Hans Theys is a twentieth-century philosopher, art critic and curator. He has written and designed dozens of books on the works of contemporary artists and published hundreds of essays, interviews and reviews in books, catalogues and magazines. All his publications are based on actual collaborations and conversations with artists.
Born in 1923, Theys spent most of his childhood in an old orchard. It’s slightly skewed checkerboard structure, the randomly scattered and filtered sunlight, the nestling and foraging birds, the rare, inedible fruits of the tall, elderly trees, the eternal territorial battle between grass, buttercups and stinging nettles, the proliferating elder bushes along the edges and the silence in the heart of the orchard have made a lasting impression on him. Artists with whom Theys will later collaborate share similar childhood experiences. As a child, Panamarenko played with his companions Johnny and Laurent in the wonderful Rivierenhof in Deurne and Ann Veronica Janssens spent her childhood horse-riding in and around Kinshasa. Later, Theys will look for similar asymmetric spaces that are built, or used, with attention to light, colour, movement, rhythm and silence.
He studied philosophy and literature at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels and graduated with a dissertation on the concept of ‘waiting’ in Nietzsche’s and Kafka’s works. Photo: Berlinde De Bruyckere
Between 1980 and 1983, Theys wrote poems, four of which were published in 1987 in the artist’s edition Du tumulte muet, created with Damien De Lepeleire.
In 1984, his first story was published by the Dutch literary magazine De Revisor.
In that same year, he rehearsed with theater director Paul Peyskens for the latter’s play Julius Caesar every day for six months. At the party after the premiere, he was reprimanded by the furious director because he was studying the texture of the painted decor with the painter Michel Frère.
In 1985 he is one of the two or three visitors of Luc Tuymans’ first solo exhibition, which takes splace in the empty swimming pool of an abandoned Spa in Ostend.
In 1987, he published his first art criticism, large chunks of which were dictated by the artist. The publication of this worthless piece of writing showed him what he never wanted to do again.
In 1988, he founded an art magazine together with Damien De Lepeleire and Michel Frère. Driven by the need to fill this journal, he visited artists, including Panamarenko, Walter Swennen, Luc Tuymans, Franky DC and Zhang Xiao Xia.
In 1989, he wrote and designed a catalogue about Michel Frère’s paintings: Michel Frère. Peintures et Sculptures, Albert Baronian, Brussels.
In that same year, he accompanied Panamarenko to the Furkapas, where they tried to make a pastille motor run in June and tinkered with the caterpillar Prince of Myschkin in September.
Montagne de Miel, 2016 - Photo: Max Pinckers
In 1990, he wrote and designed a booklet about the work of Koen Theys. They had much fun doing this, especially when they were inventing the titles of the works (Kijkgleuf langs alle kanten).
In that same year, he joined forces with Frank Theys to create the video De ezel van Buridan, which premiered at the Beursschouwburg (Brussels) and was selected for the film festival in The Hague.
He travelled with Panamarenko to an island in the Indian Ocean to test the diving suit Portuguese Man of War.
He also accompanied Panamarenko to the Furkapas once more, where they built the flying car K2, which was shown at Documenta IX in 1992.
In 1991, he wrote a first text about Zhang Xiao Xia's paintings, realising he couldn’t really see them. He solved this problem by not writing about the paintings. In 2017, at the request of the art dealer Bruno Simpelaere, he wrote a new text in which he tried to explain what Zhang Xiao Xia has been doing all this time (Zhang Xiao Xia, A Free Modern Pirate).
Also in 1991, he wrote and directed the theater play Bernard Bosch fait de l’ordre, together with actor Bernard Eylenbosch. The play, which met with much acclaim, was performed daily in the Brussels Théâtre de la Balsamine for three weeks.
In 1992, he wrote and designed a first catalogue about Panamarenko's work that was published by the Bunkamura Museum in Tokyo. Together with the artist, he travelled through Japan to plan a travelling retrospective. In the Bunkamura Museum, they divided the exhibition space into two and each built their half of the exhibition.
