Luc Tuymans – Eternity – David Zwirner Gallery Paris – 10 June –23 July 2022

David Zwirner presents « Eternity », an exhibition of new paintings by Belgian artist Luc Tuymans on view at the gallery’s Paris location. Extending his decades-long interrogation of images, in these works Tuymans calls attention to the history of painting and the medium’s inherent emphasis on illusion as an analogue for the growing sociopolitical dissolution of Western society, heightening the disjuncture between seeing and knowing that has become a hallmark of his practice. This is his fifteenth show with the gallery and the first solo exhibition of the celebrated artist’s work in Paris. Tuymans is known for a distinctive style of painting that considers the power of images to simultaneously communicate and withhold. Emerging in the 1980s, the artist pioneered a decidedly non narrative approach to figurative painting, exploring instead the ways in which information can be layered and embedded within certain scenes and signifiers.

Based on preexisting imagery culled from a variety of sources, his works are rendered in a muted palette that is suggestive of a blurry recollection or fading memory. Yet, their quiet and restrained appearance belies an underlying moral complexity that engages equally with questions of history and its representation as with quotidian subject matter. Tuymans’s canvases both undermine and reinvent traditional notions of monumentality through their insistence on the ambiguity of meaning.

The exhibition is introduced with the two-part work Gloves (2021), which at first appears nearly illegible, vaguely resembling a crime scene or laboratory. The source material in fact derives from a YouTube tutorial of a painter cleaning his brushes. Transposed into a palette reminiscent of celluloid film in the midst of a slow dissolve, the figure’s sports gloves and apron read almost as a butcher’s implements, tacitly proposing an equivalency with the role of the painter in the modern world. Likewise, a series of four canvases with converging red and blue starbursts set against a plain white background recalls such varied points of reference as fireworks, viruses, or even any tricolor national flag. Though abstract, the pattern of the paintings has tangible meaning: they reproduce a visualization of data assembled by a team of researchers tracking the polarization of the US Congress over six decades.

From this group Tuymans has selected four years that span the project—1951, 1967, 1989, and 2011. While the earlier canvases show Democrats (represented in blue) and Republicans (in red) connected by swaths of gray (denoting bipartisan collaboration), over time, as the country moves toward a strictly partisan government, the gray areas disappear and the blue and red stand starkly apart. In his re-presentations, Tuymans has rotated the infographics ninety degrees, offering a different, monumental perspective on the meaning of this imagery.

Among the most vibrantly colored works in Tuymans’s oeuvre to date, the painting Eternity (2021), from which the exhibition takes its name, features a spherical form that presents as a luminous field of pure color akin to the compositions of Mark Rothko or Kenneth Noland. However, the dome’s imperfect, pocked surface suggests a real-world referent, in this case the glass dome made by Werner Heisenberg in his laboratory to model hydrogen bomb explosions. A pioneering theoretical physicist, Heisenberg led the German effort to produce atomic weapons during World War II, though it remains unclear whether he helped or hindered this cause. Tuymans has frequently referenced traumatic history in his work; however, the subject of such paintings is not these atrocities themselves but rather the way in which they are integrated into the historical narrative, as well as into collective memory, through images that have the potential to be indeterminate, multivalent, and ultimately revealing of an underlying glimpse of humanity, here literally foregrounding beauty in destruction. (…)

Born in 1958 in Mortsel, Belgium, Luc Tuymans is one of the most important painters of his generation. His first major museum presentations were held in 1990 at the Provinciaal Museum voor Moderne Kunst, Ostend, Belgium, and the Vereniging voor het Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst, Ghent. In 1992, the artist participated in Documenta IX in Kassel, in addition to having a solo exhibition at Kunsthalle Bern, which helped cement his growing reputation in Europe. In 1994, Luc Tuymans: Superstition debuted at Portikus, Frankfurt, and traveled to David Zwirner, New York; the Art Gallery of York University, Toronto; The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago; the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London; and Goldie Paley Gallery, Moore College of Art & Design, Philadelphia, establishing him as a major influential artist abroad. In 2001, the artist represented Belgium at the Venice Biennale to great acclaim. Tuymans has been featured in numerous solo exhibitions at prestigious institutions worldwide. Major presentations of his work include those held at Palazzo Grassi, Venice (2019); De Pont Museum, Tilburg, The Netherlands (2019); Museum aan de Stroom (MAS), Antwerp (2016), which traveled to the National Portrait Gallery, London (2016); Qatar Museums Gallery – Al Riwaq, Doha (2015); the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio (2009), which traveled to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Dallas Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and BOZAR – Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels; and Tate Modern, London (2004), which traveled to K21 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf.

Image: Luc Tuymans, Eternity, 2021 © Luc Tuymans – Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner

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