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Review: Luc Tuymans at the Dallas Museum of Art


by Anne Bothwell 11 Jul 2010

The Belgian artist Luc Tuymans is considered one of the most influential painters of the past 20 years. At the DMA, in his first major museum retrospective in the United States, nearly 80 of his puzzling and spare paintings are on display. Matthew Bourbon reviews.

CTA TBD

Matthew Bourbon reviewing Luc Tuymans at the Dallas Museum of Art:

The Belgian artist Luc Tuymans is considered one of the most influential painters of the past 20 years. His distinctive painting style is marked by feathery rectangular brush strokes, muted colors and a degraded paleness, as if his canvases have bleached and faded with time. There is a casual look to his paintings that belies the methodical way Tuymans creates his art. Before committing paint to canvas, the artist often photocopies, repaints and intensely scrutinizes his chosen photographic source. The artist says he tries to analyze the image until it’s entirely dead, and the image ends.  It’s that ending that Tuymans endeavors to paint.

To accomplish this the artist forces himself to complete each painting in one sitting over the course of a day.  This measured approach and restrained style, along with his penchant for political subjects, has placed Tuymans’ paintings in the same league as the other current giant of European art: Gerhard Richter.  At the DMA, in his first major museum retrospective in the United States, nearly 80 of his puzzling and spare paintings are on display.

Der Diagnostische Blick V, 1992, oil on canvas

The handsome exhibition chronicles the artist’s development from predominantly graphic and small paintings to his increasingly painterly and occasionally mural-sized works of recent years.  On the face of it, much of Tuymans’ art looks exceedingly simple and unconcerned with technical prowess.  Yet his paintings affect the viewer like a slow change of temperature; if one spends time with his unique canvases, the clinical mood and idiosyncratic coloration of his art reveals a powerful and quiet drama.  Some of this drama comes from the artist’a penchant for making his subjects psychologically and historically fraught themes, such as America after 9/11, the Holocaust or Belgian Colonialism.

Because Tuymans creates distinct gallery exhibitions about these difficult subjects, his paintings feel like disembodied parts of a larger whole.  Tuymans purposefully creates mystery in his art; his skepticism about all images (including his own) is the key to grasping his fragmentary yet disciplined approach to painting.  Essentially, Tuymans’ art is never what it seems. A benign smiling face is really a portrait of a white supremacist, or a banal painting of pots and pans hides the fact that the artist created the painting from a forensic photograph of the kitchen of a serial killer. Tuymans seems to relish taking our basic assumptions about his imagery and turning them on their head, complicating, if not contradicting  his seemingly banal subject with something severe and shameful.  This displacement of wickedness through the guise of common imagery seems Tuymans’ main fixation.  Tuymans says it best when he states: “My aim is to confront indifference.  Indifference is a danger with an intelligence all its own.”

  • Gaile Robinson’s review for dfw.com

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