New York

de Rijke/de Rooij

Petzel Gallery | West 18th Street

Dutch artists Jeroen de Rijke and Willem de Rooij are best known for their 16- and 35-mm films, which often push the moving image toward stasis in service of the duo’s coolly cerebral, career-long examination of the mechanisms of photographic and filmic representation. If that sounds dust-dry, the work is usually anything but, because de Rijke and de Rooij, collaborators since 1994, have a sneaky wit and a knack for mesmerizing visuals. Their recent film installation Mandarin Ducks, 2005, which debuted at the 2005 Venice Biennale, featured ten characters cryptically interacting in a modish apartment, suggesting that the pair might be moving in a more theatrical direction. In their recent New York solo debut, on the other hand, they eschewed film entirely, as if deliberately skirting a medium associated with spectacle and sensationalism in order to set forth the terms of their practice as soberly as possible in their first Chelsea outing.

On one wall in the main gallery were two oversize C-prints—light studies from Mandarin Ducks, blown up into painterly abstractions in which fuzzy penumbrae of color bleed into one another. Nearby, perched on a pedestal, was a big flower arrangement in a white ceramic vase; with its profusion of blooms in shades of green, peach, and purplish pink, it evoked the kind of catered luncheon that no one actually wants to attend. A wall text explained that the flower arrangement, created for the artists by an upscale local florist, is one component of the multipart work Bouquet IV, 2005. The other elements are a detailed description of the type and quantity of flowers, which theoretically allows the arrangement to be re-created ad infinitum, and a slickly commercial-looking black-and-white photo of the bouquet (here, displayed by itself in a small rear gallery). As it turned out, the Martha Stewart Living color scheme had been chosen because it results in minimal contrast when photographed. Together, the bouquet and its photographic depiction effected a sort of reverse Dorian Gray over the course of the show, the former wilting and turning brown while the latter remained fresh (if, well, gray).

In the middle gallery, Orange, 2004—a sequence of eighty-one monochromic slides in various reddish yellow tones—was projected on the wall. While perhaps nodding to the polychrome structuralist experiments of filmmaker Paul Sharits (as Bouquet IV nods to near-contemporaneous Conceptual “instruction” works), Orange also shoulders some heavy sociopolitical baggage. The artists explain in a statement that their initial intent was to approximate the color of Guantánamo Bay prisoners’ overalls and that they also had in mind Dutch nationalists’ nostalgia for Holland’s royal House of Orange. They note, too, that orange is often filtered out of the photographic spectrum, since the color tends to give skin a surreal hue. Thus, the work, despite its almost retiring subtlety, seems to ask to be understood as a kind of graffiti, an instance of the verboten made visible, but one whose medium is light rather than language. In fact, this break between light and language—that is, between color as a mute property of form and as a symbol—was arguably the real locus of the work, just as the fissure between flowers and photo-of-flowers could be construed as the locus of Bouquet IV. It might be said that this show, in keeping with the quality of careful alertness that defines de Rijke and de Rooij’s practice, offered the most rewards to those willing to mind the gaps.

Elizabeth Schambelan