New York

Michael De Jong

Rastovski Gallery

In the works on display here, Michael De Jong takes reproductions of paintings from several periods, sometimes leaving them intact, sometimes cropping to focus on specific details, and burnishes them onto canvas so that they have the texture and appearance of real paintings. De Jong then covers the images with sheets of Plexiglas bolted onto the canvas and applies objects of everyday use onto these surfaces. Included here are reproductions of paintings by Goya, Manet, and Hopper, and objects ranging from rulers and flashlights to adhesive tape and air fresheners, all of whose shiny newness contrasts with the often heavy, atmospheric tones of the paintings.

Some of De Jong’s pairings of images with objects are governed by puns or metaphors. In Night Vision (all works 1988), a flashlight is attached to an image of the Madonna and Child and one of Van Gogh’s sunflowers, playing on a variety of ideas—the light of Christ’s spiritual vision, the flower that turns its face to follow the daylight, the flashlight that enables its bearer to see at night, and perhaps also Van Gogh’s madness as a kind of inverted or night vision. Endless Potential features a knife poised before two images suggesting possible uses for the tool: one is a reproduction of a Cézanne still life, the other, a murder scene. Other links are primarily formal: in Blush, Blue Brush, a blue-robed Infanta Margarita from a Velázquez painting is juxtaposed with four blue toothbrushes. Elsewhere the elements seem unrelated: in Handsome Portrait with Chew, a Gainsborough portrait of a woman is juxtaposed with a toy dog-bone.

De Jong places artworks and commodities at the same level. Ordinary objects, many of which are rendered useless by being pinned onto the Plexiglas, become subject to esthetic evaluation. De Jong also implies that the mechanisms of reproduction that generate the objects and images have made us blind to both—hence the need for the artist to call them to our attention in the context of a gallery. In enshrining ordinary objects and photographic reproductions, De Jong draws on the readymade tradition extending from Marcel Duchamp to Jeff Koons. But De Jong’s work, while often humorous and clever and occasionally visually striking, does not make a significant contribution to that of his predecessors: the artist explores well-trodden conceptual ground. Moreover, many of the works are one-liners, lacking the complexity of the best conceptual art. De Jong has developed a vocabulary fraught with historical associations. The value of his future production depends on his ability to develop a syntax complex enough to permit those references to resonate and reinforce each other.

Lois E. Nesbitt