Kempens Informatieboek SMAK

Posted in SMAK, Uncategorized by gijs van doorn on April 7, 2015

Letter: to Jef Geys

It is rare to be able to express one’s admiration in the art world. Admiration is something for art lovers, or for someone who has achieved something extraordinary in the course of his life. In fact the art world does not countenance admiration; it is more concerned with how knowledge or a lack of it is displayed in a bid to show off or perpetuate its own position. Curators and museum directors are particularly guilty of this. Artists much less so, although… The territory of art and the alleged global art market visibly require a language that is mystical and misty. It seems that an indecipherable language serves as a convenient anchor to sustain a myth (lie). My admiration for you has partly to do with the consistency and clarity with which you embrace art and everyday reality in form and language. I still remember our discussion in Balen with Iris. Hopefully you won’t object if I quote something you said in a slightly different form: “There is enough mist already, it is time we allowed it to rain more”. That statement has stayed with me. Allow it to rain more! So try and ensure that we “tell it like it is”. Perhaps 1 + 1 really is 2. I have just been leafing through a few of today’s newspapers and wondered how you filter out information for the paper coffee mats. “Iconoclasm in the caliphate. ISIS destroys historical Assyrian sculptures in Mosul museum”, I read in De Morgen. You will certainly have seen the headline yourself. When I read it in the paper this morning, I immediately thought of you in Balen. I also thought of the suggestion you once made of blowing up the Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp. Obviously the one has nothing to do with the other, but I hope you will allow me my meandering thoughts. I have always understood the suggestion you made then as a way of undermining an established order. But was it perhaps a way of doggedly looking to see how art and ordinary, everyday reality can be linked? Was it perhaps thought up to refute the pretentions – and by pretension I mean something that is held up to us – in the belief that art can reside in a different way in the nerves of reality? I could call it praise for banality, but banality and ordinariness as the origin of every thought and deed, artistic or otherwise. This Kempens Informatieboek is another example of it. The expert dissection of daily news from the newspaper provides us with a no-nonsense understanding of how reality is shaped and distorted for us. Coffee and newspapers as the starting point for an artistic and informative look at reality. But to return to the museums for a moment. Besides my distinct admiration, I would also like to express my thanks, for it is inconceivable that as an artist you have allowed four museums to work together, in however a minor way, as part of your exhibition – call it a ‘springboard’. Mu.zee, M HKA, Middelheim and S.M.A.K. are visibly linked in the exhibition at S.M.A.K. by means of loans of your work from the different collections, and by means of digital information about the respective museums. Can I call the way you so directly and straightforwardly interpreted an instrument of the government (CAHF: Contemporary Art Heritage Flanders) a form of constructive criticism? Or can I simply say that you allowed it to rain?

Philippe Van Cauteren, Wetteren, February 27th 2015

Kempens Informatieboek SMAK

Posted in Kempens Informatieblad, SMAK by gijs van doorn on April 7, 2015

A cup of coffee in Balen


My first contact with Jef Geys was by post back in 2009. I had sent him a copy of the most recent book of the Flemish Community’s new acquisitions. A week later I found an envelope in my pigeonhole containing a short letter written in capitals: “Hello Iris, thank you for the book. Always welcome in Balen for a cup of coffee. Kind regards, Jef Geys.” I stowed the envelope away in the drawer of my desk where it lay for years, and every time I passed through Balen railway station (never alighting from the train) on my way to my home in the far east of the country, I thought of that still unconsumed cup of coffee with Jef Geys.

Five years later in the summer of 2014 and now Head of Collection at S.M.A.K., I contacted Jef Geys again, this time about Geel, rood, blauw enz… (Yellow, Red, Blue, etc…), a work we wanted to install in the museum. In one of the emails we exchanged on the subject, I found another invitation: “Don’t forget to come by for a cup of coffee if you happen to be near Balen”. There are those times when you think: Es muss sein – It has to be.

So I went and drank that cup of coffee in Balen and it was not long before the idea of mounting an exhibition in Ghent was mooted: something large-scale, for example an exhibition that would take up the whole of the ground floor of the museum. A few weeks later Jef Geys invited me back to show me his finished ‘plan’, which seemed to have come together very nicely.

On display at the centre of the museum is recent work by Geys, i.e. a selection of eighty coffee mats or coasters, which have come to occupy an important place in his oeuvre in recent years. While reading the newspaper and drinking coffee, he scribbles down salient headlines and quotes on the paper coaster on which the coffee is served in the local café, often illustrating the quotes with drawings. So for each coffee mat he creates subsets of recorded events, facts or ideas to which he gives a new order or stratification, thereby establishing or revealing more new meanings or links – quite often in a humorous way. It is this selection of eighty notations and drawings on coasters which was produced in the Kempens Informatieboek to tie in with the exhibition. They constitute a (small) part of the endless ‘archive trail’ which accounts for a large part of Geys’ oeuvre. The remarkable thing about this work is how two seemingly ordinary enough activities like ‘drinking a cup of coffee’ and ‘reading the newspaper’ result in a meaningful object; how a mundane cup of coffee is linked to ‘reading the world’, the maze-like complexity of major world problems and seeming trivialities which find their way into the daily newspaper.

Jef Geys’ work always centres around the critical discussion with society and the world of art and politics. The concept of the coasters, which are a literal and figurative reference to this, provided him with the perfect medium to continue that discussion day after day.

And so a cup of coffee in Balen turned out to be far more significant than I could ever have imagined.

Iris Paschalidis


Jef Geys – Kempens Informatieboek – SMAK – Gent

Posted in Kempens Informatieblad, SMAK by gijs van doorn on March 25, 2015

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