Annoyed by Art


Over the weekend I went to the Dallas Museum of Art to see the new Luc Tuymans retrospective exhibit. I wanted to go because he’s important in the contemporary art world. A painter from Belgium who has been around long enough to earn a retrospective (this one starts in the mid-80’s and is arranged chronologically) and with enough cache to have one of the curators compare his work to grand scale history paintings (Helen Molesworth of the San Francisco MOMA.) There’s a lot of work exhibited arranged by categories of artistic exploration. The posted wall texts—and a cell phone audio tour that includes the voices of curators, art critics and Luc Tuymans—do an excellent job of explaining the work. And the work NEEDED a lot of explanation. I tried to rectify the narration with the paintings and became increasingly impatient. As an academic exercise, I wanted to embrace the spirit and direction of the artist. I found myself increasingly annoyed with Luc Tuymans. I swore at Luc Tuymans. Really???!!!! I left feeling annoyed. (And also shivering because the Dallas Museum of Art runs the air con in the frozen pea range.)

Herein lies my essential problem with a lot of contemporary art. If you can explain it, then it’s art. Technique is secondary. Being able to communicate your idea visually without PARAGRAPHS of explanation doesn’t matter. I think it’s a bunch of total crap. I still believe technique and presentation are critical. (Nothing was framed, all just raw canvases.) It’s like have eloquent writing that is rife with spelling errors. Spelling errors are distracting. Poor technique is distracting.

Luc Tuymans is a brilliant thinker, but with the exception of a few pieces, the work I saw did not connect to me without the aid of a LOT of experts—some of whom were condescending. Maybe he’s a good painter—he definitely has some skills. I didn’t get squinty-eyed at ALL of it. Maybe I would have liked it better without all the experts? Are ideas all is takes to make one a good artist?

Here are some links to the exhibit if you’re interested, but know that the images look better digitally than they do in person:

Information about the show:

The Cell Phone Audio tour:


3 responses »

  1. Hey, I was at the hair salon yesterday and, flipping through the July issue of W, came across an in-depth article about the Dallas art world. It was an interesting read, and you might want to check it out. It discussed how a handful of very wealthy Dallas folks have pooled their art collections as well as their money to create a little oasis of culture, a place where people would want to visit/live.

    My only gripe is that they seem to be importing the art from other cities and countries, rather than nurturing the artists that they have at home. An art scene based on imported art can only do so much for Dallas – I can see a Warhol in any big city I go to – they should be encouraging the artists in Dallas to develop and become world-class. Now THAT would put Dallas on the map.

    Regardless, it was a fascinating view into the ruling class of the Dallas art world.

  2. Hi – my friend Beth sent me your link.

    I’m a contemporary artist living in Chicago and I feel your ire. When some of Luc’s paintings came here to be exhibited a bunch of years back a friend of mine was called in to re-stretch the canvases onto the stretcher bars (they’d been removed for shipping) because Luc didn’t know how to do it, which just blows my mind. Then, when he gave a “lecture” here, it was a 3 hour slide show of every painting he’d ever painted. People who went felt as though three hours of their lives had been stolen from them.

    He’s a painter who has been exalted for humiliating the tradition of painting, not for carrying it forward or doing something new with paint.

    You’re not blind, the emperor really isn’t wearing any clothes.

    I have a blog too if you’re interested:

  3. Your thoughts on contemporary art match my thoughts about experimental theatre. Technique and good storytelling are esential. Congrats on the new blog. I’ll be sure to check back often.

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