Tate Modern Level 4
23 June – 26 September 2004
Luc Tuymans is one of the most highly regarded and influential artists of his generation. Born in Belgium in 1958, his contribution to painting over the past fifteen years has been hugely significant. As well as representing Belgium at the Venice Biennale in 2001, he participated in Documenta IX 1992 and XI 2002, in Germany. This will be the first major exhibition of Tuymans’ work in the UK and includes some seventy works from throughout his career.
As the exhibition will demonstrate, Tuymans’ output has enormous breadth: his range of subjects oscillates between banal subjects and those of extreme horror. In his oeuvre still-life paintings of embroideries, ceramics, plants and mirrors jostle with imagery that relates to some of the most important events in human culture and history such as The Passion and The Holocaust. Tuymans’ installation for the Belgian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2001, Mwana Kitoko – Beautiful White Man, was a series of oblique yet atmospheric paintings dealing with the withdrawal of imperial rule in the Belgian Congo in 1960. The works implicitly refer to the shady background to the assassination of the first Congolese Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba. Other works present familiar everyday subjects which hint at something more sinister: an empty child’s bedroom could be viewed more like a prison than a haven, while an orchid could appear to take on a toxic and threatening aspect.
Early in his career Tuymans knew that he wanted to create a form of painting that reflected the quality of memory and this has provided him with the combination of truth and falsehood that has helped to shape and define his practice. He felt early on that nothing new or original was possible within the medium of painting, and as a result he created the notion of ‘authentic forgery’. This paradox helps to explain the tension between tradition and innovation in his painting. ‘Authentic forgery’ gave Tuymans the alibi to continue painting, long after it had been declared a redundant medium in some quarters. The concept is present in Tuymans’ early paintings, which sometimes feature a seemingly ancient, cracked patina as well as a distinctive palette of bleached out and faded colours. With his subtle use of tone, Tuymans suggests a powerful sense of the past and, as he has said ‘a tone is more effective than a colour. A tone can grow, a colour cannot’.
Tuymans has stated that his work is very much about the nature of history and memory. The exhibition will explore how we experience history as well as the nature of collective and private memory. Works in the exhibition will be displayed neither chronologically nor thematically but as a continual dialogue between important historical events as they are referenced in the paintings, and the world of the ordinary, the everyday and the banal. The display will mirror Tuymans view of his work as one long interconnected project or vast series of paintings - in the artist’s own words, ‘a never-ending story’.
The exhibition is a collaboration between Tate Modern and K21, Düsseldorf where it will be shown at K21 from 16 October 2004 and 23 January 2005. It is co-curated by Emma Dexter, Senior Curator, Tate Modern who worked with Tuymans on his 1995 exhibition Superstition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), London and Dr. Julian Heynen who worked with Tuymans at Krefeld in 1993. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue published by Tate Publishing.
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