Kendall Geers frequently uses religious images and icons in surprising, shocking or contradictory ways to provoke and unsettle the viewer and question received norms and beliefs. In the works T.W. (I.N.R.I) (1992-94) and Twilight of the Idols, Virgin Mary (2002), he desecrates, obscures, smothers, and silences familiar religious icons, a figure of Christ on the cross and Mary, respectively, in red and white hazard tape. In the present lot, La Sainte Vierge (The Holy Virgin) the disparity between the title and the sexualised image presented make the work impossible to ignore.
“In his book Twilight of the Idols, Friedrich Nietzsche sets out the terms for his philosophical ‘declaration of war’ against ‘eternal idols’. He recommends that we ‘pose questions with a hammer’, thereby evoking the fierce iconoclasts of the Protestant Reformation or French Revolution. Kendell Geers is in the genealogy of artists who have heeded Nietzsche’s call to distrust all mediation and to ‘philosophise with a hammer’ … Geers uses a minimalist’s intuition to identify images or material artefacts that serve as contested cultural signifiers of institutional violence. He selects images and artefacts the disfiguring of which will provoke anxiety, discomfort or even pain ... In his manifesto of 1995, Geers wrote that ‘Art is the only legal form of moral transgression.’1 His goal is to render art relevant by contributing to the remaking of society. In particular, he has said repeatedly that, as a young artist, he hungered to find the means in the visual arts to express and thereby ‘exorcise’ the trauma that he had experienced in the waning days of the apartheid regime in South Africa. Iconoclasm was a strategy to make a ‘visceral’ connection with viewers so that they would be able to engage with what Nietzsche called the ‘ugly, hard, and questionable in life’.
Iconoclasm works because it makes people squirm and sometimes suffer emotional distress.”2
1. Kendell Geers (2013) ‘By Any Means Necessary’, in Clive Kellner (ed.) Kendell Geers, 1988–2012, Munich: Prestel. Page 63.
2. Zoë Sara Strother (2018) ‘Kendell Geers: or, How to Philosophise with a Hammer’, in Kendell Geers: AniMystik AKtivist Between Traditional and the Contemporary in African Art, Brussels: Mercatorfonds. Pages 44 to 74.