Nice. Luc Tuymans

Sep 27, 2013 – Jan 5, 2014
Main Building

Nice. Luc Tuymans combines paintings by Belgian artist Luc Tuymans (b. 1958) with works selected from the Menil Collection with its history and values in mind. Since his first solo exhibition in 1985, the Belgian artist has established himself as one of the most influential painters working today. The exhibition presents approximately 30 paintings from his early mature work to canvases finished as recently as 2011.

Tuymans is well known for his distinctive painting style as well as for his choice of historically and emotionally charged subject matter. He derives his images from pre-existing sources: photographs, film stills, even mirror images. His deliberately spare palette, often-modest scale, unexpected cropping, obscured spaces, and blurred brushstrokes combine to reinforce the image’s status as a replica. Each canvas seems to exist as a faded memory or remnant from the past. For the past 25 years Tuymans has focused on some of the darkest and most politically charged events of the recent past including colonialism, the Holocaust, and the events and aftermath of 9/11. Recently he has focused on the ideological, religious, and cultural conflicts that are unfolding globally. Paradoxically, Tuymans depicts these difficult subjects not by surveying monumental events, but by isolating and exploring both banal details and iconic images.

Tuymans paintings are typically conceived in a series or group for a specific exhibition the theme of which is conveyed through an ambiguous, yet suggestive title, for example, Corporate (2010), Proper (2004), Fortune (2003), and Heritage (1996). While the meaning of an individual canvas is thus partially generated through its original context, subsequent exhibitions allow us to continually refresh our understanding of the work. The conceptual core of Tuymans’s work is rooted in a fundamental skepticism about representation and the originality of painting. Perhaps better than any, the genre of portraiture allows Tuymans to explore the balance all painting strikes between revealing and concealing.

While most works int the exhibition are portraits in the conventional sense, others, such as Bloodstains, 1993, and Fingers, 1995, illustrate the artist’s intentionally elliptical approach to representation. Tuymans’s works are placed in dialogue with a selection of portraits in the Menil Collection’s permanent holdings. Exploiting the diversity of the collection, the exhibition includes works from ancient, African, and Native American cultures, as well as modern and contemporary examples of portraiture.

Curated by Menil Director Josef Helfenstein and Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Toby Kamps in collaboration with the artist. The exhibition book, Portraits. Luc Tuymans reproduces works in the exhibitions in related but book-specific juxtapositions and sequences, and contains essays by Kamps and critic, artist, and curator Robert Storr.

This exhibition is generously supported by Louisa Stude Sarofim; The Brown Foundation, Inc.; Houston Endowment Inc.; The John R. Eckel, Jr. Foundation; Marilyn Oshman; Mark Wawro and Melanie Gray; The George and Mary Josephine Hamman Foundation; Baker Botts L.L.P.; Bank of America; Clare Casademont and Michael Metz; Paul and Janet Hobby; Gensler; Russell Reynolds Associates; Lea Weingarten; and the City of Houston.

Photos: Paul Hester