The Hague

Fortuyn/O’Brien

Since the sculptors Irene Droogleevar Fortuyn and Robert O’Brien began their collaboration, in 1983, under the logo Fortuyn/O’Brien, they have designed sculptures that could very accurately be called Post-Modern. On the basis of an ambitious as well as simple program, to which the concept of a domestic art is central, they make sculptures that, in their modishness, can compete with Post-Modern interior furnishings. In consciously exploiting the banal, they hope to expose the roots of art. In this they are posing as Post-Modern dandies, as the mediators of a contemporary spirit that has placed in question the meaning and value of sculpture.

According to Fortuyn/O’Brien, there is no longer a place for sculpture—not in a general social context, and definitely not as the basis for site-specific work. It is not at home anywhere, and therefore can only exist in a vacuum. Fortuyn/O’Brien direct their attention to this relation between sculpture and emptiness. Yet however surprising the product of their idea can be, it sometimes looks as though they want to flaunt themselves as hostages of Post-Modernism, or, rather, as hostages to what they have distilled from jean Baudrillard’s texts on the counterfeit, or the imitative, in art and its predetermination by history. Their art, then, is no longer a personal, individual expression but a given that only functions as code, a sign that can only be seen as simulated now that art has devolved into design. At the same time, their sculptures clearly recall a sense of nostalgia, a residual desire for the art of the past. It seems as if, after they had proposed to discard history as too heavy and unbearable a burden, and debated the purpose of the individual in art, the trace of history—its seal of approval—could not be removed from their work. It marks the sculpture titled Inauguration, 1984, a slender, open column partially covered with lilac silk, and an elegant, almost Baroque pediment; it was centered between two antique gilded side chairs. The intentions here were obvious. It is against this background of historical objects that Inauguration lets itself be read best, as an inevitable homage to the past. At the same time, Fortuyn/O’Brien’s sculptures, which are often turned inside out structurally and characterized by idiosyncratic accents, are a decidedly contemporary artistic expression with a noticeably personal structure that stands away from the anonymity of functional design represented by the two identical chairs.

Whatever one thinks of these oppositional sculptures, the question remains whether there is really more than just an esthetic problem that is being addressed. After all, one could question whether the theoretical pretensions of Fortuyn/ O’Brien can really be backed up by the sculptures; indeed, sometimes they cannot. But there are unexpected moments when, in the reversal of values that Fortuyn/O’Brien pursue, in their desire to create sculptures empty of meaning in an empty environment, an unexpected tension suddenly arises. Then it is as if a third person, the mutant signified by the logo Fortuyn/O’Brien, an entity without a family resemblance, creates sculptures completely removed from the theoretical realm and positioned firmly in reality And this “new” reality seems to encompass neither commercial design nor the “props” of Post-Modernism, but traditional esthetic values.

Paul Groot

Translated from the Dutch by Carolien Stikker.