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Tombs
Original title: Tombeaux
1989
Painted wood
Dimensions: 90 x 250 x 48 cm
Reference: ACF0450
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After the ‘Eventails’ series, towards the end of the 1980s Jan Vercruysse embarked on a new body of work grouped under the title ‘Tombeaux’. The artist uses this French literary term, deliberately playing with its various meanings: a tombeau is a burial ‘tomb’ or ‘final resting place’, but also a piece of music or poetry dedicated to someone or something that has passed away, as in the case of Stéphane Mallarmé’s famous tombeaux in honour of Charles Baudelaire and Maurice Ravel. The Tombeaux are wooden structures with simplified, synthetic forms. They are painted in sombre colours, although, this piece exemplifies, they may incorporate colours that are saturated in an almost ‘Constructivist’ way. It is important to point out, as the artist himself indicates, that the idea of memory has no nostalgic component; rather, the emphasis is on ‘recollection or inspiration’. The reference to the tomb has to do not so much with death or sterility as with silence and concentration—what Vercruysse calls ‘creative memory.’ ‘The Tombeaux are not seeking an aggressive confrontation with the viewer. The violence is hidden, contained. No strategy of inaccessibility is expressed. Art requires slow attention,’ the artist explains. That ‘serene’ and silent approach to the work is intended to reveal a contrast between the minimalist reading of a ‘truth’ locked in art itself and the ability to take advantage of that silence to reflect on the cultural vicissitudes of the moment, an activity that the viewer is invited to engage in. So the ‘tombs’ seem to be places of memory, where reflection and silence are possible, and from which there may spring an interaction with our own forms of the present, which often tend to treat the past superficially. It is no accident that the particular piece we are concerned with here seems to be an ironic metaphor alluding to the tomb of modernity itself, which may be lying in state but is still capable of conveying certain information. Moreover, the title of each work is in the plural form, suggesting a flight from individuality and the desire to strengthen a plural sense of silence. It should be pointed out that the entire series was produced in an obsessive and exhaustive manner, which often led to a certain irritation in the gallery market, so closely linked to the ‘pressing need for renewal’. Vercruysse thus seems to be expressing a criticism of the commercial processes that arose in the 1980s.

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