PRINT October 2001


THE ARTIST-CURATED EXHIBITION is an inherently enticing proposition, but in practice such shows usually prove a bore. Far too often artists are drawn to secondhand versions of the sort of work they make themselves. Luc Tuymans has already dodged that bullet once: Two years ago, when he cocurated “Trouble Spot: Painting” with fellow artist Narcisse Tordoir, at the MUHKA, Antwerp, Tuymans resisted sheer epigonism. That stab at summarizing contemporary painting was perhaps too generous to ultimately convince, but it was a commendable attempt by an artist to track obsessions that go far beyond stylistic affinities. Tuymans’s selection in “With (X),” the “exhibition” he has curated for these pages, is again stylistically diverse but—perhaps by necessity—far more focused.

“The artists I have chosen all share a rather explicit interest in that most primary of confrontations—the encounter between self and other,” Tuymans explains. And he leads off with a painting by Belgian Surrealist Léon Spilliaert based on a newspaper photo of the American steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. “Spilliaert used photographs to revitalize paintings—as I would do, in my own way, decades later.” In Portrait of Andrew Carnegie, 1913, the subject’s dark, glazed eyes look straight into the camera, but “transformed into a painting, Carnegie is totally aloof—as if the portrait were an X ray, or even his death mask.”

A similar if less dire sense of alienation runs through the work of contemporaries Vanessa van Obberghen, Gert Robijns, Philip Aguirre y Otegui, and Carla Arocha, who in separate ways all riff on the confrontation between the viewer and the object observed. “One could say that, in her use of mirrors, Arocha seduces the viewer into becoming one with the object,” Tuymans observes of his colleague’s (and wife’s) installation Zipper, 2000. Aguirre’s untitled sculpture, like Spilliaert’s portrait, is based on a photograph—of a man in a concentration camp, his executioners visible behind him. Reversing the image in his lifesize concrete sculpture, Aguirre presents the anonymous victim facing the wall and, as Tuymans points out, “thrusts the viewer into the executioner’s role.”

Tuymans leaves us face to face with Gabriel Orozco’s haunting Black Kites, 1997, “a human being stripped to the bone, turned into an object”—a final confrontation between the self and what Tuymans calls “the ultimate ‘other.’”

Jos Van den Bergh