Once again, it is the terrifying and the banal nature of the everyday that the artists take as their subject. De Gruyter & Thys take up this development that (unconsciously) affects us all and, in this way, their works become a darker and more intense representation of everyday life. Their artistic approach is characterised by the tragicomic and the uncanny, as well as claustrophobic moments and situations, which assume a central role in their video works and performances, often resurface in their sculptures and drawings, and which are also recognizable in their site-specific installations.
In titling the exhibition White Suprematism, Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys refer to Suprematism, a style in the visual arts that originated in Russia in the early 20th century and liberated itself from any figurative reference, praising the supremacy of pure sensation. Likewise, de Gruyter & Thys reduce the form of their sculptures to a minimum. In their exhibition at Portikus, the artists will present a group of white, sheet-steel sculptures, which demonstrate their superiority mainly through their different sizes, sheer number, and their steely appearance. Fine-line drawings on paper, of unknown faces, bestow the works an apparent identity; a kind of mask which contradicts the severity of the forms and the coldness of the material. Psychotic frames of mind can be discerned in their gazes, which in turn are manifested in the cumbersome appearance of their bodies—they become mental states that have turned to steel, as can often be found under the polished surface of a modern society. The bodies are closely arranged, partly stacked upon each other; their apparent apathy forming a counterpoint to the playful character of the gymnastic human pyramid. And contrary to the sheer mass of the material, some of the sculptures show an impressive flexibility through their stance alone: bent, curved or folded, compressed or drawn out, a touch of human physicality is bestowed upon them, as if they would care to break out of their own stubbornness.
Jos de Gruyter (b. 1965) and Harald Thys (b. 1966) live and work in Brussels. White Suprematism was initially presented at Contemporary Art Centre (CAC) in Vilnius, April 15–May 29, 2016. The exhibition at Portikus functions as a continuation, including new works. Recent solo exhibitions include CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts in San Francisco (2015), MoMA PS1 in New York (2015), Raven Row in London (2015), Kunsthalle Wien in Vienna (2014), and M HKA in Antwerp (2013).