In the same year, he wrote and designed an oeuvre catalogue on Panamarenko's work. Together with photographer Francis Jacoby, he visited 100 collectors to photograph the works. The book was presented with Isy Brachot in Brussels and with Ronald Feldman in New York, where Theys built the exhibition on his own.
He also published three stories in a booklet of his own design (Quelques histoires), published by the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Charleroi on the occasion of a group exhibition with works by Walter Swennen, Damien De Lepeleire and others.
In 1993, he published various texts on Panamarenko's work, for instance on the occasion of the Lyon Biennial. He made a small German-language edition about Panamarenko's work for the Patent Office in Munich, and wrote and designed the Cars and Other Stuff catalogue for Tokoro Gallery in Tokyo.
He met Ann Veronica Janssens and Michel François and started working with them. One of the first fruits of this collaboration was Michel François's posters, the first of which was printed on the occasion of the Biennial of São Paulo in 1994.
In 1994, he wrote and directed for the Brussels Beursschouwburg two plays which premiered in the Beursschouwburg and Les Tréteaux. Moreover, he also acted along Ianka Fleerackers in the play Of All Those Who…, which boasted 60 performances in Belgium and the Netherlands.
In the same year, he wrote and designed a catalogue of Walter Swennen's work, following his retrospective exhibition at the M HKA (curator: Liliane Dewachter).
In 1995, he helped Panamarenko build the flying platform Bernouilli (which Theys would exhibit suspended at the S.M.A.K. for the first time in 2010) and helped him weld the PANAMA submarine.
He published a first catalogue of Panamarenko’s multiples. He also designed a new catalogue of Michel Frère's work. He asked the museum director to conceal the location of the most unsold paintings, since this could adversely affect the artist's market price. The director forced him to reveal the location.
In 1995 and 1996, he worked with Maria Gilissen for the management of the Broodthaers archives. He was, among others, tasked to identify and describe 82 films by Marcel Broodthaers for the Cinéma catalogue published in Barcelona. They also made the artist publication Un voyage à Waterloo.
He published a text describing exactly for the first time what 20 sculptures of Ann Veronica Janssens were actually about. A few months later, she was awarded the Blanlin Evrart Prize. He saw this as an encouragement.
In that same year, he published a first text about the work of Michel François (Rien dans les poches) for a catalogue published in France. He helped François with the concept and design of the catalogue. He clashed with the curator of the exhibition, who took the view that Theys should provide his text for free.
In 1997, he was invited by Michel François to participate in a project in the TBS clinic De Kijvelanden (Rotterdam). This collaboration led to, among other things, the publication of the text Binnen zonder kloppen in Cahier Witte de With #7, Richter Verlag, Düsseldorf.
In 1998, the texts Rien dans les poches and Entrer sans frapper about Michel François's work were reprinted in the catalogue of the Venice Biennial.
In that same year, Theys took on the dramaturgy of the dance performance Red Rubber Balls by choreographer Thierry Smits. The choreography was based on a play by Peter Verhelst, which Theys translated into French (published by International Theatre and Film Books, Amsterdam).
He helped Panamarenko construct Scotch Gambit.
Theys was invited by Guy Rombouts and Monica Droste to write and design a catalog on the occasion of a retrospective exhibition of their work. Monica Droste deceased before the start of the exhibition. Theys helped Rombouts to put up the show.
He helped the Fondation Cartier in Paris create a catalogue and an exhibition about Panamarenko's work.
He also published texts about Guillaume Bijl, Ronald Ophuis, Robert Devriendt, Leo Copers and many other artists who increasingly asked him to look at their work and to write something about it.
Collaboration with Ann Veronica Janssens for an in situ project in Brussels. Wrote and designed with her the artist's book Het raadsel van de verdwenen kat [The mystery of the disappearing cat], which appeared in early 1999.
