Palazzo Grassi
 
« Luc Tuymans.
La Pelle »
 
How might we present an experiential exhibition that would allow its visitors to grasp the richness of the work of Luc Tuymans, an artist renowned for his singular approach to the image and its pictorial treatment, combined with an acute awareness of history? The exhibition layout, designed in collaboration with the artist, is not chronological; it stages conversations and confrontations among the artworks within the exhibition space, allowing visitors to reflect on the fundamental questions raised by the belgian artist, born in 1958.
 
<a class="switch">Curators</a><br> <b>Luc Tuymans<br/>and Caroline Bourgeois</b><br>
 
<div class="col m-4 auteur pull-right"> <div class="inner"> <div class="white"> <a class="switch">Text</a><br> <b>Caroline Bourgeois</b><br> <span style="display: none;"> Co-curator of the exhibition </span> </div> </div> </div> <br/> <br/> <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>We began planning this exhibition in 2017, notably by visiting Palazzo Grassi several times. We soon decided that, although Tuymans also makes drawings and short films, we would include only his paintings; and that Tuymans would create an in-situ work for Palazzo Grassi’s atrium. A mosaic, based on his 1986 painting <i>Schwarzheide</i>, was thus produced. It was Tuymans who chose the title of the exhibition—“La Pelle,” or “The Skin,” inspired by Italian writer Curzio Malaparte’s (1898–1957) eponymous novel. <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>From the start of his artistic career in the 1980s, Tuymans has examined images’ ability to accurately and truthfully capture the events that they are meant to depict, notably historic events. Even then, he dared to “age” his work, projecting himself into the future by considering how it might be historicized. His paintings always start with a found image—from a newspaper, book, television, or website, a work by another painter, or at times a photograph he has taken himself (often with his smartphone, sometimes with his Polaroid camera). These source images are then transformed, reframed, studied at length, and finally painted. <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>Though Tuymans bases his work on preexisting images, his goal is not to achieve perfect representation. On the contrary, he deliberately takes risks as he paints. He considers that each painting should contain a “hole,” or flaw, through which viewers can appropriate the painting and make it a depiction of their own story and narrative. In this sense, his approach is more conceptual than expressive. <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>Another fascinating aspect of his work is what we might call its silence: Tuymans’ paintings are often monochromatic, in muted colors, some cold, some warm tones, and with flattened perspectives. Tuymans doesn’t lead his viewers by the hand, but on the contrary asks them to make an effort, to get closer, reflect, and engage physically with the painting. As a counterpoint to the silence of his paintings, Tuymans selects expressive texts both as the titles of his individual works and as the collective ones of his exhibitions. We have used those texts to prepare the notices accompanying the paintings in “La Pelle.” To Tuymans, “The fine line between the explanation of a painting and the painting itself offers the only possibility of perspective in painting.”<sup>1</sup> <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>Among the abundant literature on Tuymans’ work, we have elected to summarize a text by Helen Molesworth, written in 2009, which seems particularly pertinent and relevant in relation to this exhibition. <br/> <br/> <div class="col m-4 auteur pull-right"> <div class="inner"> <div class="white"> <a class="switch">Text</a><br> <b>Helen Molesworth</b><br> <span style="display: none;"> Curator and art critic <br/> <br/> First published in the catalogue of the exhibition <br/> « Luc Tuymans », Bozar, Bruxelles, 2011, éd. Ludion <br/> <br/> <u>Edited by</u><br/> <b>Nathalie Bourgeois</b> </span> </div> </div> </div> <br/> <br/> <br/> <br/> <b>Painting the banality of evil</b> <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>Luc Tuymans was two years old in 1960 when the Nazi Adolf Eichmann was arrested in Argentina and brought to justice in Jerusalem. Covering his trial, the philosopher Hannah Arendt famously denounced the “fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil.” <sup>2</sup> Tuymans was twenty-one when Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War epic <i>Apocalypse Now</i> (1979) was released. In the film, a photo-reporter, played by Dennis Hopper, reacts to the horror around him with a sort of verbal delirium. <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>It is at the crossroads of these two responses—restraint and verbal frenzy—and between these two characterizations of the West’s aggressive nature in the twentieth century—the banality of evil and the heart of darkness—that I intend to position the work of Belgian artist Luc Tuymans. <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>Similarly to Arendt and Coppola, Tuymans systematically tackles various events of the past century that shook the world and our existences: the Holocaust, colonialism, nationalism and, more recently, the events of 9/11 and their repercussions. For him, the big questions are notably: What do we remember, and why? What do we do with the things we remember and with those we have forgotten? <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>Tuymans’ trade is the venerable and outdated medium of painting, and his subject matter is the possibility, and limitations, of representing history at the end of the twentieth century. There is a tendency to comment on Tuymans’ work exclusively within the discourse of painting, but it is more interesting to consider him as an artist, rather than a painter, and in so doing to position his work in the context of other artists who are also driven by what could be called an archival impulse.<sup>3</sup> Qualifying Tuymans as an artist allows us to consider his approach not only within the tradition of painting but also of photography, cinema, television, and the Internet—in other words, to position it in the widest possible archival network of images. <br/> <br/> <b>The work of painting</b> <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>What has come to be called the “Tuymans effect” consists of monochromatic and muted colors, as well as brushstrokes applied horizontally on the painting’s surface, which exaggerates the flatness of the image. Furthermore, Tuymans often bases his work on images taken from cinema, videos, television, and photography. He combines these pictorial approaches with an array of fraught historical subjects. Frequently, his paintings’ answer to the historical question “What is to be done?” is a simple and horrible “Nothing.” <br/> <br/> <b>Between silence and linguistic profligacy</b> <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>Although he fuses photography and painting, Tuymans obfuscates all the indicators of veracity that are specific to photography. The bare hermeticism of his paintings is often in contrast with the highly charged language he uses to title both his paintings and his exhibitions (<i>Embitterment, Suspicion, At Random, The Heritage,...</i>) and the abundant literature that supports his work, in particular galleries’ press releases, as well as numerous and long interviews. <br/> <br/> <span class="alinea"></span>In balancing silence and linguistic profligacy, freeze-frame and still life, a scene observed through a window and an imaginary presence, Tuymans’ œuvre implies that even when we find ourselves in deep ethical and political crisis (as we do now), even as we are consumed by the information on television and annihilated by the relentless flashing of the screen, even when we are overwhelmed by anger, most of the time, silence prevails and we remain passive in the face of monstrosity. What this says about the “promise” of the archive and its “responsibility for tomorrow” may be the supreme Tuymans effect. <br/> <br/> <div class="notes"> 1 — Ulrich Loock, <i>Luc Tuymans</i>(London: Phaidon, 2003), p. 112.<br/> 2 — Hannah Arendt, <i>Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil</i>, (New York: Viking Press, 1963). <br/> 3 — See Hal Foster, “An Archival Impulse,” <i>October</i>, vol. 110 (Autumn 2004), pp. 3–22. </div>
 
