Luc Tuymans - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Tuesday, November 15, 2022 | Phillips

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  • A pale grey chair sits alone on a white ground in Luc Tuymans’ Absence, 2001. There is a faint, horseshoe-shaped impression in the back of the chair, signaling where someone, now absent, may have been. The motif of the empty chair recurs throughout art history, taken up by artists such as Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, and David Hockney, as both symbol of absence and of the artist’s own presence. This enigmatic work, consistent with the artist’s minimal, realist style, dates to a period of critical and political acclaim for the artist’s paintings, circa 2000-2002. Sold in 2001 to benefit victims of 9/11, Absence’s hauntingly spare composition is all the more poignant.

     

    [left] Pablo Picasso, Still Life with Chair Caning, 1912. Musée Picasso, Paris, France. Image: © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2022 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York [right] Vincent Van Gogh, Van Gogh’s Chair, 1888. National Gallery, London. Image: © National Gallery, London / Art Resource, NY
    [left] Pablo Picasso, Le Hibou sur la chaise, 1947. Image: © Christie's Images / Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © 2022 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    [right] Vincent Van Gogh, Van Gogh’s Chair, 1888. National Gallery, London. Image: © National Gallery, London / Art Resource, NY

    "I am not into aesthetics; I am into meaning and necessity… It’s about anonymous elements, something that is not owned by anybody in particular. It’s a collective thing, it’s precise, it may look banal at first but it isn’t."
    —Luc Tuymans

    In Absence, Tuymans’ restrained use of paint creates a chair that is more symbolic than representational. “I am not a material painter,” the artist has said, meaning, “I don’t use a lot of paint,” and yet the subtle surfaces that result from his restrained hand have symbolic meaning, too.i The physical reality of the chair in Absence is not so important as the titular concept it symbolizes; the muted, perhaps fading, form could suggest that even the chair itself is becoming absent. This sense of distance between the viewer and painted object is an essential result of Tuymans’ artistry, recalling an out-of-focus photograph, or a fading memory. In this way, his paintings, though grounded in realism, become abstracted from reality.

     

    Tuymans’ work draws on collective themes, such as memory, longing, and fear. These muted moments of stillness, blurred in paint, encourage a form of morose introspection in the viewer; Tuymans calls this gloominess “a sort of second skin” on the surface of the painting.ii One could see it as a thematic layer of paint, enshrouding the canvas in emotional resonance.

     

    Hans Rudolf Reust writes that quiet paintings such as Absence function as “active empty space[s]” in Tuymans’ oeuvre, which throw into relief the sharp political meaning of adjacent works.iii In this context, Absence’s? position between two of Tuymans’ most poignant paintings becomes essential.

     

    [left] Tuymans, Lumumba, 2000. Museum of Modern Art, New York. [right] Tuymans, Untitled (Still Life), 2002. On loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
    [left] Luc Tuymans, Lumumba, 2000. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Artwork: © Luc Tuymans
    [right] Tuymans, Untitled (Still Life), 2002. On loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Artwork: © Luc Tuymans

    Representing the Belgian Pavilion at the Venice Bienale in 2001, Tuymans shocked and provoked attendees with a group of paintings, including Lumumba, 2000, Museum of Modern Art, New York, that directly addressed the legacy of Belgian colonial violence in the Congo.iv Many expected that his submission for documenta 11 in 2002 would address the recent events of 9/11 in the same manner, so the seemingly banal Untitled (Still Life), 2002, on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, came as a surprise. Tuymans, however, who witnessed the events of 9/11 firsthand, defended the work by saying, “I thought it was impossible to do something with the event at that time. That’s not how painting works.”v Instead, he sought to react with “a sort of anti-picture.”vi

     

    Absence, then, can be seen both as the sort of “active empty space” Reust describes between Lumumba and Untitled (Still Life), and also as a stylistic and symbolic prelude to the latter on its own. In an overwhelming news cycle of graphic images of human suffering, Absence offered a quieter way to process the trauma of 9/11. Rather than focusing on sensational imagery, or becoming overly sentimental, Tuymans’ “anti-picture” gives symbolic image to an emotional state—of memorial, of grief, of absence.  


    i Luc Tuymans, interviewed by Juan Vincent Aliaga [1996], Luc Tuymans, London; New York, 2003, p. 26.
    ii Ibid.
    iii Hans Rudolf Reust, “Update,” in Luc Tuymans, p. 152.
    iv Lisa Liebmann, “Best of 2001: Top Tens,” ArtForum, December 2001, p. 96.
    v Luc Tuymans, quoted in Ben Eastham, “A Necessary Realism: Interview with Luc Tuymans”, Apollo, August 8, 2015, online.
    vi Luc Tuymans, quoted in exhibition guide to Luc Tuymans, Tate Modern, London, 2004, p. 8.

    • Provenance

      David Zwirner, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2001

    • Exhibited

      New York, David Zwirner, I ♥ NY - A Benefit, October 19–November 3, 2001

    • Literature

      Artforum (Best of 2001: A Special Issue), vol. 40, no. 4, December 2001, p. 3 (illustrated on the cover)
      Eva Meyer-Hermann, ed., Luc Tuymans: Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, 1995-2006, vol. 2, New York, 2018, no. LTP 314, p. 278 (illustrated, p. 279)

43

Absence

signed, dedicated and dated "Luc Tuymans 2001 FOR .N.Y." on the reverse
oil on canvas
47 1/4 x 54 1/8 in. (120 x 137.5 cm)
Painted in 2001.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
$400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for $453,600

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Global Managing Director and Specialist, Head of Evening Sale, New York
+1 212 940 1278
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Carolyn Mayer
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+1 212 940 1206
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 15 November 2022