For viewers familiar with Luc Tuymans’s paintings about colonialism, the Holocaust and Disney’s corporate stranglehold, these latest works depicting the quotidian details of his life come as a surprise. Far from being a letdown, however, the canvases—which include an oddly evasive self-portrait, as well as exterior views of run-down buildings near his home in Antwerp, Belgium—present the artist as a series of intriguing fragments, complicated by his previous predilection for cloaking disturbing themes with innocuous imagery.
A six-foot-high close-up of a dinner jacket looks perfectly banal at first, but soon invites some vaguely unsettling questions. Who wears this supersize power suit, and why is it pictured at child height? Similar queries are prompted by Zoo, which features a window too opaque and too high up a wall to look into; it recalls a prison. Likewise, the solitary light dominating the courtyard scene in 11PM is less welcoming than it is menacing.
Other pieces continue Tuymans’s past interest in surveillance and privacy issues, with himself as the focus. The off-center framing of Me, and the prominently placed radiator in the background, suggest a subject captured on the sly, though the painting’s source photo was taken by Tuymans’s wife. In fact, while sitting for the picture, he took another that became My Leg, an even more ambiguous image. Tuymans knows that these snippets reveal next to nothing about him, yet they compel viewers to try to piece together a whole picture—a proposition that remains a losing one.—Merrily Kerr