Jef Geys You don’t see what you think you see at Wiels Museum Brussels

Thursday, February 8, 2024
Jef Geys You don’t see what you think you see at Wiels Museum Brussels

Art critics commonly describe Jef Geys’ work as “unruly, and impossible to categorize in conventional art-historical categories.” Despite Geys’ subversive and critical attitude towards the art world, this ambitious survey exhibition shows that his work is not only deeply engaged and socially critical, but also funny and sensory.

As Geys writes in 1991, “Is what one sees really what one thinks one sees? And what can one do with what one sees?” Our perception of things is shaped by assumptions, beliefs and habits, which in turn are influenced by education, mainstream media and advertising. Always critical of image and language, Geys aims to expose “the hidden, what one thinks one sees,” and encourages self-reflection and scepticism. This aim is the starting point of this survey exhibition of Geys’ heterogeneous work, enriched by previously unpublished and exceptional documents from the artist's archives.

From the early 1960s, Jef Geys compiled an archive, with the titles of everything he considered part of his artistic practice on his ‘List of Works’ serving as its index. With a total of 844 entries, the List of Works opens with photographs and drawings from Geys’ school days at the Brothers of Charity. A wide range of creative projects follow, spanning six decades of artistic practice. Avant-garde drawings and paintings, lacquered puppets, sensual fruit reliefs, performances and actions, conceptual photography, ‘open’ texts, and instructional films all make the list. But so do Geys’ observations of a first-time cyclist, his botanical studies for self-medication, his novel methods of teaching his students, as well as the local community meetings for direct democracy he helps organising. Jef Geys’ List of Works clearly demonstrates his versatility and broader interests as an artist, and as a precursor of interdisciplinary practice by integrating other disciplines such as biology, architecture, sociology, and anthropology within visual arts.

“For me, the main thing is to express my problems as clearly as possible, in a form and in a manner that feels obvious. Whether it’s an object, a project, or a painting, it doesn’t matter. I try to gain insight into things, and sometimes, to gain insight, I have to make something, and sometimes I have to write it down, and sometimes I have to blow up the museum to do it. To gain insight into things for myself. This is the self-study I'm working on.”

Jef Geys’ work can be considered a lifelong learning experience. Between entry 1 and 844, he accumulated knowledge and sought answers to the questions and problems he faced. In doing so, he involved many groups of people, including students, village residents, museum visitors, family members, and bar managers, not just within but especially outside the traditional academic art environments.

Main Image :Jef Geys, Hallo Andy! (Hello Andy!), 1969. Jef Geys Estate. © Jef Geys Estate – Sabam 2023-2024. Photo : Philippe De Gobert

This exhibition runs until May 19, 2024

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Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.

Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.


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