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Thematizing failure: The morbid fascination of Luc Tuymans

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Luc Tuymans’ paintings are often heralded as exemplary of contemporary painting’s historical dilemma. This article argues that a discourse of failure has been formative in shaping Tuymans’ critical reception: a discourse that has drawn heavily on the postmodern critique of painting in the 1980s. Further, this discourse has been formative of Tuymans’ own practice. However, this article argues that despite the productiveness of the discourse of failure – especially with regard to the relationship between Tuymans’ painting and the technologically mediated image – such an approach runs up against certain limits. This is especially apparent in Tuymans’ recent work, which exemplifies a more pronounced ambivalence towards modernism and its legacy.
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Keywords: Luc Tuymans; contemporary painting; failure; iconoclasm; modernism; postmodernism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Newcastle University

Publication date: April 1, 2016

More about this publication?
  • Journal of Contemporary Painting responds to the territory and practice of contemporary painting in its broadest sense, viewing painting as a context for discussion, exploring its sphere of history and influence, rather than as a medium specific debate. The JCP combines a thematic approach with an open call, each issue opening up and problematising pressing concerns in contemporary painting.

    As well as contributions to current debates on contemporary art, a particular feature of the Journal of Contemporary Painting is the publication of archival or newly translated texts alongside current responsive articles, based on the premise that contemporary painting cannot be understood without reflecting on its history. Dedication to understanding the nature and forms of painting research has also led to the inclusions of an original visual essay for every edition. Additionally we respond to current exhibitions, books and symposia, nationally and internationally, in our reviews section.

    Our aim is to be responsive to current debates in painting and related art practices, drawing from a wide geographical field and across discipline boundaries to provide a discursive space in which a range of subject specialisms can be brought to bear on the culture of painting. We are particularly interested in writing emerging from practice-based research as well as from academics working in different disciplines.

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