A theme of suppressed cruelty or aggression, hidden in images of near-emptiness or nothingness, is present in this room. This is most explicit in Bend Over 2001, a painting expressing extreme vulnerability. The thin bent figure, who may be a man or a woman, exposes his or her barely-clad bottom to the viewer, as if caught the moment before an act of violence. Tuymans places the viewer in the position of perpetrator, deliberately implicating us in the unknown but implicitly horrific events.
The semi-abstract work Cif 1988, with a motif taken from a Cif cleaning bottle, also hints at latent violence. The image has been stripped of the usual advertising message, so that the red stripe appears to be gagging the head-like blue shape. Tuymans has written that ‘advertising doesn’t make pictures but negations of pictures… the product has no real meaning but is made meaningful.’ As the title suggests in Niks (‘Nothing’) 2002, which means a forceful ‘Nothing!’ or ‘Enough!’ in Flemish, these paintings explore the idea of meaninglessness, void and negation.
The important four-part work Die Zeit (‘Time’) 1988, is Tuymans’ first ‘grey-tone’ painting, a colour scheme that has become associated with his works addressing historical subjects. Presented like a sequence of disjointed film stills, these paintings explore the idea of time - passing time, frozen time, or even a sense of timelessness. The words ‘Nichts in Sicht’ (‘nothing in view’) are written across the top of the first painting, and the last painting includes the cut-out face of Reinhard Heydrich, Nazi deputy-chief of the Gestapo, significantly masked by a painted-on pair of sunglasses.