One of the central themes in Belgian artist Luc Tuymans’s (b. 1958) work is the disastrous events of previous and most recent history such as the holocaust, 9/11 or for many Europeans, Belgium's sordid legacy in post-colonial Congo and its African leader Patrice Lumumba – motifs that for a long time were deemed not presentable. And while his figurative paintings deny a palpable legibility where the motifs are often not clearly recognizable, Tuymans’s works are defined by the stylistic methods of film and photography – unusual details, close-ups, the aesthetics of stills. They can be read as allegories of memory: certain pictures or aspects appear brightly, others disappear in the dark. Tuyman asserts that memory can be deceptive, subjective and patchy. For this reason tuymans employs blurriness, a shadowiness and omission as a visual medium, adding something nebulous or phantom-like to the paintings and evoking the impression of pictures from a faded memory.
Strange and ghost-like portraits include those of Pope Benedict XVI, the American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and have titles such as The Exorcist, The Deal and Rome. Manifestly, Tuymans has an on-going interest in the impact of Roman Catholicism, notably that of the Society of Jesus on the intellectual, cultural and political history of Europe.
In The Deal for example, we see Pope Benedict XVI shake hands with the Father General of the Jesuit order, Peter-Hans Kolvenbach. The handshake is the center of the painting, whilst the two parties are on both sides, opposite each other. What at first appears to be a moment of peaceful agreement and understanding turns out to be so much more when one is confronted with the ongoing dispute that for centuries has driven a wedge between the Jesuit order and the Roman Catholic authorities.
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