FOLKERT DE JONG: PRESS RELEASE, OPERATION HARMONY
2011, James Cohan Gallery
James Cohan Gallery New York is pleased to welcome the return of Dutch sculptor Folkert de Jong for the artistâ€™s third solo exhibition Operation Harmony opening on April 1st and running through May 7th, 2011. Following his solo exhibition last year at the Groninger Museum, his inclusion in the Sydney Biennial 2010 and in anticipation of the sculpture exhibition The Shape of Things to Come at the Saatchi Gallery opening in May, for which his work is the cover image, Folkert de Jongâ€™s career has been firmly launched on the international stage.
De Jong employs the contemporary industrial materials Styrofoam and polyurethane foam, well understood for their inherent contradictory properties of cheapness and indestructibility, to create sculptural tableaux of what can be considered anti-monuments that conflate the past and the present.
There are two central works in the exhibition. The first is the monumental scale installation, Operation Harmony, 2008, measuring 23 feet long, which will be seen for the first time in the United States. This work is inspired by both Jan de Baenâ€™s painting â€śThe mutilated corpses of the de Witt brothers, hanging on the Vijverberg in the Hagueâ€ť from 1672, which depicts the gruesome scene of the strung up bodies of two brothers executed for their political beliefs, and the â€śharmoniousâ€ť grid structure found in Piet Mondrianâ€™s modernist paintings. The title of the work Operation Harmony is borrowed from the optimistically named Canadian forces that were deployed in Bosnia in 1992 to help keep the peace. The artist has an unsettling ability to combine such period perfect details as lace neck ruffs from Vermeerâ€™s Golden Age paintings, together with the dense blackness of the oozing â€śbloodâ€ť and â€ścharredâ€ť bodies that are spliced onto the sickly pink foam scaffold and the delicacy of the hand-carved teeth and eyes of the decapitated heads. De Jong, as the writer Lilly Wei aptly describes, â€śzooms in on the double-edged and cultivates contradictions. Combining the comedic and the grotesque, he leads viewers, with charming stealth, to contemplate the horrors that are so frequently his subject.â€ť
The other central piece The Balance II, 2010 is second version of a work that de Jong created for the Sydney Biennial 2010. The tableau depicts Dutch traders swindling the Native Americans out of the island of Manhattan for beads and whiskey. The grinning traders are doing a jaunty dance as they balance on the artist's signature industrial oil barrels and wooden pallets as they show off their wares. Writer MichaĂ«l Amy succinctly explains, â€śLong-established traditions are toppled by this irreverent young Dutchman, the works of cherished masters are hopelessly disgraced, and revered subjects are corrupted through and through. De Jongâ€™s the tactless jester, part moralist, part sadistic clown, who holds a mirror up to our eyes.â€ť
April 2010, by Lilly Wei, Art in America Magazine
Dutch Sculptor Folkert de Jongâ€™s figurative fantasies combine the weight of historical allusions with the lightness of ultra-contemporary materials.
Born in Egmond Aan Zee, a village on the coast of North Holland, Folkert De Jong, the 38-year old sculptor known for his macabre, human-scaled, Styrofoam tableaux, comes from a long line of fishermen. He remembers being riveted, as a child, the enchanting stories- as well as the elaborately tattooed arms and chest- of his grandfather, his last forebear to go to sea. In retrospect, de Jong realizes that those tales and body markings helped to reshape a meagre workmanâ€™s existence into something bearable, even heroic. Ultimately, the old man was internet on deluding himself more than others. Truth, the artist learned, has many faces, and life is seldom truly glorious- observations that undergird all his work.
Growing up, de Jong did not even remotely consider becoming and artists. Instead, fascinated by the intricacies of the human body and mind, he chose to study nursing.
He enjoyed reading about the history of medicine, with itâ€™s changing theories, but found hospital work too physically and emotionally taxing. Medical instruction however gave him a thorough knowledge of anatomy. Switching to art history and sculpture, de Jong attended the Academy of Visual Arts, Amsterdam, from 1994 to â€™96 and the cityâ€™s Royal Academy for visual Arts from 1998 until his graduation in 2000. He still lives and works in the Dutch capital.
At the Royal Academy, de Jong staged site-specific actions that he videotaped but seldom performed in front of live audiences. Since then, most of his works have been created with specific sites in mind, and he often thinks of himself as a stage director as he assembles his installations. More philosophic than social agenda driven, de Jong is not a political artist as such. Rather, he casts a cool, appraising eye on human folly and destructiveness. For example, his challenge to the crude nationalism of conventional military sculpture takes the form of perversely humorous war monuments. Some observers have characterised these works as retrograde figuration, amounting to no more than kitsch or empty spectacle. But that judgement ignores the originality, power and seriousness with which he surveys the human comedy- to say nothing of the distinctiveness of his style and increasing sophistication of his execution.