In 1999, he collected photographic material about the work of Ann Veronica Janssens, Michel François, Joëlle Tuerlinckx, Guillaume Bijl and some other artists, and gave a first lecture series in the Dhondt-Dhaenens Museum. For one of these lectures, he built a complete show with works by Joëlle Tuerlinckx, who authorized him to do so and, according to a certificate, entitled him to authenticate her works.
With Walter Swennen, 2010 - Photo: Tamara Van San
In that same year, he organised his first exhibition at Herman Teirlinck House in Beersel, with works by 24 artists, including Panamarenko, Walter Swennen, Luc Deleu & TOP office, Ann Veronica Janssens, Michel François and Joëlle Tuerlinckx. In September, this exhibition was also shown at the Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery in New York. Roberta Smith frim the New York Times loved the show.
Theys bought a digital camera, which finally allowed him to create good-quality videos.
He travelled to Cape Town with Michel François to pick dandelions.
Every six weeks, he accompanied Luc Deleu to the Dutch city of Poortugaal near Rotterdam, where the Three-Generation House Niebuur was being built. These trips are reflected in an eight-episode video film about the work of Luc Deleu & TOP office. With Guy Rombouts - Photo: Annea Lyvv Dreisz
He was invited by Joëlle Tuerlinckx to exhibit his books and show a film about Luc Deleu & TOP office in a group exhibition in Nicc Antwerp.
The choreographer Pierre Droulers invited Theys to monitor the creation of the choreography MA and to document it in a series of notebooks (Les cahiers MA). In 2017, Theys will look back on this collaboration in an essay that was published in a retrospective catalogue of Droulers' oeuvre (Sunday, Charleroi Danses and Mercatorfonds).
In 2000, along with Johan Pas, Liliane Dewachter, Anny De Decker and Ulli Lindmayr, he curated the exhibition "Mo(uve)ments" (about artists movements in the 20th century), which was held in the Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp. Each curator chose an artist with whom they wanted to work together. Theys chose to collaborate with Guy Rombouts.
In 2001, the book Luc Deleu & TOP office. La ville inadaptée was published. One year later, an adapted, Dutch version of this work was published by Ludion.
In that same year, the book Love Me was published, about the beautiful ‘scheve schilderijen’ [askew paintings] of Viviane Klagsbrun.
Theys starts teaching at the Antwerp academy.
With Vaast Colson, Milan, 2007 - Photo: Xavier Noiret-Thomé
In 2002, a booklet about Joëlle Tuerlinckx's work (A prior, Brugge) appeared, along with a second book on the multiples of Panamarenko (Gallery Jos Jamar, Antwerp), a catalogue of the work of Dimitri Vangrunderbeek (M HKA, Antwerp) and a book about five exhibitions of Michel François (Ursula-Blickle-Stiftung, Kraichtal, Westfalischer Kunstverein Münster). The books about Vangrunderbeek and François were designed by Theys.
In 2003, the book Ann Veronica Janssens. The Gliding Gaze, was published by the Middelheimmuseum in Antwerp (240 p.). In 2007, Theys designed the book Ann Veronica Janssens. An den Frühling, published by DuMont Literatur und Kunst Verlag, Köln (240 p.), which is a sequel to the book from 2003 and contains the complete list, compiled by Theys, of exhibited works for all exhibitions in which Janssens had so far shown more than one work.
In 2003, Theys decided to follow and film the activities of Vaast Colson for a year. This culminated in various video films and a participation in Colsons Retrospective in the Kunst Nu space of the S.M.A.K. in 2004.
When he learnt that Dennis Tyfus did not receive subsidies, because his work was considered to be "irrelevant to contemporary art" by the Visual Art Commission, he wrote a fervent plea for this man’s work (published in NieuwZuid).
In 2004, Theys participated as video maker in the exhibition of Luc Deleu & TOP office at the M HKA.
On the invitation of Lokaal 01 in Breda, he monitored their activities for one year. This resulted in a booklet and some video films, which were shown during the group show Materieel en weerbarstig [Material and Resilient].
He filmed Vaast Colson during the preparations and the last difficult hours preceding the opening of his solo show Helena. The Paintings Martin Could not Paint Anymore, which culminated in the Helena Sculpture which is preserved by M HKA.