<i>Body</i>, 1990 <br/>  — <br/> Oil on canvas <br/> 48,5 × 38,5 cm
 
<i>Mountains</i>, 2016 <br/>  — <br/> Oil on canvas <br/> 283 × 187,5 cm
 
<i>Twenty Seventeen</i>, 2017 <br/>  — <br/> Oil on canvas <br/> 94,7 × 62,7 cm
 
<i>Frozen</i>, 2003 <br/>  — <br/> Oil on canvas <br/> 101 × 71 cm
 
<i>Bedroom</i>, 2014 <br/>  — <br/> Oil on canvas <br/> 159,9 × 209,8 cm
 
 
<i>Pigeons</i>, 2018 <br/>  — <br/> Oil on canvas <br/> 94,5 × 67,8 cm <br/> 97,8 × 90,5 cm <br/> 96,7 × 95,4 cm
 
<i>Le Mépris</i>, 2015 <br/>  — <br/> Oil on canvas <br/> 112,4 × 142,6 cm
 
<i>Issei Sagawa</i>, 2014 <br/>  — <br/> Oil on canvas <br/> 74,5 × 82,5 cm
 
<i>Hut</i>, 1998 <br/>  — <br/> Oil on canvas <br/> 123 × 115 cm
 
<i>The Book</i>, 2007 <br/>  — <br/> Oil on canvas <br/> 306 × 212 cm
 

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