If media images inadequately depict the horrors of reality, then Luc Tuymans’s paintings are even more disturbingly detached. Often taking his imagery from published photos (of war, violence, subjugation), the paintings are the antithesis of this historic iconography: dull tones, vague, nondescript scenes, stripped of emotional propaganda.

Maypole suggests only the mistiest remnants of a memory: men in lederhosen raising a mast (Cross?), with flags waving in the distance, they could be scouts, pioneers, morris dancers or Hitler Youth. Though it’s painted with the faded language of nostalgia, Maypole is strangely empty: void of sympathy or moral, Luc Tuymans renders a scene twice-removed, making it impulsively human. Without context of history or source, the viewer is left to engage with the painting on a purely instinctive level; being drawn into the evils of history, he adopts his own role as a silent and willing observer.

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