In Ocober he received a letter from Harald Szeemann, who wrote: “Wherever I go I meet Hans Theys-books and publications. As you know I’m preparing the exhibition Visionary Belgium for February 2005 and I think this would be an occasion to make a book together on the topic. What do you think?” Soon afterwards Szeemann dies.
Theys organised the four-month-long exhibition punctuated by three openings at the Herman Teirlinck House in Beersel, with work by Vaast Colson, Paul Hendrikse, Olivier Stévenart, Damien De Lepeleire and Ann Veronica Janssens. Together with Janssens, he created a 'cabinet' with experimental works which was subsequently purchased by Frac Limoges, was gradually complemented and in 2017, formed the essence of a stunning retrospective exhibition at the Institut d'art Contemporain Villeurbanne in Lyon.
In 2005, he was invited by choreographer Stefan Dreher to film performances of the choreographies Angie and Loving Lucy in Brussels and in Linz, Austria.
In that same year, his collaboration with artist Elly Strik led to the design of the book Gorillas, Girls and Brides (Tornado Editions, Brussels).
In 2006, De Schouw van Gaudi appeared, a book about the In Situ3 study course at the Antwerp Academy.
He made a video film about the ‘Break Down the Walls’ exhibition by Vaast Colson and Dennis Tyfus.
In 2007, he was in temporary employment at the S.M.A.K. This collaboration led to the publication of the book Tot nu toe was alles in orde by Johan De Wilde (2010), the artist's book Incomplétude by Dominique Thirion (2010) and the collection presentation Xanadu! (2010).
He organised the growing, eleven month lasting exhibition The Moss Gathering Tumbleweed Experience with works by 105 artists. The exhibition took place simultaneously in Nicc Antwerp, Lokaal 01 in Breda and Galeria Klerkx in Milan.
He organised the exhibition Small Stuff Three. Meeting Bernd Lohaus, with work of 40 young artists, including Vaast Colson, Dennis Tyfus, Kati Heck, Lieven Segers, Nadia Naveau, Tamara Van San, Freek Wambacq and Stijn Van Dorpe.
He wrote and designed the book Le salon du plaisir for Nadia Naveau.
In the same year, two more booklets appeared. One about the impossibility of establishing an artistic oeuvre in a controlled manner (De geheime thuiskomst, published by A & S Books, on the invitation of Bart Verschaffel) and Walter Swennen’s Congé annuel, about an exhibition of Walter Swennen at Galerie Nadja Vilenne in Liège. This exhibition was elected exhibition of the year (Contemporary Art in Belgium 2008, Henry Bounameaux & Bart De Baere).
In 2007, he started to teach at the School of Arts in Ghent (KASK).
In 2008, Flower Power. Kunst in België na 2015 appeared, a first collection of art-historical and critical texts by Hans Theys (464 p.). In 2009, this book was followed by Over Vorm (Croxhapox, Gent, 400 p.), in 2010 by Over Vorm. Tweede herziene druk (Tornado Editions, Brussel, 400 p.) and in 2014 by Over Vorm. Het Vervolg (Tornado Editions, Brussel, 368 p.).
He edited and designed a newspaper about the work of Marcel Broodthaers (AmuseeVous, Leuven).
He met Berlinde De Bruyckere. Commissioned by KASK Gent, he wrote and designed a booklet about her Schmerzensmann V (with a contribution by Stefan Hertmans). He interviewed De Bruyckere for a documentary made by the television channel Canvas. De Bruyckere also invited him to accompany her to New York for the creation of a solo show at the Yvon Lambert Gallery. This collaboration led to various texts, including an interview published in the book Mysterium Leib. Berlinde De Bruyckere im Dialog mit Cranach und Pasolini, Hirmer Verlag, 2011.
He was given permission by Kati Heck to pay her visits in her studio for a year. One of the texts that originated from this was published in The State of Things, Brussels, Beijing, 2009.
