On Jan. 10, "The Summer is Over," Luc Tuymans's 10th show with David Zwirner Gallery in New York, will open. The seven paintings in the exhibition, which feature imagery culled solely from the painter's personal environment, represent somewhat of a new direction in the artist's work—one where looking and self-reflection come to the fore.
A.i.A. spoke with Tuymans about the exhibition, its personal significance for the artist, and his views on the politics of privacy.
KARA L. ROONEY You have said of your series "Allo!," which premiered at David Zwirner's London space this past fall, that it was the first time you've worked with Modernism's idea of the romanticized artist. This sense of romanticism doesn't exactly register from these most recent paintings, which are darker in palette and more opaque in their narrative quality. Can you comment on the connection between the two bodies of work?
LUC TUYMANS "Allo!" is based on the 1942 film The Moon and Sixpence, an adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's novel by the same name. The story loosely depicts the life of Paul Gaugin—that a romanticized artist and his search for truth. These works were more of a billboard type of positioning. The works in "The Summer is Over" were actually completed before those of the "Allo!" series, but the show postponed due to Sandy. It's much more about the proximity of things, in that they all relate to my own environment.
These paintings play upon the other sense of romanticism, which is the artist looking at his work, and a certain element of accomplishment which is not an accomplishment, but can be seen as an ironic end or not. They are about persisting in the idea of perception and looking at things. They're also an exercise in working within the narrow line between what figuration is and what abstraction can be.
ROONEY Until recently, you sourced most of your images from the Internet. How did you come to work from personal snapshots for this particular series?
TUYMANS It was high time for me to make something that reflected a certain type of introspection. Then again, all of my shows have been about histories. These were based on images I shot myself, like the window across the street from my house and the window on the backside of the zoo that I see on my way to my studio.
ROONEY It has been noted by numerous critics that your work is analytical rather than emotional. Do you agree with this assessment, and if so, how were you able to distance yourself from this current suite of what seem to be very private, almost intimate images?
TUYMANS The works in the "Allo!" worked with a nearly Hollywood representation of what the artist can be. This series obviously comes closer to home. But then again, it's even harder because you can't really enter the work. "Allo!," unlike "The Summer is Over," still has a sense of pleasure to it. But this was the plan from the beginning—to have this juxtaposition.
I think an artistic position is much more interesting when it moves beyond itself. Even if one would call Goya a predecessor to Romanticism, an artist like Goya goes way beyond the idea of an "ism" in any ideological or rhetorical definition. This is extremely important. If that is romantic, maybe in that sense, I could be romantic. But that's something else. With this show I wanted to do something I virtually never do, which was to go back to this very intimate point but then again, close it if off as the spectator is looking at it. I also close it off to myself.
ROONEY This shift towards interiority in the new work, does it stem in part from an oversaturation of the media? Does it reflect a condition, as both an artist and a person in the world, that you have seen too much? That your capacity for absorption has been reached and the only place to go now is back inside?
TUYMANS I think it is a clear statement that there is an element of closure in the show. Which I think is quite interesting because it falls together with it being the 10th show at David Zwirner. This could be seen as a type of ironic departure. In that sense, it can be taken seriously or not, but of course, the work also plays out this element of pressure. The pressure is actually condensed within the imagery and sort of spelled out-you get this wall of images.
ROONEY At least in the United States, I feel as though this is a very common sentiment. People are tired. They don't want to see, can't possibly feel anymore. Politically and economically, they have been pushed to their limit.
TUYMANS We are living in a period that is, for the entire Western hemisphere—not just the United States—insane. There are things happening that could not have been imagined years ago. There is an acute existential awareness everywhere. So I think it is time for an element of introspection, yes.
ROONEY How do you see the role of provocateur figuring into these works?
TUYMANS I think it is going to be quite hard for the audience to find this show immediately provocative, but I'm sure it will be hostile in a sense. You will feel an element of hostility. You will feel an element of something that you cannot quite pick up on. The imagery is undoubtedly about what it portrays but at the same time, makes you uncomfortable in the sense that you cannot communicate with it. This is where the wall is so important. It also emphasizes an element of voyeurism that will be broken off, instantaneously, when you look at these paintings.
ROONEY In this sense, the understated paranoia that pervades your images from previous series is very much present in this new body of work, albeit in a slightly different way.
TUYMANS Yes, but it's a quality that also goes back to the famous Belgian symbolist Fernand Khnopff, from the turn of the century. He has one painting, I close the door upon myself (1891) which portrays the image of a female sphinx. This idea is something that's always resonated in my mind that had a lot of truth-that you, as a pubic figure, as an artist, still have to allow yourself the element of privacy. In this sense, the show deals with a certain type of realism that goes beyond the idea of the real, not so much in a spiritual way, but in a very down to earth way. But then again, it remains undetached, and that was the aim—to explore my fascination with the remainder of things.
ROONEY Did you create this series with Zwirner's New York space in mind? If so, how have you had to renegotiate that considering the extensive renovations the gallery was forced to undergo in the wake of Hurricane Sandy?
TUYMANS I quite like the more ravished look of Zwirner's third space, which was the least damaged by the hurricane. It has that element of roughness to it that ties into this very glum but direct proposition of showing the work: one glance, one space.
The sense of scale grows with the necessity of what you are portraying. These works sort of function as last paintings-the projection of an old film still, an image of windows looking out onto the world where you cannot tell what is projected and what is real. The work is impenetrable in that sense, prophetic in that summer is already over.
2012, aluminum, wood, sublimation print on polyester and concrete, 71 3/4 by 122 1/2 by 135 inches overall. Courtesy Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New Yor