Luc Tuymans Retrospective at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Luc Tuymans, The Secretary of State, 2005; oil on canvas; 18 x 24 1/4 in. (45.7 x 61.5 cm); Collection the Museum of Modern Art, New York, promised gift of David and Monica Zwirner; courtesy David Zwirner, New York; © Luc Tuymans

When you enter the Luc Tuymans show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA), you get a feeling you might know from the start of horror movies: Nothing is obviously scary, everything is like everyday – then, suddenly, the monster appears and the horror takes its course.


Luc Tuymans is a formally trained painter from Antwerp, Belgium. He has solid  artistic capability in the tradition of Dutch old master’s painting. In the 1980s he took a break from painting and spent some years as a self-thought filmmaker. Today in his paintings, he still uses filmic techniques, like close-ups, in a way a camera man would do.


His images are often pale and elegant. Many are taken from mass media or historic images. He uses these images and fades them to the pale colors from his typical color palette.


None of the motifs make a scary impression. Until you take a closer look and read the title or the description of the work. This is the moment Tuymans has the monsters of history appear.


Then, a pale basement with abstract marks becomes a Nazi gas chamber of a concentration camp

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. (His family had to suffer a bloody history in the Belgium resistance to the German Nazi occupation during World War II.).  
Luc Tuymans, Der diagnostische Blick V, (The Diagnostic View V), 1992; oil on canvas; 22 7/8 x 16 1/2 in. (58.1 x 41.9 cm); Private collection; © Luc Tuymans; photo: courtesy Zeno X Gallery

Or, the portrait of a woman is reinterpreted as a deadly disease from a medical textbook (The Diagnostic View).

Mr. Tuymans always was a very political artist: In 2001, he was invited to represent Belgium at the Venice Biennial. He did large-scale paintings questioning Belgium’s history as a colonial power in (Belgian) Congo. The portrait of the murdered President Lumumba is a good example for this series.


Luc Tuymans, Lumumba, 2000; oil on canvas; 24 3/8 x 18 1/8 (61.9 x 46 x cm); The Museum of Modern Art, New York, fractional and promised gift of Donald L. Bryant Jr., 2002; © Luc Tuymans; photo: courtesy David Zwirner, New York

In 2002, he was one of the contributors to the important Documenta exhibition in Kassel, Germany. This 11th Documenta was a lot about social responsibility and political issues. The curators headed by Okwui Enwezor expected him to show critical works about 9/11 or the history of Germany or Belgium. Again, he disappointed all expectations and showed a large-scale still life. Luc Tuymans is hard to capture.


In recent years of the art market boom, Tuymans’ paintings enormously increased in value. Now, after the art market bubble burst, many speculators lost quite some money. The artist does not care. He thinks the financial crisis will get the collectors more to focus on the art itself, than the profit.


I like his point of view.


by C. Lambert




The Luc Tuymans retrospective at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art runs through 2 May 2010.


Then it will travel to Dallas Museum of Art (June 6 to September 5, 2010), the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (October 2, 2010, to January 9, 2011), and the Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels (February 10 to May 8, 2011).

Gerhard Richter: Motorboot (1. Fassung) / Motorboat (1st Version), 1965 © Private Collection
Thomas Demand: 'Badezimmer / Bathroom', 1997, C-Print / Diasec, 160 x 120 cm (c) Thomas Demand, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2009


Deliah, 03-03-10 00:17
Scary - but good art !
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In 1977, when I was very young, I was a member of the Poetry Collective at the post-68 creeatd Universite9 de Vincennes. I published two poems in the collective's review in 1978. That review is sitting on my bookshelf in Paris, and I am visiting New York. I will send one in as soon as I get home! Meanwhile, I haven't written any poetry since those heady days of Bohemian youth. But, coincidently, if there is such a thing as coincidence in these sorts of things, I got that review down off the shelf the other day and read the poems to my love, and I thought to myself, though I didn't say it out loud: You should write poetry again.
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