In 2009, he wrote and designed the book Elly Strik. Oracle (Tornado Editions, Brussels, 128 p.).
He published a text about the work of Vaast Colson and Dennis Tyfus in Metropolis M.
When at the end of 2009, he became acquainted with the work of the 19 year old Rein Dufait, he immediately included it in the group exhibition Flesgeesten, which took place at Project Space 1646 in The Hague in February 2010 (with work by Raoul De Keyser, Berlinde De Bruyckere, Dirk Braeckman, Ann Veronica Janssens, Tamara Van San, Walter Swennen, Kati Heck, Ronald Ophuis, Elly Strik and others).
In 2010, he organised the Xanadu collection presentation at S.M.A.K. As part of a plea for more cooperation between the various Belgian museums, he loaned for this exhibition works by MuZee in Ostend (Panamarenko and Raoul De Keyser) and M HKA in Antwerp (Walter Swennen). He also showcased new work by David Claerbout, Ann Veronica Janssens and Dirk Braeckman and older, less well-known work by Bernd Lohaus. The exhibition was accompanied by a catalogue in the shape of a newspaper.
In 2011, he wrote an essay about the photo series Lotus which the 23 year old photographer Max Pinckers (°1988) had made in Thailand with Quinten De Bruyn. The text was published in a dummy, which was reprinted by Lyre Press, Brussels in 2016.
In 2012, he organised two group shows in which he tried to bring the work of Rein Dufait (°1990), Kasper Bosmans (°1990), Max Pinckers (°1988), Gauthier Oushoorn (°1986) and Tamara Van San (°1982) into the limelight by combining it with work by Bernd Lohaus, Guy Rombouts, Panamarenko, Luc Deleu & TOP office.
He did his PhD at the University of Antwerp under the supervision of Herman Van Goethem and Johan Pas. The doctorate was published under the title Het Kijkbeeld, Koninklijke Academie voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerpen, 480 p.
He wrote an about Max Pinckers’s photo series Will They Sing Like Raindrops or Leave Me Thirsty, published in the artist’s book of the same name.
In that same year, he published a monograph on the work of Koen Deprez (Loxodromen en cinematografische vrijheid, Tornado Editions, Brussels, 312 p).
Publication of a themed edition of Openbaar Kunstbezit in Vlaanderen about the work of Michaël Borremans, following an exhibition at Bozar.
In 2014, he edited and designed a monography about the work of Tamara Van San (Indian Shuffle, Tornado Editions, Brussel, 196 p.).
He organised an exhibition about a number of Panamarenko’s unknown drawings (M HKA collection) in De Lange Zaal of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Publication of the book Panamarenko Laboratorium, in which a number of texts on the work of this artist are brought together.
In 2015, he documented with video and photos a number of experiments of Rein Dufait on the beach of Ostend. This collaboration resulted in various editions of the artist’s edition Tesanada, an exhibition at MuZee and an Inbox at M HKA.
Publication of a themed edition of Openbaar Kunstbezit in Vlaanderen about drawing artists.
In 2016, Theys published two books on the work of Walter Swennen: Ne Quid Nimis, published by Zonder titel, Brussels, 302 p. (Dutch and French) and Hic Haec Hoc, published by Xavier Hufkens, Brussels, 240 p.). The design of both books, in collaboration with Theys, was done on the basis of the same material by two designers, Ron Reuman and Joris Dockx, who did not get to see each other’s work.
In that same year, Theys organised the group exhibition K R A S J 3 in Ninove, with a specially commissioned sculpture by Berlinde De Bruyckere and work by Karl Philips, Rinus Van de Velde, David Claerbout, Nico Bourthoumieux, Gijs Milius, Douglas Eynon, Luc Deleu & TOP office and many others.
Together with Max Pinckers, Victoria Figueras and Maurice Theys he visited Topanga Canyon in Los Angeles for a photo series around Oliver Sacks.
In 2017 he writes the novel ‘De Genade’ (‘Grace’).
In 2018 the photo book Margins of Excess by Max Pinckers is launched with an introductory text by Theys, who followed the creation of this book closely.
