Ger van Elk

Year and place of birth: 1941, Amsterdam, the Netherlands Date of death: 2014 , Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Ger van Elk studied art in Amsterdam from 1959 to 1961, after which he departed for Los Angeles. He continued his training there, and subsequently travelled extensively in South and Central America, before finally settling permanently in the Netherlands. He was an inveterate traveller. In his sculptures, installations, films and painted photos, Van Elk radically resisted tradition of any kind. Although he did not directly participate in the international Fluxus movement, which was focused on bringing about an exchange between art, life and everyday reality, and driving all elitist thinking out of art, he was attracted to its dynamic way of thinking.

In 1961, Van Elk co-signed the Dutch ‘A-dynamisch manifest’, a defence of artworks in which the personal expression of the artist is reduced to the bare minimum. Six years later, together with Jan Dibbets and Reinier Lucassen, he established the International Institute for the Retraining of Artists, which realised a series of related manifestoes and conceptual projects. The unconventional theme always appears to take precedence over the form. Two photos bear witness to the ‘The Well Shaven Cactus’ action, the first of which depicts a cactus lathered in shaving foam with shaving equipment, and then the same cactus with its spines removed. By documenting two important phases – before and after – the absurdity of the idea is emphasised. The action itself and the person performing it remain invisible.

Photography plays a central role in Van Elk’s oeuvre. His work evolved from the intention to document actions to the realistic portrayal of unrealistic situations. His preference for unusual frames only serves to enhance the surrealistic effect. In the work where he combines photography with painting, he provides an ironic and playful commentary on the artificiality of the latter medium’s traditions. Reflections on classical art history with its conventions, styles and viewing habits constitute a playful revolt against the rules. Van Elk explores the origins of visual customs and gives them new content.

Become a Friend of S.M.A.K.
made by