Cool Hunter Predictions: Folkert De Jong - Art Collector

Issue 51, January - March 2010

This profile appeared in the "Cool Hunter Predictions" feature, part of the annual special issue "50 Things Collectors Need to Know 2010"

It’s surely a sign. Rizzoli’s lavish and massive trend-spotting survey of new sculpture, The Shape of Things To Come (published late last year in conjunction with the re-opened Saatchi Gallery in London), uses the young Amsterdam-based artist Folkert de Jong’s Shooting Lesson from 2007 for its cover image. Seven toxic green life-size figures – derived from Picasso’s family of melancholic clowns, Les Saltimbanques – sit astride a tree trunk on trestle legs in the clutter of the artist’s studio. Carved and cast brusquely from polyurethane foam with synthetic, gelato coloured resinous paint dribbling over their limbs like rubber sap oozing from wounded bark, or like lushly decomposing flesh, these figures form a goofy but sinister sort of historical monument. A tableau ostensibly if obliquely referring to an episode in the history of the Dutch republic, these exhumed amnesiac zombies, however, are poignantly detached from whatever catastrophic industrial accident seems to have engulfed them.

Figurative monumental sculpture has, of course, had a revival in the past decade, but usually in the hyperrealist mode of Patricia Piccinini and Ron Mueck, or in an ironic pop idiom like that of the Chapman brothers. What makes de Jong’s style so compellingly individual is an intelligent fluency with social critique and art history that never becomes explicit let alone didactic. He draws on the tradition of exaggerated macabre ambience and grotesque horror from Goya to James Ensor and George Grosz. His subjects are hybrid phantasms of military and ecological disaster, of political terrorism and social misfortune. But it’s the sustained rush of carnivalesque mania that is ultimately so arresting in his work, even if this modulates into moods of religious and libidinal ecstasy, into the psychological remoteness of autistic pathos or the grinning passion of madness and fanaticism. Mutilated or deranged, his figures seem as playfully lunatic as they are dangerously zealous.

Just how agile as well as arresting de Jong’s art is became evident in the show at Melbourne’s Neon Parc in mid-2008, in which five incandescently molten female mannequins – based on Degas’s famous sentimentally erotic bronzes of classical ballerinas – pouted and pirouetted with their black oil-slick liquorice stick bodies brutally jointed by bamboo skewers and shredded bubblewrap in a kind of ad hoc battlefield surgery, while oozing candy coloured gluey goop from every seam like dribbling ice cream, or spattered cosmetics, or luscious sexual secretions. The show was extended to eight weeks due to its popularity, with three of the figures bought up by the Scanlan & Theodore Collection. “His work embodies so many conflicting forces,” enthuses Neon Parc’s Tristian Koenig. “It’s physically fragile but not at all precious; it’s also industrial while transformed into something chaotically detailed. And it’s so obviously excitingly new … and hot.” You can test the temperature at this year’s Biennale of Sydney, where de Jong’s work is bound to be as inflammatory as it will be undoubtedly breathtaking.

Edward Colless

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