The interplay between the banal and the terrible, the significant and the incidental, is the subject of the display in this room. Two important early paintings related to the Holocaust, Gaskamer (‘Gas Chamber’) 1986 and Schwarzheide 1986 are shown alongside banal, everyday subjects: two domestic interiors, an oversized sheet of striped wrapping paper, a tree-lined landscape, ornamental plates hanging on a wall and a model angel, a typical household knick-knack. The arrangement suggests a domestic interior, evoking the nostalgic atmosphere of a comfortable bourgeois home. At the same time, the ‘aggressively small-scale’ paintings, as one writer described them, and the drab palette of colours create a sense of claustrophobia and foreboding. Displayed in conjunction with Gaskamer, these domestic images are reminders of the bourgeois environment that nurtured and protected Nazism, and reveal that inexpressible and terrible truths are embedded within the everyday.
Tuymans has described how Gaskamer resembles the cellar of an ordinary house, and the warm tones of the painting seem at first to radiate warmth and beauty. However, the colour was also intended to resemble skin tones and, on closer inspection, the holes in the ceiling and strange stained walls reveal that this is a gas chamber. Schwarzheide was a concentration camp where, according to one anecdote, prisoners secretly made drawings which they divided into strips to avoid confiscation or discovery. They later brought together the different strips, indicated by the vertical stripes, and recreated the picture, the act itself a metaphor for piecing together their shared memories and experiences.