The works in this room refer to the tradition and meaning of painting as a medium rather than external events. Tuymans plays with different techniques, from the stylistic references to Cézanne in Still-Life 2002 and Pillows 1994, to deliberate amateurism and obscurity in Superstition 1994 and Animation 2002.

The room is dominated by a vast canvas of a still-life, which was first shown at the exhibition Documenta 11 in Kassel, Germany in 2002. The selection of work that year focused on works of art with political or social commentary, and many expected Tuymans to make new works in response to the New York attacks on 11 September 2001. Instead he presented a simple still-life executed on a massive scale, deliberately ignoring all reference to world events. Tuymans has described this as a deliberate strategy of ‘sublimation’: ‘In Still-Life the idea of banality becomes larger-than-life, it is taken to an impossible extreme. It’s actually just an icon, an almost purely cerebral painting, more like a light projection. The attacks [of 9/11] were also an assault on aesthetics. That gave me the idea of reacting with a sort of anti-picture, with an idyll, albeit an inherently twisted one.’

Luc Tuymans Still-Life 2002

Luc Tuymans
Still-Life 2002
James and Jacqui Erskine, Sydney, Australia
© The artist, courtesy Zeno X Gallery and David Zwirner, New York. Photo credit: Felix Tirry.

Tuymans has described Superstition as a painting about art and transgression. He has said that he often makes his paintings appear clumsy, and ‘deprived of aesthetics’ so that there is more focus on meaning: ‘Superstition could be a nom de plume for art. Art that transgresses, that transmits. The insect in Superstition sucks you in. It’s almost shamanistic.’