Paul Thek and Luc Tuymans: Why?!

In his new exhibition at Isabella Czarnowska gallery, painter Luc Tuymans plays the curator, art historian, and co-star of the show. The collection of paintings and objects in the gallery pushes the boundaries of visual, linear lines that tie the “influential” to the “influenced”. Tuymans, one of the most prominent painters working today, presents an exhibition of his own work alongside the work of Paul Thek, an American painter and installation artist of the previous generation. Tuymans conceived of and curated the exhibition, including the  installation, which shows works by both artists in the same galleries, clearly pointing to a connection between the Tuymans’ own production and Thek’s.

Paul Thek and Luc Tuymans - "Why?!”, installation view, Photo courtesy of Luc Tuymans and Galerie Isabella Czarnowska, Berlin Photo by Jochen Littkemann “Paul Thek and Luc Tuymans: Why?!”, installation view, Courtesy Luc Tuymans and Galerie Isabella Czarnowska, Berlin
Photo: Jochen Littkemann

What this connection is exactly, though, is left to the viewer to decipher. Tuymans is known for his brushy, monochromatic, “painter’s painting”, realistic depictions taken from photographical and video sources, transformed into watery memories in paint. His work is easy to love — Thek’s is harder to swallow. Largely acknowledged as an “Artist’s artist”, Thek’s work has been influential to two generations of artists, but is less known to the general public. Perhaps Tuymans’ joint show attempts to pay tribute to an influential predecessor, using his own  current popularity to promote Thek’s legacy. Thek’s sculptures are domestic at times, using household objects that have been manipulated or painted, changing their everyday signification with a sly sense of humor. In other pieces, bodily bloody wax limbs are encased aesthetically in art-worthy vitrines, or in minimalist cold neon plexiglass. In the few paintings and drawings, a stylistic connection can be made out: Thek’s “Untitled” (Sodom and Gemorrha with Hot Potatoes) airy technique resembles Tuymans’ brushwork. His potato pun, however, flattens the painting and marks his sense of humor, as opposed to Tuymans’ layered, deep illusions.

Paul Thek - "Untitled" (Sodom & Gomorrha with Hot Potatoes) (1970-71), Acrylic on canvas, 244.5x167 cm, Deichtorhallen Hamburg / Falckenberg Collection. Photo courtesy Luc Tuymans and Galerie Isabella Czarnowska, Berlin.Paul Thek – “Untitled” (Sodom & Gomorrha with Hot Potatoes) (1970-71), Acrylic on canvas, 244.5×167 cm, Deichtorhallen Hamburg / Falckenberg Collection. Courtesy Luc Tuymans and Galerie Isabella Czarnowska, Berlin.

The confusing juxtaposition is eventually rewarding, providing a peek into the later artist’s process, which is not self-evident and makes us want to look deeper into his paintings. Tuymans is interested in re-presentation of images, their framing out of context, their memory. These abstract themes can be found in the way Thek frames his objects in the glass cases, and the way he treats the body as a fragmented piece of flesh. Other connections, opposite ones even, could also be found in this collection of objects; their power lies in showing how complex and personal the lines of influence that connect artists can be.

Paul Thek and Luc Tuymans - "Why?!”, installation view, Photo courtesy of Luc Tuymans and Galerie Isabella Czarnowska, Berlin Photo by Jochen Littkemann “Paul Thek and Luc Tuymans: Why?!”, installation view, Courtesy Luc Tuymans and Galerie Isabella Czarnowska, Berlin
Photo: Jochen Littkemann

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Additional Information

GALERIE ISABELLA CZARNOWSKA
“Why?!” – PAUL THEK AND LUC TUYMANS
Exhibition: April 27 – July 28, 2012
Rudi-Dutschke-Straße 26 (click here for map)


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Blog entry by Adela Yawitz in Berlin; Monday, July 16, 2011.


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