BOZAR exhibits photographs of the Tour de France taken fifty years ago by Jef Geys
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BOZAR exhibits photographs of the Tour de France taken fifty years ago by Jef Geys
Jef Geys. The Tour de France 1969 of Eddy Merckx. Black and white photographs in digital print after ektachrome © Kazinni and Air Paris.

BRUSSELS.- On Sunday 7 July the 2019 Tour de France sets off from Brussels. Exactly 50 years since it was won for the very first time by the Belgian Eddy Merckx.

The Belgian artist Jef Geys (1934-2018) spent two weeks photographing the 1969 Tour de France. The theme of his photographic reportage is not to show the glamour of the race towards triumph, but the merging of the unusual and the everyday in the life of the cyclist. Among the spectators, race bikes, team cars and advertising hoardings, a cyclist pops up here and there, and that cyclist could be Eddy Merckx...

The 67 black and white photographs are now being exhibited in Belgium for the very first time, 50 years after they were taken. They are shown with a montage of two pages from Belgian newspapers dated 20 and 21 July 1969, which put the event in perspective. On the day Merckx won the Tour, Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon!

A planetary and universal conquest alongside a sporting and national victory…in his art Jef Geys weaves different levels together and places them on an equal footing: a newspaper article alongside a photo, an achievement in science alongside one in sports, a famous racing cyclist alongside an ordinary cycling enthusiast. In this exhibition he again demonstrates his mastery of the contrast of High and Low, making him one of the most influential post-war Belgian artists.

The exhibition has already been successful in seven cities in France, and the accompanying book (‘234’) won the ‘Prix Bob Calle du livre d'artiste 2019’.

Jef Geys was a Belgian artist born in 1934 in Bourg Leopold, Limburg. He passed-away in 2018. He represented Belgium at the 2009 Venice Biennale, took part in major artistic events such as Chambre d’Amis (Gent, 1986), the Sao Paulo Biennale (1991), and documenta 11 (Kassel, 2002). Numerous museums have held solo exhibitions of his work like the Van Abbemuseum (Eindhoven, 2005), the Institut d’Art Contemporain (Villeurbanne, 2007), MOCAD (Detroit, 2010), MuHKA (Antwerp, 2011), Culturgest (Lisbon, 2012), the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium (Brussels, 2012), Cneai= (Chatou, 2012, 2014 and 2016), Wiels (Brussels, 2013), and S.M.A.K(Gent, 2015).

From his start in 1958, photography has always been Jef Geys’s defining medium. Followed in Belgium by Jacques Charlier and Marcel Broodthaers in the 1960s, this early predilection for photography turned him into a pioneer in the Belgian art world and put his name next to renowned artists of the international conceptual art scene like Ed Ruscha, Robert Smithson, John Baldessari or Douglas Huebler. The exhibition reactivates a series of photographs from an artist’s book entitled Al de zwart-wit foto’s tot 1998 [All the black and white photographs up to 1988] – a book containing 500 pages of photographs (1958 – 1998) randomly laid out as contact sheets – and of which the exhibition purposes a “shattered” version.

With Jef Geys, one cannot dissociate his photographic and archival practice. The archive of art and the art of archiving merged into one and the same practice when the artist took the liberty of defining his own notion of art. For Jef Geys, there is no unique, neither serial artwork nor archive, only versions exist, translations of personal events under an artistic form. “Kome” (Flemish acronym of Kunstwerken op meerdere exemplaren) is how he calls a large part of his work. It means: “work in several copies”. This is why newspapers, photographs or films hold as much value to him than paintings, sculptures or their captions. This constant questioning of the standards of the artwork can lead him to take pictures of his own paintings to catalogue them in folders, and later turn them into artworks themselves – the list of artworks being also exhibited as such.

Jef Geys explores every aspect of his daily environment without even ranking them, whether they have a personal, cultural or universal dimension. This is how he very naturally juggled with different kinds of artistic media : drawing, painting, sculpture, text, photography, film, and big data. His acute sense for a daily artistic production under any form led him to translate education program into an artistic one as a teacher, and, as a graphic designer, to infuse the newspaper he worked in with his own creations, up to the point of taking it over. This is how KEMPENS Informatieblad, the local newspaper of his region, became the artistic medium of his own research and comments on his work, as well as the first promotional support of his exhibitions, in place of catalogues.

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