Monday, April 19, 2010

Came across an interesting interview with Luc Tuymans, the Belgian painter, in the February issue of Art in America.

I think it's always tricky to try to have your paintings carry any kind of political or cultural meaning, but in my humble opinion, he succeeds where so many others either state the obvious or go for something gimmicky.

He has a retrospective on right now at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the show will travel to Dallas, Chicago, and Brussels.

After exploring WWII themes that grew out of his exploration of family members' involvement on opposite sides of the war, he turned his atten
tion to a wide range of subjects, including governments and power, violence, cultural influences. Above is Secretary of State.
While the title of this painting is just what it describes, he chose her image as part of a larger show called "Proper" about various aspects of the Bush administrations, its people and its policies, going at them indirectly.

"Like Colin Powell, Rice had adapted to racism in order to succeed. She had learned to be composed, determined, proper."

Also included in the retrospective are "two distinct but surprisingly related bodies of work, one about the Jesuits ("Les Revenants" 2007) and the other about Walt Disney's dreams ("Forever" 2008). Tuymans says:

I didn't come from the right social layer, but in Belgium the power structure has deep roots in the Jesuit system. And whatever one may think abo
ut them, they've been important for image-building in the West - just think of Rubens and the Baroque. Both the Jesuits and Walt Disney were involved with crazy utopian schemes based on taking fantasies and turning them into entertainment. But the consequence of instrumentalizing fantasy is that you delete its content, everything that makes it exciting.

I'm not sure that I'm following every thread here, but, he goes on to explain that his assistant came upon some old pictures on the Web that showed the opening day of Disneyland. Tuymans was interested in using photos that revealed all that was not utopian, sentimental, and sunny, so he worked with images of the things that went wrong, including a gas leak in the Alice and Wonderland ride and a problem with a collapsing tu
rtle float in the Light Parade. He painted both. Here's the float painting, called Turtle:

As you can see, he leaves a lot of room for the viewer to see what he/she wants to see. "I have to degrade the image, to make holes in it, 'leap holes' you might say, because what stimulates me most in an image is inconsistency." (p. 81)

I like this open-ended approach to image creation. One critic admitted he always sees a wedding couple when he looks at Turtle. I have to think that would be just fine with Tuymans. What do you think?

(By the way, this link will connect you to an article about Tuymans.)

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