Luc Tuymans, Ballroom Dancing, 2005. Collection of SFMOMA, promised gift of Shawn and Brook Byers; © Luc Tuymans; photo by Ben Blackwell; courtesy David Zwirner, New York

Until January 9th 2011 – The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

This exhibition marks the first U.S. retrospective of paintings by Belgian contemporary artist Luc Tuymans—and is the most comprehensive presentation of his art to date. One of the most significant painters working today, Tuymans (b. 1958) draws on the historical traditions of northern European art and the more recent heritage of photography, cinema, and television. He frequently explores issues of history and memory, as in works that address the lingering effects of World War II, the postcolonial situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (a former Belgian colony), and the global aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

One of the most influential artists to emerge in Europe at the end of the 20th century, Luc Tuymans is only now becoming more familiar to an American audience through this retrospective of more than 80 paintings from 1978 to the present. Dubbed the “Tuymans effect,” the artist’s unique approach to painting—using photographic source materials, working in series, and oscillating between representation and abstraction—has influenced countless artists of a younger generation. Tuymans often uses banal imagery to depict highly charged subject matter relating to significant historical events such as the Holocaust, the Belgian colonization of Congo, and the terrorist attacks of September 11, reminding us that things are not always what they seem to be.

His work poses critical questions: what do we remember and how? How does one represent and relate to significant events of the present as they are becoming part of history? What is our role in these events?

Tuymans frequently cites artists such as Flemish Renaissance painters Jan Van Eyck and Pieter Bruegel as important forebearers; yet, referring to Tuymans as an artist, instead of a painter, underscores his work’s strong relationship to photography, film, television, and the internet as sources of imagery. Tuymans was born in Belgium in 1958, and his paintings and films reflect the worldview he formed while growing up in Europe during the aftermath of World War II—a time when unthinkable tragedies had become reality and nations struggled to move forward. Tuymans is also of the first generation to grow up with television. The early and abundant exposure to this mediated experience and the banality of TV culture, along with his background in filmmaking, greatly influence the appearance of his work. He bases his compositions on photographs from existing sources such as Nazi wartime propaganda magazines, as well as Polaroids he has taken of objects and places from everyday life, but his process of mutation and distortion renders these sources unrecognizable. His faded palette has become a hallmark of his work—pale blues, grays, greens, and browns allude to the ungraspable quality of memory and underscore our inability to fully comprehend the complexity of historical and current events.

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