Pioneering Dutch Conceptual artist Ger van Elk died on Sunday at 73. Born in Amsterdam in 1941, van Elk gained international note in the 1960s through his inclusion in seminal group exhibitions such as “Op Losse Schroeven” at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (1969) and Harald Szeemann’s “When Attitudes Become Form” at the Kunsthaus Bern (1969). Both were early exhibitions of Conceptual art.
“No one is more adept at calling attention to the way art calls attention to itself,” Susan Tallman wrote of van Elk in A.i.A. in 2009.
The advent of Fluxus and Happenings made Amsterdam a breeding ground of avant-garde activity during this time. Van Elk was associated with the influential Amsterdam gallery Art & Project, founded in 1968, alongside contemporaries like Gilbert & George, Jan Dibbets, Sol LeWitt, Lawrence Weiner and Allen Ruppersberg. Even so, the artist spent many of his most prolific years in New York and Los Angeles, where he was good friends with fellow Dutch expatriate artist Bas Jan Ader.
Recently, van Elk’s oeuvre has gained renewed interest. Art & Project alums were featured in the exhibition “In & Out of Amsterdam: Travels in Conceptual Art 1960-1976” at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2009). “When Attitudes Become Form” was revived at the Fondazione Prada by Germano Celant during the 2013 Venice Biennale.
Van Elk’s practice defied singular classification. Throughout his career, the artist employed an interdisciplinary approach, working in mediums ranging from sculpture and installation to video and photography.
In an obituary posted on Kunstverein München’s website, director Bart van der Heide explained van Elk’s conviction that “truth and reality do not exist and that every depiction of this is inherently unreliable. As a rule of thumb—the more realistic an image appears, the greater the lie.”
The Kunstverein is currently hosting van Elk’s first solo exhibition in Germany since 1988 (through Aug. 31) and features recent as well as older works from the artist’s private collection.