Jacqueline de Jong

"Situationists are self-declared!"
Interview & Portrait by Asher Penn

Born into a family of art collectors,  Jacqueline de Jong’s life has been one of constant engagement with the arts. A core member of the Situationist International at the age of 20 de Jong was the publisher of The Situationsist Times- one of the only Situationist publications to give equal balance to art and text. Throughout this, de Jong has enjoyed a prolific career as a painter and printmaker, consistently showing her provocative works 2-3 times a year. With a facsimile edition of The Situationist Times coming out in 2013 by Boo Hooray, and her latest series “Pommes de Jong” Jacqueline continues to be as creatively present in her day-to-day as she was 50 years ago.

When I was reading about you I realized there were some parallels to my grandmother’s background. She was also the daughter of Jewish industrialists who had an interest in art.
Your grandmother? What age is your grandmother?
I think she’s in her 70’s.
And where is she from?
She’s from Vienna. Her family owned Anker Brot. They fled the nazis to Australia. How long after the war did it take for your father to restart his factory? A short time, but it was after this very long hiding. It was a very amazing hiding place. They had 100 Jews hiding there from 1942 up to 1945. Imagine, 100 people. It must have been an enormous organization. My father was the longest hidden person there, more than a year in the same place.It was run by two women, a mother and daughter named Buchter Schotte.
And you were in Switzerland?
My mother was Swiss before she married my Dutch father; she fled with Max van Dam and me to Switzerland. We got caught near the Swiss border and were taken to a police office in France. There was a German officer who told my mother and Max to go to a hotel and come back the next day. The hotel was run by resistance people who helped us. My mother went off with me and tried to get across the Swiss border. There we were sent back by the Swiss customs. Then we were taken across the border by a passer-by, and taken to the Swiss Salvation Army. Max did not join. He returned to the police station, got deported and was murdered in 1944 in Sobibor.

Jacqueline de Jong, 1963

How old were you?
Three years old. After the liberation in 1945 my father came to see us in Switzerland. A year later he restarted the factory.
Had they been art collectors before the war, as well?
They started collecting after the war around 1948.
Why do you think they collected art?
There is no real 'why'! My mother had a friend in Paris, she knew some artists, and they went to see these artists. It was quite shortly after the war, they were young and wanted to start a new way of living. My father was passionate about architecture, he had wished to be an architect, but as his father had this factory he had to learn to make stockings. From architecture I think he got interested in art.
Was he an intellectual? Definitely. He had become so during his hiding period—he had read a lot about art, philosophy and literature. He had nothing else to do but read. He hid together with Abraham Païs, a physicist , who later became the assistant of Robert Oppenheimer at Princeton.and died as a professor at Rockefeller. They exchanged and discussed books and during their hiding period.
This led to an interest in art?
I believe that he found that art might be essential in his life.
They had no interest in more historic art?
One could hardly afford historical art!
Where did they buy paintings?

Just after the war in Amsterdam and Paris. There were two or three galleries in Amsterdam they bought from. Later on they bought at galleries in Paris. In the early 50s my father went to New York for business and got involved in the New York Art scene. He bought paintings by Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline and got very friendly with both of them. He was actually the first private collector in Holland to have a painting by De Kooning at that time.

"Rencontre accidental," from the Accidental Paintings,  51 x 76"

Were there a lot of artists around when you were growing up?
Yes, which meant that I didn't want to become an artist! I wanted to become an actress. I wished to be something other than the most obvious profession. It was a little too evident that I would be an artist. I had been painting; people said I had talent. You know how things go.
Why did you move to Paris?
I left school because I was fed up with the last year at school. Actually, I did like school rather much, but thought it took too long. Of course my parents disagreed—they insisted that I perfect first of all my foreign languages, so in 1957 I went to Paris for my French and had to work at Christian Dior for half a year. Then in January 1958, I went to London to study theater and English at the Guildhall school of Drama..
This was also the year 1958 that you met Asger Jorn?
Yes for the first time, that is. My father had already bought 3 or 4 paintings from Asger Jorn. On my 19th birthday, he came to Paris to fetch a painting he had bought at Jorn's gallery Rive Gauche.
What was your first impression?
My first impression was a rather bizarre one as my father and Jorn went to a bar and got bloody drunk! Instead of doing something nice on my birthday, they drank. However, I considered Jorn a rather nice person because he was very sweet to his children and I was impressed by the fact that he was so generous. I had until then, not known Jorn as a person, but I had a great admiration for his paintings and writings.
You started seeing him a year later.
I would like to talk about Jorn’s legacy... you might one day see a a Danish documentary about him.
Why did you move back to Amsterdam?
In 1958, I went back to Amsterdam for the exam at the Drama school in Holland and I failed. What did I do? At first I had these jobs in book shops in Amsterdam selling bibles, chess books, and literature.

Sans Titre, 1961 by Guy Debord, Jacqueline de Jong, Asger Jorn, Jørgen Nash, Hardy Strid, Jeppesen Victor Martin, Hp Zimmer, Heimrad Prem, Helmut Sturm

How did you end up at the Stedelijk Museum?
I saw this announcement that the Stedelijk Museum was looking for a scientific assistant, which of course I was not at all. The director, Willem Sandberg, was a friend of my father’s, and I asked if I could be employed for half a day and study art history the other half. He said yes. I got, not only a job, but the best schooling there.
Were you painting at that point?

