The first time I encountered Jan De Cock's lacquered steel frames and wooden planks was at Repromotion, the artist's 2010 solo show at Galerie Fons Welters. I remember wandering across the gallery space for a while, looking not as much at the sculptures as through them, since they framed and expanded each other in an intricate game of perspectives and shapes. Such fractalization of the room intrigued me and, as I took several pictures, I grew further fascinated by my own reframing of De Cock's work with that last capturing act. Entering the Belgian artist's new exhibition in the renowned Jordaan gallery was completely different.
Titled after First Lady and fashion icon of the 60s, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the current display comprises two types of installations: pillars (Crises) and windows/collages (Romantik). The former are vertical assemblages of De Cock's usual materials (chipboard, wood, plaster, acrylic paint) and thus sport his signature rugged aesthetics, but are made more monumental by isolation. The latter also bear all the artist's most distinctive marks, but – as opposed to Repromotion – this time they are pushed against the walls of the main room, leaving the center completely free. Displayed in such a way, these pieces suggest a sort of exploded family house, each room flattened and projected by itself as a separate section (one of the collages reminds quite literally of a kitchen, though the others seem more indefinite).
Jan De Cock, JKO Romantik IX , 2012, steel, chipboard, melamine, pinewood, plaster, paint, 330 x 66 x 261 cm; Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Fons Welters, Amsterdam /Photo: Gert Jan van Rooij.
Nonetheless, the “organic interplay of openings, see-throughs and mist” described in the press release is definitely a better fit for the 2010 show: what had once struck me as architectural now seems to be trying to lose one dimension, perhaps aspiring to a painterly two-dimensionality – suggested at once by the “flattening” of the installations and by the pastel tints that echo the First Lady's iconic Chanel suits. This might help carry JKO's iconic baggage, but the resulting atmosphere feels more artificial than in my previous visit, even if perhaps less abstract.
Considering the project beyond this specific chapter, if we take a look at pictures from De Cock's JKO: A Romantic Exhibition at Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden (from which the Fons Welters show derives) we can see the concept at its full expression. In the German venue's rooms, the pieces clustered around more cohesive dialectics and articulated a six-room narration, accompanied by as many books with photographic material. The works exhibited at Fons Welters are thus maybe too small a sample to channel such an ambitious endeavor, scaling-down the investigation of a pop-cultural icon to a provocative title set against a minimal display. The artist's books are also available at the gallery, but as for the show itself there is a bit of a problem: while Repromotion had managed to tickle my brain without any explanation, JKO seems to delegate too much of the experience outside of itself.
(Image on top: Jan De Cock, JKO Romantik IX , 2012, steel, chipboard, melamine, pinewood, plaster, paint, 330 x 66 x 261 cm; Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Fons Welters, Amsterdam /Photo: Gert Jan van Rooij.)