Archive: Issue No. 120, August 2007

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Kendell Geers

The Kendell Geers
artwork on sale
at Vanves fleamarket


How did an artwork by top South African artist Kendell Geers and donated by him to a Paris organization working in support of Aids organizations in Africa land up on a fleamarket at less than a tenth of its price?

This is the question the artist posed to Dessine L�fEspoir, after receiving an email from fellow artist Ruth Sacks with an image of Geers�f piece propped up against a wire fence, photographed by a friend of hers. On the Vanves fleamarket, one of the biggest in Paris, Geers�f work was priced at 300 euros. Last week, it was possible to see the same work advertised for 5000 euros on the Dessine L�fEspoir website, at, but this page now seems to have been removed.

�e As you know�f, emailed Geers to Dessine L�fEspoir on July 29, �eI donated a drawing to your organisation last year to raise funds for aids education - I am sure that you will remember the project "I LOVE YOU + -." Today, at a flea market in Paris my drawing was being sold for 300 euro - picture attached. I am of course extremely angry and if you cannot explain how my donation has ended up on a flea market less than a year later being sold for 10 percent of its value then rest assured I shall take action�f.

An immediate and apologetic reply came from Cyrille Varet, president of Dessine L�fEspoir, (here slightly shortened), saying that

�e Everything started on the 27th of March. Your art work had been framed in an expensive glass and aluminium frame. We selected it to be part of Dessine l'Espoir's booth on Art Paris 2007 international fair at Grand Palais together with a selection of 15 artworks.

�eWe got the visit of the representative of the UNESCO on that day, who preferred not to have your artwork presented, as she was not sure about how the women's image would be perceived, and would link it with negative considerations, especially because it was part of an AIDS project, and it would once again put women as �eguilty�f in the epidemic.

�eWe didn't agree this vision but in order to avoid problems, we took it out, and I brought it back to our office in Paris. I came in, and sat at Marion's desk for a minute. Someone called me and Marion followed me. I left my keys on her desk. Someone came in and left straight away. He took my key and left with my car that was parked just in front of the door.

�eMy car went in front of my eyes. I run after it but there was nothing I could do. We made a declaration at the police with a clear description of your artwork, as you can see on the police report. We were extremely embarassed. We did not dare email you, as we were still expecting maybe the car to be found, left abandoned somewhere.

�eWe got a call from the police in May, announcing us that the car had been found in Vanves, at the tow-away center, damaged.

�eI will go to the police and tell them that the stolen artwork was found, which might lead them to the theft of the car�f.

�eI feel terrible about this, Kendell. I hope you will forgive our silence. We kept your work online with the others in this period, as we were expecting it back.�f

Responded Geers (in part) on July 30:

The theft aside there are other issues regarding your email that distress me greatly. Why for instance did you allow the work to be censored and allow such a thing to happen. Why did you not contact me about this? I can understand how some people could find such an image to be troublesome but then why did you invite me in the first instance to donate a work to your cause and having done so why did you not try harder to support the work and justify your choice of artist ?

�eWhy was I not allowed the right to voice, particularly from an organisation claiming to help people that do not have a voice ? If you look past the image of the naked woman there are the repeated words REVOLUTION and LOVE - how is this in any way a �enegative consideration�f and why would this in any way present the image of woman as �eguilty�f? Surely debate is the best form of education? Surely the title and brief "I LOVE YOU +-" gives the cue - what about the negative ? Why does the violent and extreme nature of AIDS always get reduced to sentimentality ? I chose a work for you that was precisely open to debate and discussion and had hoped that you would have the balls to defend it because of the subject at hand !�f

On the 6th August, Cyrille Varet reported back that she had now been to the Vanves fleamarket to hunt for the stolen work, but it had gone, probably purchased by a collector who had stumbled on a good thing.

Replied Geers:

dear cyrille varet �

thank you for your efforts in trying to recover the stolen work. �

i think that i should make quite clear exactly what it is that i am angry about in this situation. of course, coming from south africa, i am very well aware that things get stolen and that it was beyond your control ! i am not angry about that at all. i am somewhat irritated that you did not contact me right away regarding the theft, but that too, i can understand and accept. �

i am however angry to the extreme that you allowed my work to have been censored by a �eunesco representative�f in the first instance and that you never informed me of this censorship. having grown up in the dictatorship of apartheid south africa there is nothing on this planet that makes me more angry than censorship, irrespective of the excuses. there is no way that you should have allowed a donated work of art to have been taken off the show on the whim of a �eunesco representative�f without making issue, without defending the work and without even contacting me.�f �

And there the matter rests. For now. Will the missing artwork ever be recovered?

More importantly, will organizations who ask artists for donations for worthy causes read this as a cautionary tale against allowing representatives of supporting bodies to censor so-called �eobjectionable�f artwork? One would hope that on that front at least, a lesson has been learned.