I was being taught a little bit by Theo Wolvecamp and there was Asger Jorn. Sandberg thought that I had to become a graphic artist. When I tried to go to the Royal Academy, I was rejected.They sent back my works unopened. The reason was that I worked at the Stedelijk and the Stedelijk was an avant-garde politically left-wing institution. . The director of the academy, being a somewhat Catholic right wing person, didn't want students with my ideas.
So you started painting on your own.
I went to work with artists in their studios.
You were a studio assistant?
Yes. I cleaned their brushes. These painters were all about 10 years older. They were another generation, but they helped me. It was inspiring.
How did you find out about Gruppe Spur?
I saw their magazine. Asger Jorn showed it to me. I thought, this is what I would like to do something very expressive and rebellious , inspired by Max Beckman and the German Expressionists. They were my age, my generation, doing the things I hoped to be able to realize too, one day.

Was this when you started painting?

I started painting in 1960.

Situationists coming out from the Sailors' Society in London, 4th Conference of the Situationist International. (from l. to r.): Attila Kotányi, Hans-Peter Zimmer, Heimrad Prem, Asger Jorn (covered), Jørgen Nash (front), Maurice Wyckaert, Guy Debord, Helmut Sturm, and Jacqueline de Jong.

How did you end up involved with the International Situationists?
I wanted to change the world, society, things. The after-war-world was not yet global, it was not yet turned over by a real revolt. It was a desire to be able to find people with whom you could make a change in society and perhaps even the world. I had my education. I wanted to get involved in these sorts of movements, but I didn't know of any movements until then.
So you met them through Asger Jorn?
Not only, also through Constant Nieuwenhuys in Amsterdam. Jorn was a person who always wanted to be involved in movements and collaborate and do stimulating things with both younger and older people. Becoming a member of the International Situationist movement was of great importance to me.
How many people were involved at that point?
Why do you say “wow” ????
It sounds very small. How long after meeting them were you a participant?
I was involved from the moment I met up with them and Guy Debord in Amsterdam early 1960.
What was it like?
The beginning was exciting. I was, when I came to Paris at the end of 1960 frequently together with Guy Debord and Michèle Bernstein.
Did you get along with Guy Debord? Did you ever fight?
There was no fighting. Disagreements, of course. Discussions but mainly friendship and loyalty.
You were also navigating a territory that was largely male. Did you consider yourself a feminist?
Absolutely not. To me it was completely natural.
What was your day to day involvement in the Situationists?
It did not exist.
What were some of the key events you were involved in?
The congresses in London, Brussels, Gøteborg...

Gotenberg Collage by Jacqueline de Jong, From left to right: Jean Martin, Jacqueline de Jong, Jorg Nash,Dieter Kunzelmann, Guy Debord 1960

Why did you side with Gruppe Spur and leave the Situationists? 
Solidarity. They had this trial against them in Germany. Remember, this was not so long after the war. German law was partly the same as during the Second World War.Their trial took place in Munich where they were accused of blasphemy and pornography in their magazine. Just imagine being imprisoned because you are rebellious and have published a magazine . And at that very same moment they were thrown out of an avant-garde movement, the International Situationists. I considered that absolutely unacceptable. I would have felt very embarrassed if I haden’t been loyal and supportive to Gruppe Spur.
Then you started a magazine called The Situationist Times. I’ve always thought it was very ballsy that you took such aggressive ownership of that title after your falling out.
I had announced the necessity of an English magazine with the same name during a general meeting of the International Situationist in 1960, which had been agreed upon. It was the right moment to start The Situationist Times. Of course I was furious over their disloyal and tyrannical attitude. I felt very disappointed and sad and considered their attitude unacceptable and ridiculous. It also meant that all the ideas we were working on were rejected by some (three) Situationists. So I wrote my article in the first issue of the Situationist Times “The Practise of Political Detournement”. Why do three members of a movement decide for the others and overrule them? What determines a Situationist? It’s not a movement where you get a badge or you have a have blood test order to belong. Situationists are self-declared!
What were the goals of the magazine?
If you read No. 5, you can see that there are no ‘goals’. No. Just a free magazine.
Were there other magazines at the time that inspired you? Yes, for example a magazine made with silkscreens called KWY, the magazine of the College Pataphysique in Paris, several American magazines like the Fluxus publications, the Zero in Germany, the Daily Bull in Belgium. The magazine I thought was the best ever was made in 1927—12 issues in one year! I10. It was made by Arthur Lehning who was an anarchist in the 20’s. He made this incredibly well-done international, intercultural magazine with art in all disciplines—fine arts, architecture, poetry, music, science, history... I wanted to make an effort to realize sometthing like this. Jorn, of course,who had made a great and inspiring book La Roue de la Fortune in 1957 , agreed. The Situationist International had very few images and was mostly text. Spur’s magazine had lots of images, and little text. I wanted to have both and make a mixture.

From Sex Magazine #2 Winter 2012
Labelled Art