Luc Tuymans (born 1958) is a contemporary artist who lives and works in Antwerp, Belgium. Tuymans is considered one of the most influential painters working today. His signature figurative paintings transform mediated film, television, and print sources into examinations of history and memory.
Tuymans was born in Mortsel near Antwerp, Belgium. He began his studies in the fine arts at the Sint-Lukasinstituut in Brussels in 1976. At the age of 19 Tuymans encountered a series of El Greco paintings in Budapest while working as a guard for a European railway company. Subsequently he studied fine arts at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Visuels de la Cambre in Brussels, Belgium (1979–1980) and at the Koninklijke Academie voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp, Belgium (1980–1982). He abandoned painting in 1982, studying art history at the Vrije Universiteit, Brussels (1982–6), and spent three years experimenting with video and film until 1985. He holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Antwerp in Antwerp, Belgium and was honored by the Belgian government when they bestowed upon him the title of Commander, Order of Leopold in 2007. He is married to Venezuelan artist Carla Arocha.
Tuymans emerged in at a time when there were not many new contemporary painters making, or using imagistic paintings; others include John Currin or Elizabeth Peyton. Tuymans' subjects range from major historical events, such as the Holocaust or the politics of the Belgian Congo, to the inconsequential and banal - wallpaper patterns, Christmas decorations, everyday objects. Tuymans first made his mark in the 1980s, when he began to explore Europe's memories of World War II with harsh, elegant paintings like Gas Chamber (1986), which depicts the Dachau concentration camp. The artist later aroused interest in 2000 with his series of political paintings titled Mwana Kitoko ("beautiful boy"), which take themes out of the state visit of King Baudouin of Belgium in the Congo in the 1950s. The works were exhibited in 2000 at the David Zwirner Gallery and the following year in the Belgian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. The most noted painting was of the king himself in his white military uniform.
Tuyman's sparsely-colored, figurative are typically painted with fleet brush strokes of wet paint on wet paint on a modest scale and derive their subjects from pre-existing imagery which includes photographs and video stills, and often appear slightly out-of-focus. The blurriness is actually sharp because, unlike with Gerhard Richter, it is not wiped away but just painted. His paintings embrace a number of formal and conceptual oppositions, echoed in Tuymans’s own explanation that “sickness should appear in the way the painting is made,” yet in “caressing the painting” there is also pleasure in its making. These statements are characteristic of Tuymans’s self-conscious and tenaciously semantic shaping of the philosophical content in his work. Tuymans often works in series, a method whereby one image can generate another and where images can be formulated and then reformulated. He continuously analyses and distils his images, making many drawings, photocopies and watercolours before making the high-intensity oil paintings. Two early series are the cycle Die Zeit (Time) (1988) about the holocaust; Heimat (German for ‘homeland’) (1996), paintings in which Tuymans sketches a wry picture of the revived self-awareness of the Flemish nationalist; and the series Passion (1999) about the essence of religious belief. Between 2007 and 2009 Tuymans worked on a triptych, which began with Les Revenants and Restoration (2007) about the power of the Jesuit Order; continued with Forever. The Management of Magic, relating to the world phenomenon Walt Disney; and ended with Against the Day (2009), a series on TV reality shows.
At documenta 11 in 2002, where the selection of work that year focused on works of art with political or social commentary, 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, leading to negative critiques.
Tuymans represented Belgium at the Venice Biennale in 2001. He has been the focus of several retrospectives at various international institutions, including the Műcsarnok Kunsthalle in Budapest, Hungary; Haus der Kunst in Munich, Germany; the Zachęta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw, Poland; the Tate Modern, London, England (2004); Museu Serralves, Porto, Portugal; Musee d'Art Moderne et Contemporain (MAMCO), Geneva, Switzerland (both 2006); and, most recently (2011) the BOZAR Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels, Belgium. The artist’s first comprehensive U.S. retrospective opened in September 2009 at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, and travelled to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Dallas Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.
Against the Day, an exhibition of works inspired by one of Tuymans' favorite authors, Thomas Pynchon, originated at Wiels Centre d’Art Contemporain, Brussels, and subsequently travelled to Baibakov Art Projects, Moscow, and Moderna Museet Malmö.
In 1992, Tuymans was invited to show at the documenta for the first time. His numerous, recent group exhibitions have since included Compass in Hand: Selections from The Judith Rothschild Foundation Contemporary Drawings Collection, The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Mapping the Studio: Artists from the François Pinault Collection, Palazzo Grassi, Venice, Italy (2009); Collecting Collections: Highlights from the Permanent Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California; Doing it My Way: Perspectives in Belgian Art, Museum Küppersmühle für Moderne Kunst, Duisburg, Germany (2008); What is Painting? Contemporary Art From the Collection, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York; Fast Forward: Collections for the Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas; The Painting of Modern Life, Hayward Gallery, London, England and Castello di Rivoli, Turin, Italy (2007); Essential Painting, National Museum of Art, Osaka, Japan; Infinite Painting: Contemporary Painting and Global Realism, Villa Manin Centro d’Arte Contemporanea, Codroipo, Italy (2006).
Luc Tuymans is represented by David Zwirner, New York.
Tuymans also curates exhibitions, and is organizing the second in a series of cross-cultural exhibitions that brings together Belgian and Chinese art. His exhibition, The State of Things: Brussels/Beijing, will travel from the Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels, Belgium to Beijing. In 2010-2011 he will was the guest curator for the inaugural Bruges Central art festival in Bruges, Belgium.
Work by the artist is held in the public collections of various museums, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, New York; Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, California; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California; Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst, Antwerp, Belgium; Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Ghent, Belgium; Bonnefanten Museum, Maastricht; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Wolfsburg; Museum fuer Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt; Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich; and the Tate Gallery, London.
In 2005, Sculpture (2000), part of Tuymans' Mwana Kitoko: Beautiful White Man series, was sold at Christie's New York, for $1,472,000.