Luc Tuymans

Galerie Isabella Kacprzak

Luc Tuymans is a painter who consciously rejects theoretical aspirations in his work. In his mostly small-format pieces, he is concerned neither with a critique of painting nor with a consideration of its history. For that reason one might believe that Tuymans’ works are conventional and express nothing new. But still these paintings have an evocative power; the viewer wants to know more about them, to know what is happening in them, what they mean, what they show, what they hide. They seem at first glance closed, unapproachable, even threatening. The viewer is perplexed, indeed annoyed by the inaccessibility of what is depicted on the canvas, and consequently withdraws into the uncomfortable feeling that only some distance exists—into the sense of an impending disaster that cannot be understood via the usual categories of perception, but that is almost physically present.

In this exhibition Tuymans shows a series of paintings that are meant to tell a story. But which story? One sees a typical Belgian villa in the middle of a well-groomed garden; this is the exterior view of a house, followed by interior views. There is a corner with a hanging lamp, a view of a room’s ceiling, a wall with curtains, a kitschy ceramic angel, a simple tile wall in a bathroom, several mirrors that seem to reflect nothing, and the shadows of unidentifiable objects. This is a simple, bourgeois household, undermined only by the baroque angel. But all these fragments are held at a distance and function impersonally.

These paintings are small, and Tuymansuses soft, faded colors, with the exception of the angel that is rendered in a brighter range of colors. The remaining pictures are all in gray-green tones, and several exhibit a nervous brushstroke that is not an expressive gesture, but part of the painting process itself. At the same time one might consider it a sign of Tuymans’ indecision regarding the permanence of planes and lines; he might be so concerned about the true reproduction of a scene that his search for perfection undermines the painted image. For this reason his paintings seem unfinished; they function as the preservation of evidence. But as evidence for what?

In fact, Tuymans painted a series of images depicting the gas chambers and the courtyard of the concentration camp at Theresienstadt. And similarly, the paintings in this exhibition seemed like exhibits of evidence for an unnamed crime. Something strange might have happened in this house, but the viewer doesn’t know exactly what, nor can it be spoken. For Tuymans’ works are concerned with our inability to depict reality—through art, science, or philosophy. True reality is always more of a puzzle, more adventurous, more threatening than any reproduction of it. Like David Lynch’s films, Tuymans’ works confront us with a discomfiting danger.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.