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Jef Geys exhibition at Yale Union (Portland)

Yale Union presents Belgian artist Jef Geys in one of the last exhibitions that Geys worked on before his passing in February. The exhibition is comprised of new work fabricated onsite at Yale Union and installed alongside earlier works from the last five decades, continuing Geys’ method of installation that integrates his total oeuvre into dialogue with new work. It also includes a collaboration with students from Da Vinci Arts Middle School, and a late edition of Geys’ newspaper, Kempens Informatieblad, is planned for the occasion.

The seven paravents, or folding screens, realized for this exhibition extend Geys’ practice of reinterpreting earlier work from his own inventory. Producing this commissioned work involved a strategy often used by Geys in the past, utilizing the human resources of the presenting institution whereby certain aesthetic judgments were delegated to the curator within a set of rules determined by the artist. The paravents carry cropped prints of photographs that Geys took in Lisbon in 1998, and were fabricated on-site with Yale Union’s woodshop facilities. These prints were derived from As Sombras de Lisboa [translated as either The Ghosts or The Shadows of Lisbon], a previous exhibition at Culturgest, Lisbon in 2012 where Geys directed Culturgest’s curator to select images from a contact sheet of vacation shots for presentation as large-scale wallpaper prints. In Lisbon, the role of wallpaper in exhibition design was of issue; here in Portland, scaled down to the domestic size of furniture and situated in a large room filled with windows, the reiteration of this work takes on a new relationship between light, architecture, and the metric of the body.

This process of Geys outsourcing artistic production continues with other works in Yale Union’s exhibition that take the production line, seriality, and questions of authorship as points in their logic; for instance, in his paintings of seed packets, auto lacquered fiberglass fruit and vegetable reliefs, and a range of work inspired by the Douven painting factory in his hometown. These are all merely suggested places of departure, as Geys worked tirelessly to resist such simple reductions, and even promoted ambiguity. Where many artists of his generation performed a belief in the universal, such an aim appears and disappears in the contingencies of meaning that are the fundamental material for Geys. To be and to speak Flemish, to be a child of the War, to work as a school teacher, to run a bar and cabaret; it is telling that we so often pause on the anecdotal aspects of Geys’ art as if it is the mana of the work.

What Yale Union is exhibiting is a selection from a life of work, bringing closest to our senses an integration between the life of the artist and his output. Drawing much of their content from the experiences of life up until its close, these works engage topics as diverse as the education of children to the identification of cows, to prove that the question of what is worthy as art is never a limited pursuit.

Concurrently, Jef Geys’ “Quadra” curated by Francis Mary at MAC’s Grand-Hornu, Belgium runs

Jef Geys (1934, Leopoldsburg, Belgium–2018, Balen, Belgium) was among Europe’s most respected yet under-acknowledged artists. Producing artwork since the 1950s, Geys’ work focused on the construction of social and political engagement and the questions that are fundamental to the language of art’s content, form, and function. From 1960 to 1989, Geys taught art at the state school in Balen, a town in the Kempens region where he lived for five decades. Geys drew as much of his diction from his work as a teacher as that of an artist, and made it clear that his art questions what is transmissible or translatable between the binaries: artist and audience, student and teacher, particular and universal.

Yale Union is a center for contemporary art in Southeast Portland, Oregon. It is led by a desire to support artists, propose new modes of production, and stimulate the ongoing public discourse around art.

Opening reception: April 14, 2018 (4-6pm)

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