Winter Bummerland

January 15th, 2013

The Summer is Over, Luc Tuyman’s tenth solo show at David Zwirner Gallery, is fitting for the winter season: it is as drab and dreary as the gray skies overhead.  His dour, distracted self-portrait might remind viewers of seasonal depression and lethargy.  Morning Sun (2011) replaces our source of vitamin D with a pie-shaped hole in a window; its shape might remind you of election season infographics, their details now subsumed to larger narratives.  Or it could remind you of James Q. Wilson, who developed Broken Windows policing, and who died last year.

Luc Tuymans, "Me," (2011)

Whatever topical associations comprise viewers’ responses, it takes effort to find meaning in this show.  One has to construct it.  Tuymans’ paintings offer wide, blank spaces to fill in, but tell you very little.  They are invitations, not letters.  Jacket (2011) reveals only the barest qualities of its subject, but nothing about who is wearing it, if anyone at all.  (Consider an alternative, like Mapplethorpe’s Man in Polyester Suit.) The gallery’s press release claims that the works depict the artist’s immediate surroundings, but that is beyond circumstantial to any Tuymans picture here.  Just by looking, few people could detect that this show is biographical.

Luc Tuymans, "Jacket," 2011

Most exemplary of Tuyman’s recalcitrance is My Leg (2011).  Without the title, we can only fumble an interpretation of the image: a blanket? a flag? unmade bed?  But it implies alternative, potential titles: My Downcast, Taciturn Gaze, or My Furtive Avoidance, or My Morbid Distraction.  To top it off, My Foot is not included, which seems to ward off the fetishism inherent to feet and footwear.  Though I’d love to see a bright red Christian Loubotin sole on a Tuymans canvas.

Tuymans’ palette is generally gray, his tone flat, and his effect deflating.  Violet limns an edge in My Leg, green and rose spot 11 PM (2011), and rich hues warm his flesh and shirt in Me (2011), but these fleeting passages of color fade into the blankets of grey viewers will remember, just like those details in infographics.  Now, it’s good to be challenged to search for color and details; it sensitizes our eyes and incentivizes slower viewing.  But if Tuyman’s  immediate surroundings are so vacant, bleached, and monotonous, then why look at all?

Luc Tuymans, "My Leg," 2011
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