Luc Tuymans Insomnia

Luc Tuymans
Insomnia 1988
K.F. Muschel
© The artist, courtesy Zeno X Gallery and David Zwirner, New York. Photo credit: Felix Tirry.

This room contains one of Tuymans’ most recent works, Navy Seals 2003, which was painted from television footage of American soldiers inside Saddam Hussein’s son’s palace in Baghdad. In contrast to the Congo images, this painting focuses on one of the most dramatic and well-publicised events of the war - the storming of the rulers’ palaces. However, Tuymans deliberately plays down any sensationalism by using a small format and subdued palette, so that the figures appear shadowy and insubstantial. The image is more like a dream than mass media propaganda.

The other works in this room also seem blurred and subdued, and several evoke states of mind or moods, such as Insomnia 1988, and Silence 1991. Insomnia is an abstract work in which patches of muted colour float one above the other. Tuymans has said that ‘it gave me the idea of a space between waking and sleeping, the idea of sleeplessness, the idea of a state in which the body has lost its feeling, in which all material loses its normal concreteness, and floats in space, as if weightless.’

The dream turns to nightmare in Silence, which depicts a baby’s head with closed eyes and reddish-orange lids, floating in space. The baby’s skin is grey and the bags under its eyes are green, as if discoloured by illness, and it is not clear if the child is dead or alive. This, and other images of childhood in Tuymans’ works, convey an idea of ‘constant fear and constant uneasiness’ which the artist says is ‘embedded in my personality’.