives them very sedately. But the point comes across clearly; somehow, you just get it,” said Mikkelsen, who has agreed to being ambassador for the L. A. Ring exhibition on display at the National Nordic Museum in the fall of 2019 and at The Bruce Museum in the spring of 2020.
Regarded as one of Denmark’s most talented actors, Mikkelsen is known for his distinctive intensity and sensitivity, enabling him to portray a range of edgy, seductive, and historical characters. International audiences will know him from the American Netflix series House of Cards, where he played Russian president Petrov.
Mikkelsen accepted the role of ambassador for the exhibition because he thinks it only natural to help the American friends of the National Gallery of Denmark build greater interest in Danish culture in the USA. But he is also on board because he sees L. A. Ring as an artist who addresses significant issues and dares to go up against the flow, traits which Mikkelsen himself has also striven to embody in his own career as an actor. In Ring’s works, these traits can be observed in the way he represents his chosen subject matter and in his portrayal of being torn between the new and the old, a struggle which characterized his life and his work alike.
“I’m constantly trying to sort out what’s important and unimportant, because our current society certainly won’t do it for us, and L. A. Ring has something to say. He is one of the main artists of the Modern Breakthrough in Denmark, but he marched to the beat of his own drum. It’s always exciting when people manage to do that. We all know how hard it is not always to run with all the other sheep,” said Mikkelsen.
In the award-winning series House of Cards, Mikkelsen’s character, Russian president Petrov, gives Kevin Spacey as POTUS Frank Underwood a run for his money. Neither of the two men, nor Robin Wright’s Claire Underwood, were burdened by any urge to be honest or tell the truth. Personal vanities and political interests bar the way for such impulses. According to Mikkelsen, this is not the case with Ring, whom he sees as an artist who paints precisely what he sees, adding no embellishments and omitting no defects.
“The ‘truth’ does not exist. Just as ‘history’ doesn't exist. There are only the eyes that see and describe these things. The same goes for a painting. We are very preoccupied with being able to point to aspects of our history in order to explain where we come from and the things that have shaped us. To really see and read the world. I think Ring does that. He paints his chosen subjects no worse and no better than they were,” said Mikkelsen.
Born Laurits Andersen in 1854, the painter was the son of a carpenter in the village of Ring, the name of which he later added to his own. A prolific artist, he created many works that not only illustrate being on the threshold of something new. They are also about being suspended between two stages: inside and out, waiting and breaking up, longing and reality.
One aspect that makes L. A. Ring interesting to Mikkelsen is his social commitment. Mikkelsen believes that if you give yourself time to look properly for signs of social indignation in Ring’s works, there is plenty of material to mine.
“He is always a strong social communicator. He has the ability to paint himself onto the canvas, even though he very rarely features himself as subject matter. If you look out for signs of his social commitment, and how beautifully those urges subsequently unfold as he meets his wife and gradually moves away from the darkness and his death drive, I think he certainly fits the bill for anyone looking for an honest artist,” said Mikkelsen. “His early work is very ideological in nature. He is young and wants to revolutionize the whole world. At one point, everything sort of falls into place for him, transforming into a firm anchoring in social issues instead.”
This article is extracted from a longer work by Kitt Andersen and is made available by AFSMK, American Friends of Statens Museum for Kunst, The National Gallery of Denmark. The exhibition opens at the National Nordic Museum in Seattle on September 14 and can be seen until January 19, 2020. It will then relocate to the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut, from February 1 to May 24, 2020. For more on the life of L.A. Ring, watch this video: