Jan Vercruysse

Kunstmuseen Krefeld | Haus Lange

For this recent exhibition Jan Vercruysse used both of Mies van der Rohe’s “museum houses,” but he chose not to make use of the former living spaces on the upper floors, often used as exhibition spaces. Instead he installed his work only in the first-floor galleries, which are square and airy, lit by large windows that look out over the surrounding garden. Divided into two parts, enclosed in two distinct containers that are extremely similar but not identical, the exhibition thus began with the idea of an apparent mirror image, a theme specifically referenced in a piece entitled La Sfera (The sphere, 1992), which itself comprised two parts. The halves of La Sfera, each depicting a tortoise climbing onto a sphere, were exhibited separately at the entrances to the two buildings.

The selection of pieces was on the whole very concise; as a result it included only some of the thematic cycles that Vercruysse has developed throughout his career. A series of self-portraits, black and white offset prints—which were among the works from the earlier part of his career included in the show—function as theoretical propositions regarding the position of the subject in his work. This decentralized position was made literal in one image in particular, one in which the figure—the artist holding a mask—is cut off by the left margin.

A selection of Vercruysse’s many Tombeaux (Tombs, 1991–95) made reference to music, with their images of small bronze pianos on tall, slender bases, and wind instruments made out of blue Murano glass. The latter hung from the wall by leather strips, next to a shelf of the same material, suggesting an elusive functionality. In his catalogue essay, Pier Luigi Tazzi correctly states that Vercruysse’s work is allegorical in nature, that his images are only minimally engaged with the functional world. The wind instruments, which cannot be played, evoke silence as a state of pure listening; thus they were presented as an invitation to reflection. A similar feeling was conveyed by a number of works involving the image of a legless plaster piano placed on top of different arrangements of variously colored wooden sticks. The works in another cycle, called Les Paroles (Words, 1995), each include the framework of an iron chair placed either above a table or inside a container of colored billiard balls, and suggest an uneasy balance between the quotidian elements from which the pieces have been constructed and an obvious formalism.

The most recent thematic cycle was entitled Labyrinth e Pleasure Garden (Labyrinth and pleasure garden, 1995). This portfolio of extremely beautiful prints envisions a series of possible outdoor installations. The familiar use of the labyrinth as a metaphor for a lost or hidden meaning was attended by a more pleasurable connotation: the utopian ideal of a harmonious relationship with nature.

Giorgio Verzotti

Translated by Marguerite Shore.