Critics’ Picks

Luc Tuymans, The Arena II, 2014, oil on canvas, 6 x 8'.

Luc Tuymans, The Arena II, 2014, oil on canvas, 6 x 8'.


Luc Tuymans

Qatar Museums Gallery Al Riwaq
Al Corniche Street
October 18, 2015–January 30, 2016

Luc Tuymans is known for his muted color palette and cloudy representations of distorted photographic images, and his retrospective “Intolerance” is a dialectic of contrasts, further underscored by its display in the Gulf Region within a space that resembles a Western-style urban converted warehouse. Curated by Lynne Cooke, the exhibition is made up of nearly two hundred paintings and drawings from almost four decades and lit by expansive natural skylights in the main space. The back of the museum features three dark-gray rooms showcasing his works from the 1970s and ’80s, including two three-dimensional sculptures alongside preparatory drawings.

Taking subject matter from current events, Tuymans’s work elevates the mundane while shrinking history as he closely crops, obscures, and marks out references to the original images. His newest series of paintings, “The Arena I–VI,” 2014, fills an entire room. With visual similarities to Francisco Goya’s The Third of May 1808, 1814, Tuymans’s strong highlighting of central figures encased by a blackened, scruffy vignette suggests a diaspora, revolution, or an uneasy static mob. There is a sense of pent-up aggression that lies beneath the surface of the ethnically ambiguous and androgynous forms. In a slightly different vein in the opposite back corner of the museum, Tuymans has repainted a series of works from 2003 in wonderfully vivid blues and neutrals directly onto the wall. Oostende, a horizontal landscape of saturated cerulean peppered by white dots, is tantalizingly phenomenological, while Navy Seals and Egypt carry more overt political references. This show is timely, given the current climate of globalized political anxiety, as the artist’s work perceptively critiques the mediated coverage of events and invites viewers to reexamine the fictitious underbelly of the narratives we are given.