What you see is not what you get at Jan De Cock’s exhibition Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis at Fons Welters Gallery in Amsterdam.
For once, you get more; too much in fact. An extensive conceptual framework drawing on romanticism, modernism, the culture of spectacle, and the life of Jackie Kennedy is spun around a series of sculptural pillars (Krises) and two-dimensional reliefs (Romantik). This is a shame, especially because the sculptures function perfectly well without the excess baggage.
Only part of the initial exhibition in the Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden (2012) is on display, a practical consideration in the small Fons Welters exhibition space. While it is not the first time that parts of a larger show by De Cock are exhibited at Fons Welters (Repromotion 2010 was first shown in BOZAR Paleis voor Schone Kunsten Brussel in 2009), it is the first one to get lost in translation. The fragments are assigned to carry the full conceptual scope of the original Gesamtskunstwerk devoted to Jackie. Despite the exquisite formal and aesthetic qualities of the individual works, this is too big a burden.
Alle foto's Gert Jan van Rooij, Courtesy Galerie Fons Welters
The works feature classic De Cock materials such as chipboard, wood, plaster, and acrylic paint, but are uncharacteristically two-dimensional. Isolated in corners and against the walls, the works make for an awkwardly fragmented narrative. On the one hand, the use of classical Greek facades and pastel pink paint provide a rather superficial reference to JKO’s iconic Chanel suit, and her refurbishing of the White House. On the other hand, the use of such ‘romantic’ formal qualities, contrasted with Brancusi-like shapes and Mondrianesque squares, position the work in a wider art-historical context.
On top of the plethora of (art) historical references, six Cahiers or scrapbooks that inspired the sculptures (exhibited in 2011 in White-Out Gallery in Knokke-Heist, Belgium) add another half a dozen dimensions to the wood and plaster. Titled Overcome, Imitation, Value, Spectacle, Saturation, and Fanatism, the Cahiers place the sculptures in the light of romantic idealism in the 1960s, the rise of spectacular media-culture, postmodern reproduction of art and imagery, but also JKO’s strength to gracefully overcome hardship, and the prioritization of her children.
The situation isn’t helped by the Handbook accompanying the exhibition. Glossary incluis, the book constitutes an encyclopedic exercise detrimental to the experiential pleasure usually evoked by De Cock’s installations. The book aims to ‘shatter the looking glass’ through which we perceive the world, yet it fails to meaningfully regroup the pieces.
Instead, it is more worthwhile focusing on is the individual tactile qualities of De Cock’s statues and reliefs. The contrast between smooth surfaces and unfinished plasterwork reminds us of the flipside of the spectacle. Fragile buttresses supporting the pedestals of the Krise series make the graceful pillars look unsteady and vulnerable. Flaws shown on the back of facades, and views into hollow pedestals are a much more convincing exhibit of romantic nostalgia and the imperfections of the icon. The exhibition proves there is indeed a lot more than meets the eye, but no encyclopedic handbook is needed to see it.
JAN DE COCK, JACQUELINE KENNEDY ONASSIS
2 februari - 9 maart
Hinde Haest is intern at Metropolis M