Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys: Fine Arts - Art Collector

Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys: Fine Arts installation view, 2015. Courtesy: Raven Row, London

By Emma Capps

In a brief biography on their gallery’s website, it is mentioned that Jos de Gruyter (b. 1965) and Harald Thys (b. 1966) first met in 1987, when both were disgruntled film and video students at the LUCA School of Arts in Brussels. Whatever spirit of malcontent initially drew the artists to one another still seems to hold a lasting influence on their practice, as one might deduce from the work currently on show at Raven Row in Spitalfields.

Whilst much of their output remains video based, for this exhibition De Gruyter and Thys have turned their attention to watercolours, producing an extensive series of works which mimic the bygone interests of imagined weekend painters. The results are knowingly slipshod, sardonic, and somewhat disdainful. The flat titles of the works –
Dresden After the Bombing, Paris in the Rain, Two Donkeys – are outdone only by the flatness of their rendering, which, in a snide rejection of technique, has been reduced to lazy washes of colour over faint pencil. Everything in these works appears willfully inert, barren, and inane. Figures are generic characters (as in African Tribesmen, Chinese Man Resting) with eyes drawn as dead black dots, staring dumbly out of frames (and of course, the frames themselves are intentionally cheap looking, with poorly rendered titles).

It’s hard to tell what motivations fed these watercolours. Are the artists wishing to suggest that the kind of image-making that relies on paints, brushes, and picture frames is necessarily moribund? Even laughably so?

In walking through the many rooms that hold these works, whatever appeal they might have initially had quickly wears thin, as the outsized quotation marks around each frame begin to seem abrasively sarcastic. We nod: Ok, yes, we get it. However, to criticise this kind of art is to fulfill a role the artists have already outlined; it’s an essential part of the viewing process.

De Gruyter and Thys have had solo exhibitions at MoMA PS1, New York (2015), The Power Station, Dallas (2015), CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco (2015), Kunsthalle Wien (2014), M HKA, Antwerp (2013), Mu.ZEE, Ostend (2012), Kunsthalle Basel (2010) and Culturgest, Lisbon (2009). They live and work in Brussels.


Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys: Fine Arts shows at Raven Row from 24 September to 15 November 2015.

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