Art & Photography

Luc Tuymans: Allo!

Luc Tuymans, 'Allo! IV', 2012, oil on canvas. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London
Luc Tuymans, 'Allo! IV', 2012, oil on canvas. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London

William Kherbek looks at the artist’s ninth solo show at David Zwirner’s London gallery

You know the name. You know the game. Luc Tuymans is back with his ninth solo show for David Zwirner’s gallery but there’s a difference. Like for other contemporary icons, (say Jason Bourne, or our animated friends from the Madagascar franchise), a change of setting can be crucial to the narrative. Though sadly Tuymans has yet to compose a work in which he’s filmed ducking frantically into alleyways in Prague to avoid the sniper’s bullet, or venturing through Africa in the company of a colony of penguins, his latest show (mercifully) considers the presentation of the “exotic” with far more subtlety. That it’s the opening show for David Zwirner’s London gallery serves to underscore the themes developed in the works.

Tuyman certainly lives up to his reputation as a relentless questioner of his medium with Allo! The central body of work in the show focuses on images from the film The Moon and Sixpence, an adaptation of the Somerset Maugham novel about an artist, Charles Strickland, who bears more than a passing similarity to Paul Gauguin. Already dizzy from the accreting references? Well, that’s just how Tuymans rolls, and it seems if you dis Luc Tuymans, you’re more or less dissing yourself.

The powerful vivisection of the nature of visual presentation is a real strength and feeds Tuymans ongoing probing of what it’s like being a little bit painterly in a world that’s a more than a little bit digital. Tuymans’ aim is to pry open the contradictions of the notion of masterly artist as primal aesthetic savage, thus questioning how conceptions of self and “other” interact. Gauguin is, in many ways a perfect starting point, always chasing the butterfly of primitivism deeper and deeper into the cave of his own selfishness, his dynamic of aesthetic evolution with personal devolution mirrors many of the unsolvable conundrums that face socially engaged artists of the present. So, yes, Gauguin abandoned his stock trading career for art, or rather Art. Score one for him. He never escaped the traps art always lays for artists, and, indeed, soon enough, inevitably enough, became so enmeshed with his own mythology that it would be hard to say he’d found any kind of “freedom”, especially the kind those who have consecrated his legacy as modern creative demiurge romanticise. And that, Tuyman’s works seem to suggest, is the predicament of painting as well as painters. Always creating distance, even as it dissolves distance. Always lying, indeed, doing so more effectively the “truer” the representation. Tuymans’ brushwork keeps the ambivalence humming, never quite accepting or rejecting the logic and mandates implied in representation. And so, like Bourne, he’s trapped between his own story and the Big Picture, unsure of who, or what, is on his side and what is out to destroy him.

Luc Taymans: Allo! runs until 17 November at the David Zwirner Gallery, 24 Grafton Street W1S 4EZ