Luc Tuymans - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Saturday, November 24, 2018 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    David Zwirner, London
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    New York, David Zwirner, Luc Tuymans: The Heritage, 20 September - 19 October 1996

  • Catalogue Essay

    'I wanted to make my paintings look old from the start, which is important because they are about memory’ (Tuymans, quoted in R. Storr, 'A Worst Case Scenario’, pp. 13-39, Luc Tuymans: Mwana Kotoko, Beautiful White Man, exh. cat. from 2001 Venice Biennale, Ghent, 2001, p. 21.)

    Luc Tuymans painted The Heritage IX in 1996, and it was shown alongside nine other numbered works in a small exhibition at the David Zwirner Gallery in New York. This exhibition, which received critical acclaim, was a breakthrough for Tuymans, launching him convincingly onto the international scene. In particular, it marked the point that the American critical world began to pay him closer attention. Of the ten paintings that formed The Heritage series and exhibition, two were acquired by American museums at the time: The Heritage I is in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and The Heritage IV belongs to the Museum of Modern Art, New York in the same year. Another picture from the series, The Heritage X, was stolen from the gallery—arguably another uninvited form of flattery.

    Tuymans’ paintings often take photographs as their sources. Placed in a new context, at a further remove from whatever situation saw them being taken in the first place, these gradually acquire and lose meanings, transforming and mutating. As he has explained, ‘I deal primarily with existing images in my work in order to demonstrate the inadequacy of memory’ (Tuymans, quoted in S. Folie, ‘Luc Tuymans’, pp. 118-21, “Dear Painter, Paint Me…”: Painting the Figure since Late Picabia, exh. cat., Paris, 2002, pp. 119-20.) This clearly lay at the heart of the series of paintings to which The Heritage IX belongs: subjects included photos of the American flag, hunting caps and Mount Rushmore, as well as a pail, a car and a man at work. In the case of The Heritage IX, the subject matter is in fact a birthday cake, but Tuymans has managed to present it as a deliberately bleached, flawed image.

    In The Heritage IX, Tuymans uses the dark paint at the edges, which serve as a frame around the supposed photo source, as well as a hint of glare on the gloss of its surface, to emphasise the degrees of separation that distance us from the original subject matter. Tuymans’ own painting practice can be seen as a further development, in both conceptual and photographic terms: he usually limits himself to painting his works in 24 hours, limiting their ‘exposure.’ In The Heritage IX, Tuymans has brought to light the complexities of this multi-layered process of removes by creating a work that is deliberately evasive in its appearance. As Robert Storr has said of Tuymans’ work: ‘When you don’t quite know what’s there but you can feel the undertow, that’s when I think Luc is at his very best’ (Robert Storr, quoted in L. Tillman, ‘Robert Storr in conversation with Lynne Tillman’, pp. 28-41, T. Simoens & D. Wingate, ed., Luc Tuymans: Exhibitions at David Zwirner, Antwerp, 2013, p. 29.) That undertow was indeed particularly evident in the entire series of works in The Heritage. In these, Tuymans probed some of the complexities not only of memory as a general theme, but also of history. He had been struck by the atmosphere in the United States in 1995, the year before The Heritage IX was painted, when the nation had been shaken by the Oklahoma City bombing. In the immediate aftermath, many assumed that foreign terrorists were to blame, yet ultimately the culprit was identified as Timothy McVeigh, a decorated American veteran.

    In The Heritage, Tuymans explored the twisting of nationality and nationalism that was evidenced by McVeigh’s campaign, as well as in wider cultural and political shifts. As is ever the case, the innocuous-seeming surfaces of his images belied complex currents of thought and subversion. In The Heritage VI, one of the most iconic works from the series, an image of a smiling, bespectacled man seems like a portrait of a statesman, yet actually represents a white supremacist who had been tangentially implicated in some theories regarding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. An image of a man working in fact shows someone dealing with toxic materials. The American flag is rendered gaudy through a shift in palette. All this shows the way that images can ring false.

    Within this conceptual maelstrom is The Heritage IX, showing a birthday cake. What are we to make of this image, with its beguilingly innocent face twisted through Tuymans’ brushwork? Tuymans appears to be hinting at the way that culture, history and politics can be indoctrinated—and often, for the worse. This is an image of a cake that has been tailored for its assumed child recipient. This is an example of programming. In addition, the way in which a cake marks a birthday, and therefore the passing of time, means that this becomes an unlikely memento mori, a subject all the more apt in the work of an artist as steeped in the paintings of the Flemish Old Masters as Tuymans. And all the more so, when linked to the Oklahoma City bombing, which saw victims of all ages suffering. By sheer juxtaposition with the other works in the series, The Heritage IX thus takes on a more sombre air with its tender brushwork, pale image and record of a past, lost celebration. Tuymans is reminding us that, 'Violence is the only structure underlying my work. It is both physical and detached at the same time.’ (Tuymans, quoted in R. Storr, 'A Worst Case Scenario’, pp. 13-39, Luc Tuymans: Mwana Kotoko, Beautiful White Man, exh. cat. from 2001 Venice Biennale, Ghent, 2001, p. 35.)

Property of an Important American Collector


The Heritage IX

signed, titled and dated '"THE HERITAGE IX" LUC TUYMANS 1996' on the stretcher
oil on canvas
50.5 x 67.3 cm. (19 7/8 x 26 1/2 in.)
Painted in 1996.

HK$2,200,000 - 2,800,000 

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 25 November 2018