Jan Henderikse

Letters from America

In 1968, Jan Henderikse (Delft, 1937) exchanged Curaçao for New York, the city that became his permanent base of operations. Since the early 1970s, Henderikse's oeuvre has shown an intense and persistent interest in the American way of life. Or perhaps better, a deep-rooted, almost phenomenological interest in the exotic-ordinary - and then from a European perspective.

His move to New York brought renewal and new energy, but above all made Henderikse an artist with a twist. For years, the European Henderikse had a second studio in Berlin and to this day considers Antwerp his second home. His studio there, in the shadow of the Antwerp Hessenhuis, also reminds us of his connection with the post-war European avant-gardes. After all, at the end of the fifties, the Hessenhuis was the birthplace of a new artistic conception, with the artists' group G58 as its permanent operator, and pioneering exhibitions such as Vision in Motion (1959) and Anti-peinture (1962) - in the latter of which Henderikse also took part.
On this European foundation - both culturally and ideologically - Henderikse developed in the United States into an artist who, as one of the first of his European contemporaries, distanced himself from the purely object-related character of the work of art. In 1979, Henderikse characterised his orientation towards conceptual film and photography as "the end of hanging and standing art". His long-term monster project Broadway, also started in 1979, proved in retrospect to be a true pivotal point in his oeuvre. During countless Sunday walks, Henderikse systematically documented all the intersections of the more than twenty-kilometre Broadway, resulting in a film, photo assemblages and an artist's book in the form of a leporello. It is this conceptual approach to the tangible-ordinary that colours Henderikse's artistic course, even today.

Equally, however, Henderikse's 'American' photo-assemblages 'Give my Regards to Broadway' and the artist's book 'Broadway' bear witness to a transatlantic cross-pollination. In this unadulterated Americana, after all, we also recognise his fascination with seriality and the 'anti-compositional' ordering principle of the grid, the crown jewels of the international ZERO movement to which Henderikse belonged in the early 1960s. This duality is even more pronounced in his photo-assemblages of 'failed' photographs and rejected portraits of cruise-ship passengers. In the latter works of rejects, with apparently nimble titles such as All Aboard and The Handshaking Captain, the rules of 'good taste' are called into question and kitsch and trash are elevated to the norm.

The fact that the multiplicity and repetition of Jan Henderikse's (photo)assemblages evoke an aesthetic experience, feelings of enjoyment, contemplation or, on the contrary, disillusionment, lies in the character of the material. Henderik's 'tone' is tongue-in-cheek, but equally these works compromise the viewer's relentless hunger for unique experiences. It is this 'Disneyfication' of our daily lives that Henderikse captures with razor-sharp precision. Never entirely uncritical, but invariably mildly amused. Jan Henderikse is an ethnographer of our daily lives, with a foothold on two continents.

Artists: Jan Henderikse

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