Jef Geys, a multidisciplinary artist whose projects in painting, sculpture, film, photography, and publishing are suffused with a dry wit and perverse intelligenceinformed by Conceptualism, Dada, and fellow Belgian artist René Magritte’s particular strain of Surrealismhas died. He was eighty-three years old.
Geys spent most of his life living in Balen, a small Belgian town in the province of Antwerp. He worked as an art teacher at a girls’ school there for more than thirty years. An exhibition at New York’s Essex Street gallery last year featured a selection of the artist's older pieces, cocooned in bubble wrap, sealed up with packing tape, and dabbed with droplets of paint in red, yellow, and blue. “What an awakener,” said critic Robert Snowden of the show in his review from the September 2017 issue of Artforum. “Their ebullience is permanent, though the paintings are decidedly not. Geys can change a work and does. Little is ever fixed. It is as if the works say, ‘Sometime earlier we were sold stability and totality, much as the far-fetched basics of religion are sold to the credulous.’ His own history, it seems, is not something to clarify. By reusing it, he can claim twin rights that ought to be incompatibleto take leave of one’s own older work while simultaneously exhibiting it.”
Geys had more than fifty solo exhibitions in his lifetime, at venues such as the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (his only American museum show); the Kunstverein München in Munich; the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, the Netherlands; Galerie Max Mayer in Düsseldorf; Cubitt in London; Air de Paris in Paris; and of course, Essex Street, which also represented him. Geys was the representative artist for Belgium at the São Paulo Bienal in 1991 and the Venice Biennale in 2009.