Text by Gerrit Vermeiren
Published on the occasion of the 2005 exhibition at David Zwirner in New York, this catalogue was designed by the artist. Featured are ten paintings, many now considered iconic works and in the collections of major museums, which offer a critique of America by laying claim to real events, suppressed memories, and political issues. For Tuymans, each painting presents a fragmented glimpse of a disjointed whole; his aim is to make the audience consider each image, the opposite of each image, and the uncertainty that follows. The exhibition’s title, Proper, is in itself an aberration. While it refers to a seemingly requisite order determined by society at large, it simultaneously suggests the opposite – improper – and therefore subverts the notion of correctness as it relates to social and societal expectations.
In a key painting, we are confronted by the cropped, larger-than-life-sized face of Condoleeza Rice. Prompted by a remark made by a Belgian official, in which Rice was described as “strong; not unpretty,” Tuymans’s portrait of the former United States Secretary of State forces us to reevaluate a known public figure within the parameters of the still image. In The Perfect Table Setting, a perfectly-arranged dinner table evokes early Americana. In Ballroom, the image of an empty dance hall underscores a lack of festivity – mediocrity tempered by the absence of dancing – and in Ballroom Dancing a single couple sways over the state seal of Texas at the Governor’s Ball. In other paintings, it is the sense that something has just happened, or is about to, that suggests a fragile or ephemeral state – the eerie face of a Medieval statue; the dust cloud following the demolition of a building, with a New York City street lamp barely visible; an oval mirror reflecting a solitary lamp; the top of a canopy bed in which the cropped composition is eerily reminiscent of the water line from a flood. In the painting entitled Timer, we are reminded by a tiny red light that, at any moment, things can go terribly wrong – or, at the very least, that change is inevitable.