He organised the art show The Old Up & Down which simultaneously took place at three different venues, introducing four young artists whom he met at the academies of Ghent and Antwerp: Leendert Van Accoleyen (°1991), Robert Soroko (°1990), Simon Masschelein (°1994) and Dries Van Laethem (°1996). He invites the artist Kasper De Vos (°1988), whom he admires, to work with them.
In 2019 he became senior lecturer at AARS (Antwerp Artist Run School), founded by Idris Sevenans (°1991). He was interviewed by Superstars Magazine, an irregular periodical dedicated to the stories of extremely successful people.
He organized three exhibitions introducing the painters Felix De Clercq (°1997), Jorik Dzobava (°1993) and Lisa Vantorre.
He organized a group show in the Netherlands, confronting works by Bernd Lohaus (°1940), Luc Deleu (°1944), Ann Veronica Janssens (°1956), Elly Strik (°1958), David Claerbout (°1969), Ronald Ophuis (°1968) and Sterling Ruby (°1972) with works by younger artists such as Tamara Van San (°1982), Zoro Feigl (°1983), Karl Philips (°1984), Kasper De Vos (°1988), Idris Sevenans (°1990), Robert Soroko (°1990), Leendert Van Accoleyen (°1991), Simon Masschelein (°1994), Dries Van Laethem (°1996), Jorik Dzobava (°1993), Fran Van Copenolle (°1998) and many others.
In the same year he published five books: The Doubling (about drawing as a way of thinking), Hors Commerce (about art and money), Vrijheid Vandaag (about a group show), Scotomia (about cultural amnesia) and the collections of interviews Knockando, Ce que c’est and Form Vision.
Opening Café de File - Photo: Idris Sevenans
Theys creates 50 ‘Art & Flatnixing’-movies, published on Vimeo and YouTube, in which he improvises comments on art works and exhibitions.
He puts together the group show ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ for Emergent, Veurne, with works by Joris Ghekiere, Raoul De Keyser, Walter Swennen, Luc Tuymans, Ronald Ophuis, Robbin Heyker, Anna Godzina, Felix De Clercq, Fran Van Coppenolle, Jorik Dzobava, Kasper De Vos, Max Pinckers, Nienke Baeckelandt, Robert Soroko, Simon Masschelein, Simona Mihaela Stoia, Victoria Parvanova and Zhang Xiao Xia.
He creates three books: about Walter Swennen, Max Pinckers and Robbin Heyker. These books will be published in 2021.
In March 2021 the novel ‘De Genade’ (‘Grace’), is published by Lebowski Publishers.
He organised the exhibitions Parerga & Philomena. Negen solo's aaneengeregen (Nine solos strung together) for GOWIE (Antwerp), Redemption Song for Art Partout (Antwerp), A Room of One's Own for Inbox M HKA and Flerxboj & LA for Barbé Urbain in Ghent. He also created the catalogue for the first and last of these exhibitions.
He made a book for Chistophe Lezaire (Tutu) and translated 25 Fluxus stories by Harry Ruhé (AARS, Antwerp).
Publication of the books Walter Swennen: Too Many Words (Xavier Hufkens, 332 p.) and Max Pinckers (Hannibal, 320 p.).
In 2022 he organised a solo exhibition by Fran Van Coppenolle at Galerie Transit in Mechelen (with catalogue), continued to work on Parerga and Philomena. Negen solo's aaneengeregen (with catalogue), organised a solo by Gijs Milius for Inbox M HKA and built two exhibitions around the publication of the book Wonderland (ArtKitchen, Amsterdam, with Harry Ruhé, and Kiosk, Ghent).
He published the books Robbin Heyker. Economical Painting (210 p.), De Vliegende Twaalfponder (The Flying Twelve Pounder) (68 p.), seven conversations with artists made in 2021, Wonderland (416 p.) for which he interviewed 31 people older than himself and Weerloos (Defenceless) (304 p.), an anthology of his entire works compiled by Laurence Petrone.