Remy Jungerman: Brilliant Corners
On ViewFridman Gallery
April 7 – May 15, 2021
A fragile coat of kaolin, a white clay from Suriname, adds a ghostly matte blanket to the works in Remy Jungerman’s current show Brilliant Corners. The spacious main floor of Fridman Gallery allows for a substantial number of works and thus an opportunity to watch the artist employ his carefully chosen set of materials along three different lines of inquiry: stretched fabric pieces, wall-hung assemblages, and simple wall-hung three-dimensional forms. At times, Jungerman applies his clay as a screen, but alternatively, the kaolin can also be used to mummify the forms beneath. We see this, for example, in the two, very similar works titled DAGWE (dodecagon) (2020)—numbers 2 and 3 of an edition of 12—hoop sculptures wrapped in an encircling shroud of thick and gleaming white paste. Their underlying substance is unknown, but we take notice of their dimensions and their relationship to our own scale. The kaolin painted over the surfaces of Jungerman’s assemblages also adds a layer of metaphysical meaning: it unites, perhaps uncomfortably, the complicated narratives of Surinamese Maroon culture and the Dutch De Stijl. An ambiguous partial explanation for this aspect of the body of work emerges in the basement space, where Bonno Thoden van Velzen’s 1962 anthropological documentary Visiting Deities presents footage of a Maroon ritual, in which we watch the kaolin clay “in action” on the bodies of participants in the festival.
Jungerman was born in Suriname, and studied art both there and in Amsterdam. The Maroon people from which the artist’s mother hails are a diaspora culture descended from dispossessed, enslaved Africans who escaped captivity and formed free communities in the Surinamese jungle. How, Jungerman asks, can we come to terms with the intersection of Maroon art with the modernist aesthetics of their colonial Dutch oppressors? It would be easy enough for the artist to hate the colonizer, but he chooses the path of interaction and integration, while not shying away from critical impulses either. Jungerman’s “canvases” utilize cotton as a substrate, and the kaolin as an overlying screen that allows the colors and textures of the base cloth to seep through intermittently. This is particularly the case in stretched fabric works such as Pimba AGIDA BAAU V (2020), where the black and yellow plaid of traditional Surinamese textiles bursts out in sharp angled bands of color. The drawings in the clay are diagrams of lines etched into a matte surface, exposing masked colors and patterns beneath. Pimba AGIDA VI and Pimba AGIDA VIII (both 2020) are labyrinths composed, respectively, of emanating right angles and squares, while Pimba AGIDA MADAFO II and Pimba AGIDA MADOFO IV (both 2020) each showcase a tracery of perspectival lines ruled on a picture plane bisected by heavy bands of negative space. Jungerman’s kaolin serves to mask an opposing, or at least alternative rhythm beneath, but his ghostly surface can’t fully contain these riotous patterns.
Horizontal Obeah MAAU (LA LLORONA) (2020) is a long shelf-like composition which incorporates the orthogonal aesthetic of De Stijl: slender horizontal components are juxtaposed against squares and verticals. But here Jungerman destabilizes the frozen Dutch purity of hard edges and simple color palette by incorporating handmade forms and inscribed textures. In processes associated with Central African Kongo power figures—transmitted through Maroon culture—the artist inserts nails and wedges into the rectilinear objects that make up the work, applies tar as well as kaolin, wraps some of the horizontals in beads, and perches a ceramic gin bottle at the center of the altar-like construction. Is this a modernism augmented by displays of personal gratitude and respect, or a skin of ritual techniques stretched over a structure of rigid foreign geometricity? Similar questions are raised by NKISI PINDI (2020), which is made up of three cubes of the same dimensions assembled vertically into a substantial rectangular solid. Here Jungerman plays with presence and absence: the top cube is an empty frame, while the middle and bottom are clay-covered and incised. But the aggressive detail of jagged broken glass inserted between the two solid white cubes adds a subtle and latent hostility to the piece. The Dutch and Surinamese influences interact and vibrate with united strength, but the artist acknowledges the friction at points of contact. Some wounds may never heal, but that doesn’t mean the organism cannot thrive.