Originally published on: November 18, 2008
The new James Cohan Gallery in Shanghai is currently exhibiting work by Dutch sculptor Folkert de Jong. The artist’s large scale narrative installations often reference themes of war, big business, and global greed, as well as the history of art. This particular body of work takes Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” theory and applies it to competition between the nations.
The new work, entitled Thousand Years Business as Usual, includes three sculptural tableaux composed of industrial Styrofoam and Polyurethane insulation foam. The main installation, Early Years, consists of 7 anthropomorphized monkeys arranged in a loose circle, alluding to Matisse’s The Dance of 1901. They are precariously positioned atop oil barrels, with one foot suspended in the air. Covered with a sloppy application of black pigment, these simian characters appear to be plucked from a horror movie. This circular format not only quotes a Modern master, but also references the cycle of life and evolutionary (and artistic) progression. In addition to their role in evolutionary theory, monkeys are also the most versatile sign in the Chinese zodiac. In Business As Usual-The Tower, 3 monkeys are stacked one on top of the other on an oil barrel, miming the cautionary statement “See no evil, hear no evil, say no evil.”
De Jong’s choice of materials holds symbolic significance, for the insulation itself is a petroleum product. Styrofoam has no sculptural precedent and was originally used by Americans in World War II to create blue lift rafts that were barely visible on the water. After the war, Styrofoam was absorbed into our daily lives after several companies developed the “Styrofoam Plan” in the 50s, an effort to replace other materials. War leads to innovation and progress and slowly this technology is incorporated into mass culture. While both Styrofoam and Polyurethane are mixed with the same chemical components, Styrofoam has a rigid closed cell structure, while the Polyurethane foam allows the artist to develop more organic forms due to its fluidity.
Folkert de Jong studied at the Academy of Visual Arts and the Rijksacademy for Visual Arts, both in Amsterdam, where the artist currently lives and works. He has had several solo shows, one at James Cohan in New York in 2007 as well as Peres Projects in Berlin. de Jong won the Prix de Rome in 2003 for sculpture and has been influenced by artists such as George Grosz and Otto Dix.