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Thing of the Day - Luc Tuymans


The Perfect Table Setting, Luc Tuymans, 2005

Luc Tuymans is from Belgium, now an Antwerp-based painter who is considered one of the most important of his generation (See the current issue of Art in America for an interview confirming this by Steel Stillman, so fresh from the press that it’s not online yet. I’ll provide a link when and if I can.) I feel compelled to share his painting, The Perfect Table Setting, above, as it slowly reveals,

with repeated observation and contemplation, much about the artist’s intentions, much about contemporary representational painting, and for jellypress readers, much about how domestic imagery such as a table setting is more than meets the eye.

Looking for images on the Web from the era of WWII and the Depression and the period following it for a new series of paintings in the early part of this decade, Tuymans’ came across a book for housewives from 1954 where he found a photograph supposedly illustrating the perfect table setting. For Tuymans, the image was linked to political, cultural and social issues at the time of being proper, and it echoed other proper forms of the past like ballroom dancing, another image in the series.

The table setting, composed and determined in the face of the darker side of life and in particular, the atrocities of war, is painted in muted tones and loose washes, suggesting with its departure from photographic realism, a more poetic and ambiguous reading than the photographic image would allow. Tuymans’ detractors think his use of hot-button current events is opportunistic. Steel asserts that Tuymans work “seduces visually as it intrigues intellectually” (page 76.) What do you think?

Other artists, such as Hanna von Goeler, have used the perfect table setting as imagery, in von Goeler’s case to contrast with the excesses of the OSS during wartime which she did in an installation of fine crystal and china interspersed with toy trains, photographs and other mementos lit to cast eerie shadows on the walls at Sloan Fine Art in January, 2009.

We’ve all stood over a table and tried to make it perfect at one time or another, yes? What were we hoping to communicate? A sense of calm in the midst of an imperfect world? An oasis of beauty to separate and elevate a special event from the humdrum of ordinary life?

Next time you’re laying out the good china, think about it.

see also: Thing of the Day - Cezanne

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