Skip to Navigation Skip to Content

Luc Tuymans: The Artist Questions Art

Luc Tuymans may not be a household name but don’t mistake that as reason to bypass this very important exhibit. The Belgian artist’s first US retrospective is the most comprehensive presentation of his work to date, featuring nearly 75 key paintings from 1978 to the present. Considered by many as one of the most significant painters today, Tuymans’ has already made a lasting impression on today’s generation of artists.

A note of warning: steer clear if you’re looking for art that is fun and frivolous. The work on view here is richly layered, dauntingly dark and will pulse through you long after leaving the museum.

Presented in chronological order and arranged in four series as originally intended by the artist, every piece questions the relevancy of the very medium in which Tuymans works, challenges the role of spectator, represents the unrepresentable and confronts memory as means of teaching the past. Luc Tuymans’ is not afraid to dive headfirst into the aftermath of trauma, making all viewers accomplices to some of the most dreadful periods in history—the Holocaust, Belgium’s violent occupation of the Congo and American society post 9/11.

The artist trades color for meaning, adopting a drab, murky palette—putty, charcoal, moss—that highlights his work’s heavy matter. Flush with tonality, depth and easily missed subtleties, Tuymans’ vision lies in his stories. Without his personal narrative, you’ll miss the sheer genius behind each piece. Do what we think only tourists do and get an audio tour.

While you’re contemplating the serious subjects Luc Tuymans has set forth for you, take a moment to realize the beauty of his imagery, made even more brilliant by the natural light cast upon the work from the gallery’s skylight above.

“Luc Tuymans” will make its only West Coast appearance at SFMOMA before moving on to Dallas, Chicago and Brussels. Few exhibitions grace San Francisco and skip New York, so if nothing else, see it for that fact alone.

On view at SFMOMA February 6 - May 2, 151 Third St., 415-357-4000.