The exhibition by Jef Geys (Leopoldsburg, 1934) at the Van Abbemuseum may be seen as a major survey of the artist’s work.
Works selected from the late nineteen fifties to the present day illustrate several aspects of his still- expanding oeuvre. It is the first solo museum exhibition of the Belgian artist in the Netherlands.
The chosen works bridge a period of more than forty years, although ‘survey’ here should in no way be interpreted as ‘retrospective’. Geys’s work consists of many small ‘identities’. Moreover, time and again several of his individual works have a renewed charge and stimulus about them due to their topicality. The mental stance of his visual exploration and the true-to-lifeness of the premises form only the beginning of an explanation of his work. The position of Geys, unique in all respects, consists of various layers of camouflage. Beneath this is a layer with productive – and sometimes deliberately counterproductive – alternating opposities, i.e. between politics and aesthetics, between activism and reflection.
At the centre of the exhibition is Geys’s ARCHIEF (archive). In recent years the political and social potency of an archive, as both a metaphor and conceptual model, has been presented in numerous theoretical writings and exhibition models. The ‘showing’ of an archive has become common practice. Since 1958 Geys has kept an inventory of all his works. He collects, numbers, notes, and categorises anything associated with a work, like photographs, correspondence, articles on similar themes or subjects, etc., into binders. The ring binders are then plasticised, sealed and made inaccessible. What does such a ‘closed’ archive communicate about the artist, his attitude, imagination and ‘interactivity’?
Another major work in the exhibition is Gevoelsspeeldoos (Feelings Playbox) from 1966. In late January 2005 Geys started a project in which ten education institutes in Eindhoven, whose intake ranged from infants to Technical University students, could make free use of his Gevoelsspeeldoos. Geys developed the box in the first half of the nineteen sixties. Between 1960 and 1989 he taught art at Balen. The box consists of a large number of building blocks, varying greatly in texture, material, weight and colour. As well as painted wooden bars, cubes and cylinders the box also contains blocks made from textile, sandpaper, corrugated cardboard, glass, stone and metal. The Gevoelsspeeldoos can be seen as a kind of ABC of sculpture, a collection of elements prior to the making of an art work. What are the basics of our visual perception? The various contrasts between hard and soft, heavy and light point to Geys's interest in questions about the senses and how they influence looking at something. ‘Seeing’ conforms to sensory rules but what ideas do we develop as far as concordance between word and image is concerned? Gevoelsspeeldoos provides the framework but not the infill for these and other questions between the surface, the colour and the mental imagery.
Along with Een dag, een nacht, een dag…, (Day and Night and Day…) screened at Documenta 11 in Kassel in 2002, and variously described as the 'ultimate film' and an 'anti-film', the exhibition also devotes attention the work Politiek aspect van een emotie (Political Aspect of an Emotion). In 1971 Geys was invited by the then museum director Jean Leering for the Triennial of the Southern Netherlands, a group show to promote young talent from the region. However, Geys’s contribution Politiek aspect van een emotie was removed from the show before the opening on the orders of Eindhoven’s Mayor and Aldermen.
A long association exists between Jef Geys and the Van Abbemuseum, but this exhibition represents the first presentation of his work in Eindhoven. Geys has produced a new issue of Kempens Informatieblad especially for the exhibition. This free copy of the newspaper – a publishing format used by Geys since the early nineteen sixties – includes key legal documents and correspondance between the artist and the museum director, the local council, the county and the various lawyers involved in the public case around a policital aspect of an emotion.