press release

Luc Tuymans (born in Mortsel in 1958) is regarded as one of the most significant and influential artists of our time. In 2004 he became the first living Belgian artist to have a solo exhibition at the Tate Modern in London; since then his international reputation has grown steadily. Retrospective is his first major retrospective exhibition in Belgium, co-organized by SFMOMA and the Wexner Center for the Arts. In the wake of an American tour that took it to Columbus, Ohio (Wexner Center for the Arts), San Francisco (Museum of Modern Art), Dallas (Museum of Art), and Chicago (Museum of Contemporary Art), the exhibition is now coming to Brussels.Retrospective includes 73 works (dating from 1978 to 2008), most of them from major series by the painter: "At Random", "Der Architekt", "Mwana Kitoko: Beautiful White Man", "Proper", and "Der diagnostische Blick".   The works in the exhibition have been brought together from a great variety of locations: many of them from the United States, others from Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, and even Japan. Both major museums (MoMA – NY, Guggenheim Museum – NY, Carnegie Museum of Art – Pittsburgh, Friedrich Christian Flick Collection – Berlin, Museum für Moderne Kunst – Frankfurt, National Museum of Art – Osaka, and others) and private collections have lent works. Many of these works have never been shown in Belgium before.   Exclusively, the Brussels exhibition is also screening compilations of theSuper 8 footage Tuymans shot in 1980 and 1981. In 1980 Luc Tuymans stopped painting and turned to film. He experimented at that time with Super 8, Super 16, and 35 mm film formats, until his return in 1985 to his first love, painting. These fragments already offer a foretaste of the pictorial idiom of the later paintings.   This is the third time the Centre for Fine Arts collaborates with Luc Tuymans. He was a co-curator of two exhibitions, The Forbidden Kingdomin 2007 and The State of Things in 2009. This new exhibition,Retrospective, presents work by the artist himself in the Centre for Fine Arts for the first time.     Themes in the work of Luc Tuymans   The most important themes explored by Luc Tuymans in his work are those of history, memory, and the mass media. He has drawn inspiration from a great variety of subjects. He focuses on major historical events such as the aftermath of the Second World War, the dramatic upheavals after 9/11, and the postcolonial period in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Tuymans has a particular interest in the after-effects of these events and specifically in their representation in the mass media. He draws on the historical traditions of Northern European painting, as well as photography, film, and television. He appropriates images from a great variety of sources and makes use of techniques such as cropping, close-ups, framing, and sequencing to offer fresh perspectives on the medium of painting as well as larger cultural issues.   At first sight his paintings could be taken for relatively innocuous or even banal depictions of everyday life: interiors, landscapes, and figurative representations. But a deeper meaning usually lurks beneath that commonplace surface. Events and ideas are rarely presented explicitly, but are suggested through subtle hints and allusions that create an ambiguous collage of individual fragments and details. Tuymans represents the unrepresentable in order to make viewers recognise their role as spectators – and often unwilling accomplices – of history.   Tuymans treats a variety of genres – still life, landscape, and portraiture – with the same scale and gravity once reserved for grand history painting. Indeed, Tuymans may be said to have reinvented history painting for the present day, using moments from the recent past to shed light on the fragile nature of events. In depicting contemporary scenarios through this traditional painting genre, he also explores the possibility of disengagement from current realities and the ways in which the contemporary experience is often dramatically mediated by both technology and longstanding cultural narratives.
 The series in Retrospective   The exhibition reconstructs the early genesis of the artist’s distinctive process, highlighting the way in which he moves fluidly from one painting to the next. Because Tuymans experimented with filmmaking early in his career, his strategy draws from theories of filmic montage: one image links to another, and additional meaning is conveyed by the pieces’ adjacency. The retrospective is a reconstruction of three complete series: "At Random", "Der Architekt", and "Mwana Kitoko: Beautiful White Man". It also includes works from the "Proper" and "Der diagnostische Blick" series, along with other works. The presentation is chronological, covering the period from 1978 to 2008.   The artist’s series At Random explores the subject of perception and disorienting shifts in visual understanding. Shapes and outlines in these paintings emerge slowly from hazy backgrounds. Sometimes the title of a work helps bring a recognizable object into focus, as in the case of the The Doll (1994), which first appears to be a misty Northern landscape. It’s only after reading the title and spending time in front of the canvas that it reveals more. The pictures that make up At Random seem exactly that: arbitrary and pulled from the stream of images one constantly encounters. A girl’s leg (in The Leg [1994]), a glimpse through a window (in Self-Portrait [1994])—each may seem insignificant and normally quickly forgotten, but perhaps each conceals some secret within.   Der Architekt (The Architect), Tuymans’s series devoted to the Holocaust, is the artist’s most comprehensive treatment of this recurring topic in his oeuvre, yet the viewer is unlikely to come away with a better understanding of the atrocities that the word encompasses. This reflects Tuymans’s larger point—that certain events defy representation. These mostly monochromatic canvases set up a visual correlation between the Nazi obsession with Aryan purity and the depravity of their actions. Himmler(1998) draws on an official photographic portrait of SS official Heinrich Himmler, who oversaw the concentration camps. The details of his face, however, have been obscured, leaving only an impenetrable blur. The title of K.Z. (1998) is an abbreviation of the German term for concentration camp. But it too turns out to be misleading, showing only a portion of a camp specifically designed to hide its actual conditions from foreign inspectors.   In the series Mwana Kitoko: Beautiful White Man, Tuymans confronts the violent legacy of his native Belgium’s involvement in the Congo, which was a Belgian colony from 1908 to 1960. This suite centers on the postcolonial situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the shadowy networks of power linked to the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the first democratically elected prime minister of that country.The Mission (2000) depicts the place where both Lumumba and his political rival Joseph-Désiré Mobutu were educated. Chalk (2000) references a story Tuymans heard about a police officer who pulled two teeth from Lumumba’s mouth after his death. Sculpture (2000) brings this historical narrative into the present by depicting a life-size painted wood sculpture, a relic of the colonial era that Tuymans encountered by chance in a restaurant in Antwerp.   The retrospective also gathers a selection of paintings from Tuymans’s post-9/11 series entitled Proper, which includes his unmistakable painting of Condoleezza Rice, The Secretary of State (2005). Looking at American society and the Bush administration, Proper explores the artist’s view of a country struggling to right itself and, in the process, clinging to propriety in order to maintain an image of strength and normalcy.Ballroom Dancing (2005) portrays the newly revived phenomenon of its title, conveying the trappings of old-fashioned romance and gender roles in an image based on a photograph of the Texas Governor’s Ball. The odd observation angle of The Parc (2005) suggests the view from a security camera and so exposes the way surveillance has permeated daily life.   In addition, the exhibition includes works from Tuymans’s Der diagnostische Blick (The Diagnostic View) series, which he based on images found in a German physician’s guide to physical manifestations of various diseases and ailments. With these works, Tuymans draws attention to the medium of painting itself, emphasizing the tensions between the handcraft of painting and the mechanical eye of photography.

Luc Tuymans
Kuratoren: Madeleine Grynsztejn, Helen Molesworth