Born in 1968 in Johannesburg, South Africa, Kendell Geers lived much of his life in a turbulent political environment marked by apartheid and racial segregation. This environment profoundly influenced his artistic practice, fueling his desire to break barriers and challenge social dogmas.
After studying fine arts at Wits Technikon in Johannesburg, Geers began exploring conceptual art and body art as forms of political expression. In his early work, he addressed issues of power, violence and identity, prompting viewers to question their beliefs and the injustices of the South African political system of the time.
Geers took part in anti-segregationist movements and, after being sentenced to six years in prison by the military regime, reached London as a political refugee in 1988. The following year, Geers moved to New York, where he found employment as an assistant to Richard Prince. Strongly attached to his homeland, in 1990, following the release of Nelson Mandela, the artist returned to South Africa to take part in the country’s reconstruction as a democratic nation.
Kendell Geers’s work is characterized by its provocative and controversial nature. Often using everyday objects, such as weapons, religious symbols, or discarded materials, Geers creates works that disrupt viewers’ expectations and stimulate critical reflection on contemporary society.
One of his most famous works is Hanging Piece from 1993, in which a rope suspended from the ceiling is connected to a knife pointing towards the floor. This work symbolizes the tension, threat and potential danger that permeated South African society during the post-apartheid period. Another significant example of his provocative approach is Fuck Nations (1999), a light sculpture composed of neon that forms the words “fuck nations.” With this work, Geers critiques the concept of nationalism and challenges the idea that nations can solve global problems.
Geers also uses his own physical presence as an art form. In performances such as African Guilt and Innocence(1996), he presents himself as a man covered in blood, questioning ideas of guilt and innocence in the context of Africa’s colonial and postcolonial past.
Since the early 1990s, Geers has taken part in several exhibitions of international resonance, including The Street. Where the world is made and Road to Justice at MAXXI (Rome, 2018 and 2017), Documenta (Kassel, 2017 and 2002), Venice Biennale (2017 and 2007), Shanghai Biennale (2016), Punk. Its Traces in Contemporary Art at MACBA (Barcelona, 2016), Contemporary Art from the Centre Pompidou at the Haus der Kunst (Munich, 2016), INSERT 2014 at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (Delhi, 2014), The Luminous Interval at Guggenheim Museum (Bilbao, 2011), and Bienal de São Paulo (2010), to name but a few.
M77 had the honor of presenting OrnAmenTum’EtKriMen in 2021: a solo exhibition featuring the artist curated by Danilo Eccher. The title of the exhibition, OrnAmenTum’EtKriMen, is based on the 1908 essay Ornament and Crime by Austrian architect Adolf Loos, a pioneer of modern architecture who condemned decoration on building façades as an unnecessary, even dangerous excess, steering the course of architecture toward the concept of functionality. For M77, Geers embraced Loos’s cultural legacy by interrogating the languages of minimalism and the “white cube” gallery model, throwing aesthetics against a brick wall as well as fragments of shattered ethics.
Through a selection of historical works, his most recent production as well as site-specific installations designed to interact with the gallery interior, the artist created an itinerary in which the juxtaposition of various materials and the strong impact created by his skillful use of color and pattern gave rise to a series of cross-references and contrasts intended to undermine the beliefs held dear by the viewer, consciously or unconsciously immersed in a seemingly attractive yet actually inhospitable and potentially dangerous environment.
OrnAmenTum’EtKriMen is a call to arms. But instead of bullets, love is used here, for like art, love is a weapon of transformation: “Art changes the world—one perception at a time.”