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Les Paroles (XVII), 1996

Les Paroles (XVII) (detail)

Les Paroles (XVI), 1996

A., A., B., 1987 (1994)

A Vercruysse self-portrait.

you can only 
take what you 
already have: 
jan vercruysse 

by Michael Brennan 
with Bill Sullivan
Jan Vercruysse has exhibited widely in Europe, notably at the 1993 Venice Biennale (in the Belgian Pavilion) and at Documenta VIII. In New York he showed at the Christine Burgin Gallery, now closed, in 1990 and `91, and more recently at Brooke Alexander, Sept. 19-Nov. 2, 1996. On view at Alexander were works from three sculpture series and a portfolio of prints. Vercruysse is a conceptual artist who makes extremely discrete objects. He began his artistic career as a poet and it is his poetic impulse that gives Vercruysse's works their oblique charm. His objects are thoughtfully constructed in a space that really only exists for the objects themselves, in an ever-lingering present that is both familiar and foreign, so slippery that images can resist any immediate disclosure along this cunning and silent plane. In the entrance gallery were 35 brass plates dipped in crimson sealing wax, works from the artist's "Tombeaux" series that he began in 1987. The title suggests a meditation on melancholy, and refers to proto-modernist Stephane Mallarme's famous poems Tomb for Poe, Tomb for Baudelaire, Tomb for Verlaine, etc. The exact meaning and origin of "Tombeaux" is sealed too. Vercruysse's group of eight color lithographs, called "Labyrinth and Pleasure Gardens," depict fanciful garden designs. In the main gallery were "Les Paroles." In one variation, a minimally styled wooden high chair is suspended above leaden table- tops that hold small recessed mirrors. In another, a glass high chair stands on a bed-like platform filled with multi-colored glass marbles. Each chair is a precarious construction put together in a peg-to-peg manner that seems likely to tilt or shatter under weight of any kind, like some breakaway Rietveld chair shaved out of ice. "Les Paroles" offer strange and slow uncertain commentary on the personal and the spatial, and how these issues of presence relate to similarly elusive concepts such as negation and limit. The final room contained A.,A.,B., an installation of framed works that is immediately more familiar. All black frames: two large ones bracing the corner of the gallery, three smaller containing photographs of marble finish, and two small frames forming an erotic diptych of the same mirror-reversed image. A.,A.,B., is more comfortable only because it falls in line with more obvious themes the artist has been repeating and developing for some time now. I can only describe the experience as some kind of Cartesian double-negative, in that what you are seeing appears empty, only when you are seeing it, but not when you're thinking of it. I had the opportunity to meet Jan Vercruysse at his opening, where he proved to be as reticent as his work. It was too difficult to have a real discussion at that time, so we scheduled an interview for the following morning. I was unable to make that appointment so I sent a surrogate for the interview, my friend Bill Sullivan. Bill is a conceptual artist, and he is fascinated with all things Belgian. Five years ago, over bottles of Belgian monk beer, he first turned me on to Vercruysse's work from two Flash Art articles. Bill had the enthusiasm and the knowledge of Vercruysse's work needed for a good interview, and is a persistent questioner, which is important since Vercruysse seems reluctant to comment on his own work and has given few interviews in the past. Jan Vercruysse at Brooke Alexander, Sept. 19-Nov. 2, 1996, 59 Wooster St., New York, N.Y. 10012. MICHAEL BRENNAN is a New York painter who writes on art. Interview with Jan Vercruysse by Bill Sullivan The interview is formatted in Text only, easy to print out