TV works

Jan Vercruysse

Jan Vercruysse (b. 1948) studied law at the University of Ghent and spent two years as an assistant to Wilfried Roels at the Seminary of Roman Law. From the mid-1960s, he wrote poetry, which by the early 1970s would become self-reflexive: poetry about poetry. In 1973, he worked on visual poetry, which resulted in a number of publications in the magazine, De Tafelronde (Round Table), headed by the Flemish visual poetry guru, Paul De Vree. Vercruysse’s debut as a visual artist followed in 1974, at the Catherine Bouckaert Gallery in Ghent. He exhibited ‘visual text works’, a series of pages with silk-screened texts, presented according to plastic, three-dimensional principles. In one series, the sentence ‘It’s Wonderful, You are so Beautiful’ is repeated, each time in a different colour, in a typeface that is reminiscent of stencils.

In L’Art de Voir, Les Choses, written in 1977, Vercruysse first worked with visual images, reproductions of paintings from an old Larousse encyclopaedia. The pictures he selected show situations in which individuals or groups oppose one another as subject and object. The theme is the relationship of the artist to the world. The artist interprets the world and places it in front of him, as an object. Since 1979, Vercruysse has no longer quoted existing images, but composes and stages his own images. He acts as a model for works that focus increasing emphasis on the position of the artist. The relationship between subject and object is expressed, among other things, in the form of the relationship between the artist and his female model. In 1984, Vercruysse rounded off his photographic work with a series in which the masked artist acts out a kind of commedia dell’arte, with rhetorical and ‘explanatory’ gestures, in front of a diagonally composed and threateningly shifting, constructivist background. From 1983 to 1986, he produced ‘rooms’ - places for art. From 1985, the positive formulation that lay at the core of these spaces was turned around, into a negative formulation, in his Atopies (‘non-places’), which he conceives as a deconstruction of the rooms. Then, from 1987, they were succeeded by the Tombeaux (note the plural form), described by Vercruysse as ‘containers for the memory’. He worked on these until the early 1990s. The Tombeaux can take widely varying forms, including compact, serial and furniture-like structures with a thick armature in black, varnished wood (1988-1989), wooden coat racks painted blue (1988), or wind instruments in blue Murano glass that are hung on the wall (1991). Vercruysse has made a huge number of Tombeaux, and for him the quantity itself is part of the idea behind this series. He frequently grouped the black, furniture-like examples into constellations (Tombeaux-constellations).

The first major solo exhibition of Vercruysse’s Tombeaux was held in 1989 at the Kunsthalle in Bern, which also showed the atopias and photographic works. The Open Mind exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Ghent in 1989, and the exhibition on De academie en de waanzin, which was the subject of the second Container broadcast, also exhibited Tombeaux. In 1989, Jan Vercruysse was honoured by the Flemish Community government. In 1990, Jef Cornelis would complete an ‘interview film’ on Vercruysse, and in 1994, the (somewhat later) work of Vercruysse would play an important role in Cornelis’ The Music Box, a film on the ‘bourgeois subversiveness’ of several Belgian artists, with - in addition to Vercruysse - Henri De Braekeleer, James Ensor and René Magritte as protagonists. [Dirk Pültau]