THE ICEMAN COMETH: AN ICY JOURNEY BY FOLKERT DE JONG TO THE DEPTHS OF THE SOUL
By David Stroband
The landscape unfolding before the eyes of the visitor to Bureau Amsterdam could easily be described as ghastly. On a cool-blue, wintry hill, a number of blue figures in a shattered condition seem to have been frozen into an ecstatic pose. Their attributes quickly reveal them to be soldiers. Their gruesome, dishevelled appearance and the madness emanating from their faces betrays a desperate and inglorious retreat. Their only goal now appears to be an igloo-like structure in which other equally chilling figures sit. This shelter does not look very inviting and the figures look as if they are returning home from a cold fairground. Folkert de Jong has given this Styro- and polyurethane foam scene the enigmatic title The Iceman Cometh. It is a title that evokes a plethora of associations, but which also unequivocally points to the horror genre.
In 1996, De Jong had a studio in the western docks of Amsterdam. A desolate environment with cranes and warehouses - a perfect location for shady and unpalatable goings-on. He certainly did not feel at ease there, but he became fascinated by the lost shoes and porn magazines he came across near his studio. Then one day he found a bag containing a woman's clothes, letters and stilettos. He took it back to his studio and examined it. Like a true detective De Jong tried to deduce what had happen to the owner of these items. Through feeling and smelling the artefacts, De Jong began to feel more and more as if he had become involved in a crime. The tension this generated led him to make a reconstruction of her body. He draped her clothes around a wooden skeleton. The skeleton was covered in foam rubber taken from a mattress and tied up with tape. De Jong started to make more of these dolls until his studio became filled with all kinds of potential crime victims held together by foam rubber and tape. Video recordings he made of these figures and himself as he lay 'victim-like' in the back seat of a car clearly demonstrated that these dolls could lend themselves perfectly to a more narrative structure.
Once he began at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam, De Jong started to make scenes using all kinds of materials; scenes that revealed worlds that appeal to our darker nature. In a range of installations he created moods which refer to the unheimlich, the uncanny or weird. This notion of the unheimlich dates from the second half of the eighteenth century, when it was used by philosophers like Edmund Burke to describe the dark side of the sublime. Sigmund Freud developed a psychoanalytic reading of the term in an essay from 1919. According to Freud, the unheimlich, the uncanny, is very close to the heimliche, or familiar: whenever feelings of safety and security are frustrated or crudely suppressed, the entrance to the more sinister and obscure compartments of the subconscious is never far away. It is precisely this close proximity of the orderly, sunny side of life to an existence full of dark urges and unprocessed events that is a constant source of fascination for De Jong and which forms an important point of departure in his work. Significant sources for him are stories in which often reserved characters suddenly manifest themselves as Frankenstein-like figures. For instance, De Jong read a book about a small community in the United States where a man, who called himself The Bishop, founded a semi-religious cult in which he sacrificed fellow villagers. This information all fed the first tableau De Jong made at the Rijksakademie. The sterility of the environment immediately demanded the creation of a personal domain. In his studio De Jong built a small, wooden house in which he, his brother and friends performed all kinds of shady rituals. The video recordings of these events were shown at one of the first public presentations of his work. The images of a girl lying with a bag on her head, a figure dressed like a toy doll and De Jong - the undisputed leader holding a pistol and wearing a jacket bearing the words 'The General' - appeal directly to everything we seem to associate with a very dark, base romanticism. Besides these images there was also the place, the small house, where the events took place. In the house were the discarded doll's costume and a bed in which a sawn hole seemed to embody the passage to the nether regions. On the wall hung flags bearing mysterious, private symbols and embroidered, secretive names like 'The Bisshop', 'Miller', 'Lacy'. On the front of the house was a clock, its hands turning at great speed. This strange world also acquired an extra, sublime dimension through the electronic organ in the house, which had its keys taped down. The penetrating base tones of the organ were fed through speakers, filling the space, as if appealing to unholy undertones in the viewer. De Jong managed to create a sinister, mystifying, semi-sacred ambience which reflected his experiences of Amsterdam's dockland and the world of his books.
MIRROR AND THE CROSS: FOLKERT DE JONG & FENDRY EKEL
NÂş 266 May-jun 2009, by Rosa Ulpiano, Flash Art International
Within the concepts of postmodern art; barthian multi-dimensional thinking, in which concurs the same work in a variety of reading at the same time, has aroused an intense debate over our contemporary world (contemporaneidad). I mean a search for parameters to legitimate the author's death, as revolutionary conception of the ossification suffered by art. However, in an exercise of irony; Folkert De Jong (Egmond aan Zee, Netherlands 1972), and Fendry Ekel (Jakarta, Indonesia 1971), with the series "Mirror and the Cross" beat up through a semiotic appropriation of modern art on this historical immovability against modernity; a clear anti-greenbergian interpretation in which art is intertwined with historical facts decontextualising and extending their premises. Indeed, a fascination to see how history repeats itself, in a kind of anachronistic reality, but whose intemporal image seizes the contemporary context. In this sense, De Jong references through his extraordinary polysty rene sculptures at regular size, authors such as Pablo Picasso, Degas and Matisse, transforming their characters into new hybrid beings, whose faces clearly recall recognizable historical characters to the viewer; a kind of "Decoupageâ€ť or cuts of the perfect moment where present, past and future coexist, and from where the nature of the pictorial work of Ekel, and the use of disposable materials, both authors question both physical and conceptual allusions, finally establishing a complex intersection of meaning.