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Monday, February 8, 2010

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By Emma Krasov

Observing enigmatic artwork of the contemporary Belgian artist Luc Tuymans piece after piece, gallery after gallery, is like trying to remember a dream that woke you up. Vivid colors and crisp outlines fade away, distinct events blur into secondary recollections, and the reality of the everyday overwhelms now distant happenings. Only the dream is a nightmare, and the happenings are all too real and belong to the very recent history. Tuymans turns to a “total psychological breakdown of Europe” as he puts it, caused by WWII and the Holocaust; depicting a gas chamber disguised as a shower, and spinach tablets – one of the genius German inventions, used by the Nazis on the Eastern front, and later adopted by NASA. He explores the history of Congo – formerly a colony of Belgium, and its gruesome reality in time of liberation. Following “the banality of evil” the artist turns to mundane details in the lives of serial killers and of the terminally ill, relentlessly conveing an idea of the normalcy of a nightmare, which is always lurking just beneath the surface of civility and propriety. In the first U.S. restrospective of Tuymans work, jointly organized by SFMOMA and the Wexner Center for the Arts (Columbus, Ohio) co-curators Madeleine Grynsztejn and Helen Molesworth present approxiamately 75 paintings in chronological order, which the artist rejected in his previous shows despite the fact that he usually works in series creating groups of paintings around a theme or an idea. The curators introduced the show as “a spectacular and ravishing experience,” and “beautiful, never pretty, and deeply disturbing.” Present at the opening, Tuymans gave a tour of his show to the SF art reviewers explaining the layers of meaning under each of his haunting works. Luc Tuymans is on view through May 2 at SFMOMA, 151 Third Street, San Francisco. 415-357-4000, Images: Luc Tuymans, Schwarzheide, 1986; oil on canvas; 23 5/8 x 27 5/8 in. (60 x 69.9 cm); Private collection; © Luc Tuymans; photo: courtesy David Zwirner, New York; Luc Tuymans, Body, 1990; oil on canvas; 19 1/4 x 13 3/4 in. (48.9 x 34.9 cm); Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Ghent; © Luc Tuymans; photo: Dirk Pauwels, courtesy the artist.


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