In Still-Life, First shown at the
exhibition Documenta 11 in Kassel, Germany in 2002, the idea of banality
becomes larger than life. In fact it is taken to an impossible extreme,
becoming an icon, an almost purely cerebral painting, more like a light
After the events of
9/11, it became clear to Tuymans that the images introduced into the
world at that moment were fantastically precise. The attacks were also
an assault on aesthetics. His response was to create a sort of
anti-picture, with an idyll, albeit an inherently twisted one. "A
picture where what had been killed mingles with the familiar, and which
recedes into virtual abstraction, without making any moral appeal, or
becoming truly abstract, or just losing itself in a vague, formulaic
Instead of describing the void as
aesthetic, Tuymans displays it as something known to us. Rather than
refer to a psychoanalytical point of view, he has bourgeois society in
mind. "I had great fun making the painting because, although it is by
far my largest, it represents the least."
The paintings he
was making then were also an affirmation of a West European cultural
identity. "I wanted to respond on a political level to the so-called
discourse with an intentionally apolitical formula, so I chose
sublimation as my method."
The important four-part work Die Zeit,
is Tuyman's first 'grey-tone' painting, a colour scheme that has become
associated with his works addressing historical subjects. Presented like
a sequence of disjointed film stills, these paintings explore the idea
of time - passing time, frozen time, or even a sense of timelessness.
The words 'Nichts in Sicht' ('nothing in view') are written across the
top of the first painting (which resembles a prison camp from the
viewpoint of a look-out post, and the last painting includes the cut-out
painting of Reinhard Heydrich, Nazi chief of the Gestapo, significantly
masked by a painted-on pair of sunglasses.
The penultimate picture is a blown-up
image of spinach pills, which formed a typical part of the diet in
Europe during World War Two.