Jef Verheyen and Friends

September 11, 2010 - January 16, 2011

As part of the 2010 Düsseldorf Quadrennial, the Langen Foundation in co-operation with the ZERO foundation presented an exhibition of the work of the most important Belgian ZERO artist and painter, Jef Verheyen (1932-84). The œuvre of this artist, whose death was so untimely, is known for its extensive explorations of the phenomena of light and colour. In this show it will be seen in the context of works by his friends and as part of the ‘Light in Darkness’ project at Zollhof in the MediaHarbour Düsseldorf. Günther Uecker, one of the key members of the ZERO movement, Léonore Verheyen, the daughter of the painter, and the Vervoordt Foundation are lending their support to this ambitious project both by their active co-operation and by opening their personal archives.

One of the most significant Flemish artists of the 20th century, Jef Verheyen will be fêted in a retrospective exhibition at the Langen Foundation in Neuss. The departing point of this exhibition is two-fold; his close connections with Düsseldorf and Germany form one theme, his amicable and mutually-inspiring contacts with Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni, Günther Uecker, Hermann Goepfert, Yves Klein and other ZERO protagonists, another.  Verheyen’s own work will be shown next to major works by his ZERO counterparts and artists who were spiritually or intellectually linked to them. An additional chapter of the exhibition is dedicated to works which Verheyen created together with friends and will include ‘joint projects’ with Lucio Fontana, Hermann Goepfert and Günther Uecker. In celebration of a collaborative artistic event which took place in 1967, Uecker reconstructed one of the earliest Land Art projects, entitled Flämische Landschaft (Flemish Landscape).

Verheyen’s work is very distinct in its intense preoccupation with phenomena such as light, colour and landscape. His pictures are infinite colour continuums that in their purity confront the viewer in an almost instinctive way with his own perception and its meaning. Their aesthetic effect is one which evokes a deep sense of solitude while at the same time providing the ability to reconnect with a core which is very present and real.

With his many interests and wide philosophical reading, Jef Verheyen considered seeing as an experience not limited to the one faculty alone. ‘Seeing,’ he said, ‘is feeling with your eyes’. The appeal is to the whole human being; with an open attitude toward art and nature, we can be the richer in manifold experiences. Verheyen’s long-standing friend, Günther Uecker reflects that ‘In all he did, Jef was aflame with passion, and so he made his colours glow.’ Exactly how influential he was for the ZERO movement and some of its key members is made clear in a statement by Lucio Fontana who simply claimed ‘He is like my father’.

Among the renowned lenders to the exhibition are the Austrian-based Lenz Schönberg Collection, the Rira Collection in Cologne, Stiftung museum kunst palast in Düsseldorf and the Hubertus Schoeller Stiftung in Düren. A substantial part of the exhibition comes from the Vervoordt Foundation. The relationship between Jef Verheyen and Axel Vervoordt was one of the spirit-and-soul-shaping exchanges which were crucial for the further maturing of the young Vervoordt’s passion for art and the sharpening of his knowledge and eye. Totally in line with his own philosophy, Verheyen taught him how to not only look but also see, how to develop an openness to art which transcends the mere aesthetic or historical.

For nearly four decades Axel Vervoordt has been collecting the work of Verheyen as well as other ZERO members and all through this time he has been a fervent and passionate emissary who has helped construct an international platform for Verheyen’s work.   
The exhibition was one of the first in Germany to be conceived and organised by the ZERO foundation. The curator is Dirk Pörschmann.