Luc Tuymans… without appearing to be


Luc Tuymans is enjoying good visibility this summer with a major exhibition at François Pinault’s Venetian Palace and his market has already reacted, bringing him into the top 100 most successful artists on the global secondary market.

Although Luc TUYMANS’ starting point is often some kind of traumatic memory, he refuses to draw on easily elicited emotional responses. This means that his works communicate an extreme intensity without appearing to, and his paintings remain deliberately detached.

The hundred or so works selected for his current exhibition at François Pinault’s Palazzo Grassi (until 6 January 2020) focus primarily on the theme of war, including the unspeakable horrors of Nazism, the chaotic decolonization of the Belgian Congo, the wars in Iraq, etc.. The paintings all follow a similar genesis, based on photographs of real events and people – as the artist himself expresses it – “to explore the notion of memory and also the question of powerit gives the images a certain strength and a certain permanence […]”

In his 1989 painting Wandeling, Tuymans depicts six anonymous silhouettes walking in what appears to be a landscape of dirty snow with a dead tree on the right. A seemingly innocent subject and yet the painting is based on a photo of Nazi leaders taking an easy stroll in Berchtesgaden (near Adolf Hitlers chalet in the Alps)… the good life enjoyed by the Nazi leadership… a theme that conjures a certain malaise. Likewise with this painting entitled Issei Sagawa, the name of a Japanese student who, in 1981, killed and subsequently ate his Dutch girlfriend in Paris. The painting shows the cannibal two days before his crime, face blurred, wearing a much too large colonial hatonly the painting’s title connects us to the appalling reality of the event that attracted a great deal of media attention.

Many of the works on show at the Palazzo Grassi belong to François Pinaults private collection. The two men have known each other for 25 years. But the work representing Issei Sagawa is on loan from the Tate, one of the world’s most prestigious cultural institutions, a token of Tuymans’ art world notoriety. Indeed, most of the world’s major museums have incorporated Tuymans works into their permanent collections since the 1990s. Among them, Chicago’s Art Institute, New York’s Museum of Modern Art and Guggenheim, Munich’s Pinacothek and the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris. The artist therefore has a superb presence in the most important European and American collections. His CV also illustrates a flawless career since his first participation in the Kassel Documenta in 1992. A number of remarkable exhibitions have consolidated his reputation in recent years, including one at the Tate Modern in 2004 and an American retrospective that traveled, between 2009 and 2011, to Ohio, San Francisco, Dallas and Chicago and ended at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels.

On the auction market, New York and London sell his most iconic works, especially those capable of attracting 7-digit bids. Half of his auction turnover is generated in the United States, versus 36% in the UK (since 2000). Tuymans’ auction record dates back to Christie’s May 2013 prestige Contemporary Art sale in New York: an evanescent portrait of a man whose pose and posture suggest the political sphere, Rumour – measuring little more than a meter high – reached $2.7 million, a level the artist has not since repeated despite several other million-plus results. Tuymans has also produced limited editions of this work, including 15 screen-prints that cost less than $1,500 15 years ago. Although the prices of his prints have remained relatively stable, his paintings are fetching ever greater sums as his market is being driven by rich American collectors as well as his compatriot Belgians.

Above all Tuymans is supported by one of Contemporary art’s most influential and powerful galleries, David Zwirner, who noticed him at the Kassel Documenta in 1992 and who took him under his wing in 1994. Since then, the German gallery owner has organized a dozen solo exhibitions. Based in New York (where he has three spaces), London and Hong Kong, Zwirner has 10,000 square meters of exhibition space and has earned the respect of most collectors for his lasting commitment to artists, of which his 25-year collaboration with Luc Tuymans – who is apparently “not easy” – is a perfect example.

In the first six months of 2019, Tuymans’ works generated auction turnover of over $2.8 million at auction. If the pace of transactions continues in the second half, 2019 will be a record year for the artist, without appearing to be