The latest works by Belgian artist Luc Tuymans are currently on exhibit at the David Zwirner gallery. The exhibition, entitled Forever, The Management of Magic, focuses on Tuymans’ exploration of the American phenomenon of Disney. Tuymans approaches the Walt Disney Company from the perspective of ideology, taking images of and from the world of Disney and opening them up for political interpretation. In each painting, Tuymans chooses a subject that explores an aspect of how Disney produces and manages the concept of magic, while upholding American family values and the glory of American industry.
In Forever (2008), for instance, Tuymans focuses on a scene from Disney’s The Carousel of Progress, an attraction for the 1964-1965 New York World Fair. The fair celebrated American domestic developments and the history of electricity, and in the painting one can immediately discern a refrigerator and, possibly, a dishwasher. At the center of Forever, behind a large curtain that seems to be made of light, the ghostly outline of a human sits at a desk. The human figure contrasts the familiar domestic appliances, creating a tension between what is visible and recognizable, and the hidden action behind the curtain. The hues of white and blue, which define the painting, give the whole scene a haunting feeling: who is the man behind the curtain? What is he doing in this American kitchen? Is he even a man? Is he a ghost? The size of the painting itself (68.75x70in) makes the image more realistic, as though we were looking through a window into the private doings of a man in his kitchen. Yet the stillness of the image, together with the cool colors in which it is executed, communicate an eerie calm that speaks more to nostalgia and death than to a quiet domestic moment. Is this the ghost of Walt Disney himself, working behind an opaque curtain which mystifies the viewer and protects Disney’s secrets?
Throughout the exhibit, Tuymans plays with the size of his paintings. Most of the gallery space is filled with large oil canvases prevalently in hues of grey, blue and white. However, the show also encompasses smaller works in the hallway and the back rooms. Relevant to all the paintings is Tuymans’ reliance on previously existing materials such as photographs, urban plans, or film stills, from which to develop the images on the paintings. On one hand, Tuymans focuses on realistic images that inspire figurative and representational work. Yet Tuymans simultaneously isolates the subjects of his paintings from their context, creating a separation and distance that give the paintings abstract valence. Take, for instance, the smaller paintings in the back room. These are dissections of the urban planning of particular areas of Disneyland. Visually isolated from their context by the lack of labels, the choice of organic colors, and the soft brush strokes, the paintings look more like biological diagrams of cell structure than the blueprint for urban development.
In line with past works by the artist, Tuymans’ Forever, The Management of Magic explores political themes through distance and memory. Forever evokes in the viewer feelings and responses somewhat paradoxical in relationship to the subject matter. In these works, we are confronted with the magic of Disney viewed from a critical perspective that resists being manipulated by entertainment and media. While Tuymans’ works have a mesmerizing magic of their own, they explore the structure of that same enchantment, reflexively looking at the images used by Disney in the corporate construction and management of the company's ideology.
February 14 - March 22, 2008