You are here

Wexner Center and SFMOMA to Present First U.S. Retrospective of the Work of Luc Tuymans

Wexner Center and SFMOMA to Present First U.S. Retrospective of the Work of Luc Tuymans

Thu, May 14, 2009

Unprecedented Overview of the Artist’s Career and Influence

The first U.S. retrospective of the work of Belgian contemporary artist Luc Tuymans—and the most comprehensive presentation of the his work to date—will debut at the Wexner Center for the Arts, in Columbus, Ohio (September 17, 2009 to January 3, 2010). Jointly organized by the Wexner Center and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), Luc Tuymans spans every phase of the artist’s career and features more than 70 key paintings from 1985 to the present. The press preview and opening will be held September 16 at the Wexner Center.

After the Wexner Center presentation, Luc Tuymans will travel to SFMOMA (February 6 to May 9, 2010), the Dallas Museum of Art (June 6 to September 6, 2010), the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (October 2, 2010 to January 9, 2011), and the Bozar Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels (February 10 to May 8, 2011). The retrospective is cocurated by Madeleine Grynsztejn, Pritzker Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (and SFMOMA’s former Elise S. Haas Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture), and Helen Molesworth, Maisie K. and James R. Houghton Curator of Contemporary Art at the Harvard Art Museum (and former chief curator of exhibitions at the Wexner Center for the Arts). The exhibition will be accompanied by a definitive catalogue.

“Without question, the time is ripe for an in-depth retrospective of Tuymans's work in this country,” said Wexner Center Director Sherri Geldin. “We are pleased to collaborate with SFMOMA on this exhibition, which is certain to reveal new insights into the creative, intellectual, and political impulses behind the artist’s utterly unique, often serial approach to painting.”

“Luc Tuymans is a crucial figure in contemporary art, yet he remains relatively unknown to broader audiences in the United States,” said SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra. “SFMOMA has a long track record of presenting important artists at a pivotal moment in their careers, and we are thrilled to partner with the Wexner Center to bring this timely exhibition of Tuymans’s work to San Francisco and to other museums nationwide.”

Luc Tuymans (b. 1958) is considered one of the most significant European painters of his generation and he has been an enduring influence on younger and emerging artists. Born and raised in Antwerp, where he lives and works, Tuymans is an inheritor to the vast tradition of Northern European painting. At the same time, as a child of the 1950s, his relationship to the medium is understandably influenced by photography, television, and cinema.

Interested in the lingering effects of World War II on the lives of Europeans, Tuymans explores issues of history and memory, as well as the relationship between photography and painting, using a muted palette to create canvases that are simultaneously withholding and disarmingly stark. Drawing on imagery from photography, television, and film, his distinctive compositions make ingenious use of cropping, close-ups, framing, and sequencing, offering fresh perspectives on the medium of painting, as well as larger cultural issues. The artist’s more recent work approaches the postcolonial situation in the Congo and the dramatic turn of world events after 9/11. These series have led Tuymans to a sustained investigation of the realms of the pathological and the conspiratorial.

Filling all Wexner Center galleries, Luc Tuymans will highlight the fluid progression of the artist’s work. Because his career began with filmmaking, Tuymans’s approach to painting often draws from montage: one image links to another, and additional meaning is conveyed by the pieces’ adjacency. The retrospective reunites the paintings in groupings originally set out by the artist, thus restoring the intended dialogue among the works. The presentation will also demonstrate that although Tuymans remains loyal to the medium of painting, his tendency to work in suites and at an ever-larger scale have made it imperative to consider him in the light of current installation and site-specific practices.

Tuymans’s deep engagement with the legacy of painting will also be emphasized in the exhibition. His signature brushwork and palette offer an innovative response to the great 20th-century schism between figurative representation and abstraction. At the same time, he treats all genres—including still life, landscape, and portraiture—with the same measured approach as a grand history painting. Indeed, Tuymans may be said to have reinvented history painting for the present day, using moments from the recent past to shed light on the fragile nature of memory. In using this traditional painting genre to depict contemporary political events, he also explores disengagement from the realities of the present.

The exhibition catalogue—coproduced by SFMOMA and the Wexner Center for the Arts, in association with Distributed Art Publishers, Inc.—will be the most comprehensive volume on the artist to date, with original essays by co-curator Helen Molesworth; Bill Horrigan, director of the Media Arts Department at the Wexner Center for the Arts; Joseph Leo Koerner, professor of art history and architecture at Harvard University; and Ralph Rugoff, director of The Hayward at Southbank Centre in London; as well as a joint introduction by the co-curators. The extensive illustrations will be accompanied by text entries that illuminate the painter’s primary subjects and themes.

The Wexner Center for the Arts is The Ohio State University’s multidisciplinary, international laboratory for the exploration and advancement of contemporary art. Through exhibitions, screenings, performances, artist residencies, and educational programs, the Wexner Center acts as a forum where established and emerging artists can test ideas and where diverse audiences can participate in cultural experiences that enhance understanding of the art of our time. In its programs, the Wexner Center balances a commitment to experimentation with a commitment to traditions of innovation and affirms the university’s mission of education, research, and community service. Visit or call 614.292.3535 for more information.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is supported by a broad array of contributors who are committed to helping advance its mission as a dynamic center for modern and contemporary art. Major annual support is provided by the Koret Foundation Funds, Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, and Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund. KidstART free admission for children 12 and under is made possible by Charles Schwab & Co. Inc. Thursday evening half-price admission is sponsored by Banana Republic. Visit or call 415.357.4000 for more information.

PARKING UPDATE: Construction at 15th and High. For more information click here.

Sign up to receive center event updates directly in your inbox.

Enjoy an array of benefits including free gallery admission, ticket discounts, and more.

Find us, follow us, and continue the conversation wherever you are online.