press release

Jef Geys
24. november 2020 — 17. januar 2021

The Belgian artist Jef Geys (1934–2018) built his artistic practice on a continual questioning of art and its definitions, making work with schools, industrial workshops, on farms and for museums as well as cafés and bars. Deeply rooted in his own biography and in a specific local situation, his work embraces popular culture, modern art and the seemingly banal.

The exhibition at Bergen Kunsthall—the first presentation of Jef Geys’ work in Scandinavia—does not aim to give a comprehensive overview, a task that would prove nearly impossible in the face of a practice which set out, at its core, to constantly question the norms of presentation and circulation of art. The exhibition looks into some aspects that are specific to Jef Geys’ oeuvre, such as his work with pedagogy, architecture, and art history. Through a series of different chapters, the exhibition brings seminal works together with rarely seen objects and archive materials, focusing on the artist’s use of different production and circulation systems, such as the school, industrial workshops, rural spaces and the art world. His use of these distinct systems is explored as a questioning of authorship and identity, but also as an investigation of infrastructures through which meaning and knowledge is produced and distributed. The exhibition structure reflects Geys’ own approach which could be described as an “equivalence of everything”: an interest in different parts of society, high and low culture, professional and amateur. Geys treated all of these with the same attention, creating connections and overlapping meeting points as a reflection of his political interests in equality and against the closedness of value systems.

Jef Geys was a teacher for more than thirty years at the state middle school in the small town of Balen, Flanders, where he lived. Through his teaching, the school became one of Geys’ most important spaces of artistic production and a place for shared authorship between the artist and the children. Today, Geys can be seen as an important precursor for contemporary artists working at the interface of art and pedagogy. In a situation where the “educational turn” has become institution-alised, and pedagogic art projects are a common feature on the art scene, the legacy of Jef Geys remains radical and fresh. This is in large part due to Geys’ personal and local approach to art making and education, as inseparable aspects within a practice where life and art continue to blur.

Jef Geys’ work is decisively and adamantly local, all of it conceived and orchestrated from his home in Balen. Much of his work centres on this locale, reflecting the artist’s position within the region’s environment, history, language and social relations—what Geys referred to as its “terroir”. His dedication to working within a global, international art world, while at same time being locally situated and very much present in the small Belgian town, resonates with Bergen Kunsthall’s own ambitions to work from a locally specific situation in the “periphery” of the global art world.

A new book with texts by and on Jef Geys will be published in collaboration with Kunsthalle Bern, where a second show by Jef Geys will be presented in summer 2021.

Curated by Axel Wieder and Steinar Sekkingstad.

Artistic research by Sofie Dederen.