Jan Vercruysse

Galerie Bruges la Morte

In this exhibition, Jan Vercruysse, primarily known for his photographs and sculptures, presented an extraordinary set of books and prints, which he produced with the Belgian publisher, Yves Gevaert. Informed by the work of Marcel Duchamp and Marcel Broodthaers, Vercruysse’s photographs explore the conventions of posing and portraiture. Together with his sculptural series entitled “Atopies” and “Tombeaux” (Tombs), they have rigorously examined the relationships between art, architecture and design.

Here we find a striking manipulation of graphic space. Through the choice of paper, color, and the simple disposition of the printed word on the page, the artist has created a group of works which are as visually striking as they are intellectually challenging. Like all of Vercruysse’s work, they can be read in different directions, with a complete lack of hierarchical ordering. In this work, in fact, images, words, and objects are never quite what they seem.

Thus, we find an involvement with paradox, whether it revolves around the materials employed, the scale of the works, autobiographical references, or the functions of art and criticism. The artist’s humorous approach is evident in one work, in which the phrase “I am a Post-Modernist Monkey Because ” is printed in large black letters. Underneath the statement two boxes suggesting a true and false quiz are accompanied with phrases that read “Monkeys are Post-Modernists” and “Post-Modernists are Monkeys.” With a portion of the work duplicated and hung alongside the original, Vercruysse implies a kind of continuum ad absurdum. The reductive nature of this game, accompanied by his characteristically sly word play, is Vercruysse’s comment on recent artistic discourse. When we notice that the title of the work is Baudrillards Are Dollars, 1988, the strategic confluence of criticism and economics becomes clear.

Whether his vehicle is history, literature or modes of visual representation, Vercruysse reveals himself as an artist involved in a series of deconstructions. By splitting various texts and images, he opens up a series of entrances through which we may re-posit their meanings. In Agnes Sorel ou Les Avant-Gardes, 1988, we find a color postcard of a woman, her right breast exposed. Directly underneath the image is the heading “Agnes Sorel, favorite of Charles VII”. Here we have the reproduction of a historical “fact”, concerning a 15th-century king of France. Below, however, is a list of alternative descriptions, beginning with “Agnes Sorel II favorite of Charles VIII”, “Agnes Sorel III. . . .” etc. As in Baudrillards Are Dollars, Vercruysse uses blank spaces in this formula, as if there is a correct answer for us to fill in. Combining the historical and the personal, the verifiable and the ridiculous (e.g. Charles XXIII) is his method of retaining balance in a game that has become increasingly vertiginous.

Vercruysse himself has stated, “To keep art positive, it had to be formulated in a negative way, to be made negative. Against utopia.” In this exhibition, where our assumptions about language and logic are questioned at every turn, he has produced one of his most cogent and lucid criticisms to date.

Michael Tarantino