Born in Guatemala to a Danish father and a German-Polish mother, Alfred Jensen had a peripatetic young adulthood. After finishing school in Denmark, he worked on ships, farmed in California, and studied briefly with Hans Hofmann in Munich.
In Germany, Jensen met painter and collector Saidie Alder May, who became his patron and provided Jensen further entrée into the progressive art world. In the late 1920s and into the 1930s, Jensen learned about avant-garde ideas in art. He studied alongside Othon Friesz and Charles Dufresne; the latter would become an important influence. A few years later, he became acquainted with the writing of Auguste Herbin who, in turn, introduced Jensen to Goethe’s color theories.
During this period, Jensen began showing his work with key artists of the avant-garde, including Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, and Joseph Cornell. He showed at the Stable Gallery and Tanager Gallery, and he was represented by the Bertha Schaefer Gallery, and in 1959, the Martha Jackson Gallery. In 1961, his work was the subject of a solo show at the Guggenheim Museum. In 1957, the year he sold a painting to Henry Luce III, Jensen began employing a checkerboard-like, diagrammatic composition, a structure that would become the foundation of his work for many years. Within these diagrams, the artist
encoded systems of world philosophies; in addition to Taoist ideas, Jensen worked with the Mayan calendar, Greek temple plans, and other systems of light and time to create carefully worked, deeply symbolic paintings that Peter Schjeldahl described as “gorgeous and cryptic." (1)
Later in the 1960s, he worked as a printmaker at the influential Tamarind Lithography Workshop, where he explored Pythagorean number structures in an important series. He continued to work with numerical and scientific systems while represented by the Pace Gallery in the 1970s, and he died in New Jersey in 1981. Jensen’s work is held in public collections including the Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery of Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
1) Peter Schjeldahl, "Ever Intimidated by a Painting?," The New York Times, 28 May 1972, p. D17.
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