Luc Tuymans Portrait 2000

Luc Tuymans
Portrait 2000
Susan and Lewis Manilow
© The artist, courtesy Zeno X Gallery and David Zwirner, New York. Photo credit: Felix Tirry.

Luc Tuymans Flemish Village 1995

Luc Tuymans
Flemish Village 1995
Verzameling Vlaamse Gemeenschap
© The artist, courtesy Zeno X Gallery and David Zwirner, New York. Photo credit: Felix Tirry.

This room contains paintings which explore the role of ritual and symbol in contemporary society. Several works here were shown in Tuymans’ solo exhibition Heimat, meaning ‘homeland’, held in Antwerp, Belgium in 1995. This exhibition drew on the iconography of Flemish nationalism, a movement which lobbies for Flemish independence from Belgium. But Tuymans, although Flemish himself, presents these symbols with detachment and irony. The emblem of lions on the flag of the Flemish nationalist movement are just visible in the limp folds of cloth in the near-abstract painting The Flag 1995, and Flemish Village 1995 is based on an existing oil painting of a typical Flemish village. The scene looks stiff and Tuymans has deliberately added yellowing and cracking to give a faked impression of authenticity. By doing this, Tuymans implies that national identity is also artificially constructed. These paintings draw attention to the emptiness of many contemporary symbols which, endlessly repeated and yet divorced from their original context, have become meaningless.

Other works in this room also suggest the hollowness of ideology and the emptiness of ritual. Blessing 1996 shows the faded-out image of a Mormon priest giving a blessing on television. The edges of the TV screen are just visible in the corners, pointing ironically at the new wave of mass media evangelism. Portrait 2000 shows an image of a woman from a memorial photograph which, in Flemish tradition, is sent out after someone’s death. The woman appears sickly and ill and, like the Mormon priest, has almost faded from view.