Vincent Geyskens

Galerie Annette de Keyser

A SUCCESSFUL MINTER can do a lot of damage in a small country. To name the painter, Luc Tuymans. To name the country, Belgium. Young artists here struggle with the question of how to escape Belgium's association with a kind of perverted surrealism. In Tuymans's case this resulted in frightening, loaded, disturbed images. On the other end of the spectrum, the same struggle gave rise to Wim Delvoye's cynical view on art versus—or embracing—commercial language. But a tattooed pig in a museum or a machine that produces shit is, in a way, as Belgian as a Magritte painting. Both Tuymans and Delvoye are exquisite artists, deeply rooted in a Belgian context. It's not as if there can't be a third way, but it's interesting that in this country, where nothing is what it seems, the best art is always either disturbed (Delvoye) or disturbing (Tuymans).

Vincent Geyskens fits into this picture but manages to find a third way. More a contemporary Magritte than a Tuymans epigone, Geyskens seem to have reinvented the whole “Ceci n'est pas une pipe” topos. Take the name of his last show, “Homosexualité et Alcoolisme.” On one hand it seems like this title—or is it a credo?—determines how we have to look at the paintings and drawings. Is Zelfportret, 1999, a self-portrait as a transvestite, really a portrayal of the subject, or is it a clownish image of the artist as a canvas? And why is it so intriguing, so desperate? Why did he paint his face as if with some kind of over-the-top suntan, his lips in asexual red? Why the blush on his frightened face? “Ceci n'est pas un autoportrait,” as Magritte might have put it but then what is it? The artist himself claims that the exhibition's title is allegorical. Homosexuality stands for the image and the imagery, alcoholism for a nonconscious body. Again the comparison with Magritte is striking. It is well known that Magritte painted puzzling but haunting figurative translations of a typically abstract domain, the unconscious, and afterward invited his friends to invent the titles. So is this self-portrait, seen in the context of Geyskens's show, really a portrayal of himself as a homosexual, an alcoholic, or maybe both? Probably not. But you're not free to regard the allegedly figurative painting in a totally different way either.

Something similar happens with Management I, 2000, a small painting of a severe older man with cold, glazed blue eyes. Besides being a magnificent portrait, which may sound like an insult these days, this painting raises many questions. Again, the so-called manager looks away from the viewer—but this is not evasiveness, it is arrogance without a reason; we see a hard but fragile man. Geyskens shows the manager's naked torso from behind as he turns his head back to the right, revealing a disturbingly self-conscious smile on his face. A painted smile. Is this self-confidence just a form of transvestitism, a borrowed attitude? Who is this guy and what does he represent? Power or decay? “This is not management”?

Jos Van den Bergh