KMSKA presents Jef Verheyen. Window on infinity

Press release
19 March 2024

The first solo exhibition of the abstract artist in his hometown

On 23 March, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp (KMSKA), in collaboration with the M HKA, will premiere the exhibition Jef Verheyen. Window on infinity. A first. Forty years after his death, this is the first solo museum exhibition of this illustrious modern master in his hometown. A fascinating play of light and dark, of colour and form, the exhibition illustrates how Verheyen introduced a new way of experiencing art. To look at his work means to slow down. To turn your gaze towards infinity. 

The exhibition shows how the oeuvre of Verheyen - 'the last modernist' - evolved. From experiments in ceramics to painting - a medium which he continued to refine. The concept behind his art was of enormous importance to Verheyen. Window on Infinity is the first exhibition to highlight the conceptual approach to Verheyen's work so comprehensively.

Like no other, Verheyen bridges the gap between tradition and innovation. In pursuit of essence. In the process, he masters the painting technique to perfection. Even today, it is difficult to figure out how, using brushes, he could have painted the thin (semi-)transparent layers without leaving brush strokes. He lets the light break across the canvas and plays with emptiness as a window on infinity. A central theme throughout his career.

Jef's dream

"The KMSKA was a continuous source of inspiration for Jef Verheyen. He frequently visited the museum and always dreamed of presenting his work next to Jean Fouquet's Madonna. As a tribute to this extraordinary artist, we are now realizing that dream." - Carmen Willems, general director KMSKA

Jef Verheyen is connected to the museum in other respects. In 1979, he curates the exhibition ZERO Internationaal Antwerpen at the KMSKA, an artistic movement to which he himself is affiliated. In the years following this exhibition, the museum acquires several works from the ZERO movement. They constitute one of the few international ensembles that was included in its entirety into the collection, and it includes names such as Lucio Fontana and Günther Uecker, friends of Jef Verheyen.

Moreover, contemplating Verheyen's work fits seamlessly with the KMSKA motto. Contemplating his work means looking at light, at emptiness, at infinity. He goes to great lengths to make the viewer look differently and thus see more

International trailblazer

Although less well-known in his own country, Verheyen was undeniably one of the great driving forces within the international avant-garde. Not only did his work create momentum within art itself. Verheyen was also actively building an international network. Therefore, the exhibition places Verheyen's works in dialogue and confrontation with his predecessors and contemporaries. Prestigious loans from the Yves Klein Foundation, the Uecker Archiv and the Fondazione Lucio Fontana, among others, augment the expo.

"With this exhibition focusing on Jef Verheyen, KMSKA and M HKA are bolstering their shared ambition to put Flemish Masters on the map internationally. Verheyen wanted to make Antwerp a European hot spot by any means necessary. This is an objective we obviously share with him." - Luk Lemmens, chairman KMSKA

Contemporary interpretations

Like Verheyen, contemporary artists too take up the challenge of pushing the boundaries of painting. Through spatial installations, Ann Veronica Janssens, Kimsooja, Pieter Vermeersch and Carla Arocha & Stéphane Schraenen excite the wonderment of visitors. After all, the pursuit of essence is as relevant today as it was when Verheyen turned his window on infinity.

"Verheyen's work is slow art at its best. Thanks to his fascination with cosmic space and his special technique - painting without visible brushstrokes - he sends the viewer's gaze into the void, into light, into infinity. It makes you slow down. It is a kind of meditation." - Adriaan Gonnissen, curator of modern art KMSKA

"Like no other, Verheyen knew how to bridge the gap between innovation and tradition. For instance, via traditional ceramics he discovers a connection with a monochrome tradition in which he finds new possibilities for his abstract painting. Contacts with Piero Manzoni and Lucio Fontana lead to a further escalation of the importance of the idea behind the work of art." - Annelien De Troij, curator and researcher M HKA