Saturday, 6 October 2012

Chalk and Cheese: Luc Tuymans, 'Allo!' at David Zwirner

Luc Tuymans’ Allo!, is the first show in New York dealer David Zwirner’s new London space. It’s a beautiful gallery set out over four pristine floors of Mayfair Townhouse, which Zwirner proudly told the assembled press had belonged to Lord Robert Cecil, the 3rd Marquis of Salisbury before becoming Helena Rubinstein’s first beauty spa. Tuymans’ show occupies one and a half floors and consists of a new body of work partly inspired by Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and the 1942 film The Moon and Sixpence, which is loosely based on the life of Paul Gauguin.

Luc Tuymans, Technicolour

The huge paintings have an overriding chalkiness, with numerous shades of white-d down black, dryly brushed up against figurative elements in pastel shades of coral, blue and green. Tuyman's in his short introduction (still drunk from the night before he informed us) said that he made the paintings the wrong way round – ie he painted the dark areas before the light and this knowledge along with the visible pencil marks makes the making of the paintings almost more interesting than the paintings themselves. Tuymans' idea was to examine the artist as an egotist, an interesting conceit when you take into account the monstrous power that superstar artists and indeed galleries have in the current art world.

Luc Tuymans, Allo! IV

The sequence of film still paintings in the upstairs gallery feature Amy Winehouse lookalikies posing as Tahitian lovelies alongside ‘Gauguin’ and the outline of a shadowy Luc Tuymans figure (his image was reflected in the stills he took photos of to make the paintings from). They are not all together successful – his trademark quick painting style renders the women gauche and cartoon-like. After a bit of research I find that there are very few women in the Tuymans’ oeuvre and suspect that just as Currin finds men difficult (he has said that they start as women and then he adds a beard), Tuymans’ problem is with his women. These paintings rely upon a negative space aesthetic that can take on a vacuous painting-by-numbers look. The best of the bunch, Allow! VI is a Winehouseless depiction of a group of African carvings that manages to convey a convincingly oppressive Heart of Darkness atmosphere.

Luc Tuymans, Allo! VI

My favourite of the works on show has nothing to do with Tahiti or the Belgian Congo. Peaches features a pile of pallid peaches as if viewed through a filmy curtain. The background is a pinky, greeny shade of elephant against which the fruit is piled in a sugar frosted pyramid glowing with a sickly radioactive flouro haze. Its simple, paired down and to the point and is what Tuymans does best.

Luc Tuymans, Peaches

Tuymans in his bad boy intro talk admonished us Brits for being ‘half heartedly European’. A little more knowledge of our culture may have put him off Allo! as the show title veering as it does a little too close to that gem of British low culture and racial stereotyping, ‘Allo, ‘Allo!. But maybe he knew exactly what he was doing. This aside the show is really worth visiting if only to see the fitting placement of sugar coated peaches in an ex beauty parlour.

Cathy Lomax

Luc Tuymans, Allo! is at David Zwirner, 24 Grafton Street, London W1 until 17 November 2012

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