BAWAG Foundation

Jef Geys

October 22, 2009 — December 20, 2009

The BAWAG Foundation is glad to present the Belgian artist Jef Geys’s first solo exhibition in Austria from 22 October to 20 December 2009. The exhibition will be shown in the Foundationsquartier, Wiedner Hauptstraße 15, 1040 Vienna. Admission is free.

Jef Geys (born in Leopoldsburg in 1934) is one of the most influential Belgian artists. The work concept he has developed has radically broken with the understanding of art as an autonomous sphere. It finds its expression in critical analyses, the transmission of knowledge, and the abandonment of all hierarchies. For more than four decades, Geys’s oeuvre has focused on the construction of social engagement, the exploration of socio-political contexts, and the fundamental discussion of the language of art’s contents, form, and function and thus questions the very basis of the system of art and its mode of operation.

His exhibition in the BAWAG Foundation consistently continues in the vein of his strategy and unfolds an approach that exposes the mechanisms of galleries and the art market. He has removed all his works consigned to his gallery in Belgium, part of which he presents in the context of his installation Room 7 in Vienna. “Geys questions whether it makes sense to consign works to galleries that seem to be put in the freezer there. The works are not bought by the gallery, there is no participation in production costs, there is no agreement about the loan, and it is especially the artist’s early works which are of interest since they are rated at the highest value. Why the gallery imposes conditions is not clear. Is it a compensation for the use of the space? Must expenses be shared? Is participation in art fairs (especially abroad) very expensive? … However, we shouldn’t think it is all about the money – this would be a misconception of Jef Geys and his line of argument. It is at least equally important to feel that his work is supported by respect to content and that the temporary unity of an exhibition is only a fragment of an entity that contains all personal and social activities. This is also the case in the BAWAG Foundation. The project, which partially consists in the removal of all the artist’s works from the Hecey Gallery, turns into a ‘new combination’ and generates a new context.” (Roland Patteeuw)

The second work Geys developed for Vienna, My Father, the General, is based on the artist’s first stay in Austria: when he was fifteen, he came to Stoob to help rebuild the church. He met Klara Zichy, the daughter of Count Heinrich von Zichy, there – an encounter that repeated itself in 1982 and seems to occupy the artist to this day. What has become of Klara Zichy, and what would have become of Geys if he had dared to ask her for a rendezvous in 1982? With Geys, there is always a story – this one has triggered the exhibition in Vienna.

From the very beginnings of the artist’s career, social interaction, communication, and positioning oneself within the social milieu constituted the core of his practice. Relying on participatory, provocative and hermetic strategies of communication, Geys creates situations in which posing questions is more important than answering them. The series “!Women’s Questions?” (1965–2007), for example, began as a series of sociopolitical questions Geys asked his students at the school for girls where he was teaching and which he mounted on the wall of his classroom. Accepting the invitation of a Socialist women’s group of his home town, Geys exhibited the questions he used for investigating the situation of the Feminist movement for the first time. Since then, the 157 questions have been translated into twelve languages and presented in various exhibitions both in Europe and the United States. The BAWAG Foundation presents the list in several languages in conjunction with a video installation.

Jef Geys’s work as an artist is inextricably linked with his biography. His pictures, photographs, sculptures, and installations are frequently conceived as serial, unfinished work processes accompanied by extensive archiving activities. He collects, numbers, annotates, and categorizes everything concerning his projects (photographs, his correspondence, articles on related themes and objects) – and files the material. The black-and-white film “Day and Night and Day and…” (2002), presented at the Documenta 11 in Kassel, provides a particularly striking example. The 36 hours of the film showed all the artist’s photographs made from 1958 on in slow succession. The work extended his book project Al de zwart-wit Fotos tot 1998 (All Black-and-White Photos before 1998), which offers an archive comprising scenes from his life and oscillates between the private and the public. Though the film will be hardly seen in its entirety, its dramatic sequence of static pictures emphasizes the monotonous course of time.

Dr. Stephan Koren, Deputy CEO/Vice President of BAWAG P.S.K., Dr. Christine Kintisch, Director of the BAWAG Foundation, and Roland Patteeuw, curator of the exhibition, will introduce the artist and his work at the opening in the BAWAG Foundation on Thursday, 22 October 2009, at 7 p.m.
A catalogue will be published to accompany the exhibition.

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