Tuymans describes his approach to painting as an ‘authentic forgery’, a phrase which rejects the idea of originality, and implies the inevitable ‘belatedness’ or delay between an event and its painted image. In his works about historical subjects, Tuymans uses techniques which draw attention to the ultimate failure of painting to offer any true representation of past events. Instead he refers to the past indirectly, on the basis of a clue, a document, or a quotation from a text.
The key work in this room, Our New Quarters 1986, is based on a fake postcard of Thierenstadt, a ‘model’ camp set up by the Nazis in Czechoslovakia as a decoy from the true circumstances in other concentration camps. Outside observers were allowed to visit the camp, which held concerts and gave other privileges to the prisoners - many of whom were prominent Jews with international reputations. Prisoners were encouraged to send postcards to the outside world as a way of disseminating Nazi lies about the camp, and in this way tragically played a part in their own destruction. In this painting and Secrets 1990, Tuymans draws attention to the veils of deception which complicate and obfuscate past events, emphasising that history can only be pieced together through unreliable fragments and memories.
This room also contains Tuymans’ major triptych, Embitterment 1991, an example of the artist’s interest in depicting emotional states or moods. He has described this work as ‘an emotional self-portrait that coincides with the body, showing the inside of the body. The picture comes out of a feeling of rage, and the feeling of being excluded from oneself.’