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Luc Tuymans (b. 1958)
initialed and dated 'LT011' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
44 x 40 1/8 in. (111.7 x 101.9 cm.)
Painted in 2011.
Courtesy of the artist and David Zwirner, New York

Lot Essay

One of the most important painters of his generation, Luc Tuymans is credited with reviving not only history painting but also painting in general, albeit through the lens of photography, film, and television. The catalogue accompanying his recent mid-career retrospective stated, "Tuymans is often credited with having saved painting in our time." (J.L. Koerner, in Luc Tuymans (San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Columbus: Wexner Center for the Arts, 2009), p. 36.). Organized by Columbus's Wexner Center for the Arts and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and shown in Dallas, Chicago, and Brussels, the exhibition firmly established Tuymans' importance to art of the last thirty years.

Tuymans is internationally recognized for his blurred, gray-scale monochrome paintings of seemingly banal subjects rendered in a ghost-like fashion. His grisaille palette, which grew out of an encounter with El Greco's shadows, imbues his paintings with a crepuscular air of foreboding. Indeed, the commonplace subjects of Tuymans' scenes are often extracted from a larger narrative of charged historical events, literalizing what Hannah Arendt called "the banality of evil."

Approaching painting from a 21st century perspective, Tuymans' subjects are almost always mediated and his compositions draw on the cinematic techniques of cropping, close-ups, and framing. The selection of the source image is the most time consuming aspect of Tuymans process; he culls the internet, mass media, and his own Polaroid photographs, which he began using in 1995. He famously regulates himself to painting a canvas in a single day, beginning with the lightest colors and adding wet upon wet.

In the present lot, Tuymans revisits a 2005 screen-print, Shore, which was based on a Polaroid photograph the artist took of sea breakers at night. Translated to canvas, The Shore features daubs of light ochre paint and patches of bare canvas, the white froth of the breaking surf, enlivening the desolate background of the night sky. The vantage point is strikingly low so that this sky threatens to envelope the entirety of the composition. The crashing waves of the atmospheric seascape call to mind the German Romantic Casper David Friedrich, in particular his Wanderer Above the Mists, 1818. Tuymans has spoken of Friedrich "as the first artist who turned the landscape into a mental image. He applied the first restrictions, in terms of the imagery, and then kept reducing." (L. Tuymans, Ibid. p. 183). In contrast to Friedrich, Tuymans has flattened his landscape and directed our view downward, thereby neutering any sense of the sublime. Further by removing a clear protagonist, such as Friedrich's titular wanderer, Tuymans implicates us the viewer in the scene.

The source material for the present lot is double fold-a Polaroid and a screen-print, both from 2005. By returning to this image six years later, in the wake of the Tohoku-Pacific earthquake and tsunami, Tuymans presents an oblique approach to the devastation caused by the ocean and reminds us that the meaning of an image is dependent upon a network of associations that exist outside the frame.

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