Belgian-born artist Luc Tuymans (b. 1958) brings his painterly virtuosity to the kingdom of the mouse in his new solo exhibit, Forever, The Management of Magic, at David Zwirner. The image fragments of Walt Disney's electric magic empire, painted here like faded film stock in the blues and mauves of cotton candy, conjure a dusty collection of peripheral memorabilia. With these eight wonderful paintings and a side room of gouache drawings, Tuymans opens up a service entrance to the back lot of utopia. No mice here, this is Walt, the utopian urban planner, the maestro of the energy-draining world of tomorrow, the extravagant Robert Moses with electric turtles. Pay no attention to that man that Tuymans has almost cropped out of the painting.
Wonderland, one of the two largest paintings (at 138.98 x 215.35 inches), is based on a still from a family home movie made at Disneyland. Tuymans paints the trip through the Alice in Wonderland attraction from the perspective of the amateur filmmaker, and the painting functions as its own amusement, a kind of old fashioned play for the virtual reality that paintings once represented.
It took a trip to the Internet to get a fix on what I was looking at with the equally enormous Turtle, because I didn't recall that Disney's twinkling turtle from the Main Street Electrical Parade sported large round spectacles. These circles, then, of glowing light poking off the turtle's head represent the turtle's "vision." What a weird thing to think about - a glorious painted representation of the Disney electric twinkling turtle that needs glasses. What a ghostly spectral spectacular!
Wow - paintings. You remember them - stretched canvas and the application of paints with a paintbrush. Oils, no less, as Tuymans could not possibly make this work in the plastic technicolor world of acrylic but only with the creamy applications of oils. In passages, they remind me of seascapes. Tuymans has this wavy surf-like action going on with his brush strokes that leave marks that look like angel's wings. After coming across so much assemblage this year, I thought it wonderful to encounter aesthetically-pleasing two-dimensional painted canvases in seductive oils. Some of the works were so fresh I could smell them.
Walt Disney, famously frozen in time and space, manipulated and shaped the American psyche in profound ways - from the everlasting orphan search for Daddy to escaping unpredictable American reality for the safe ordered haven of Disneyland. I'm not sure we learn anything new here. I think types who show up at David Zwirner already see through the ideology of the mouse and the production of desire. There have been books. Actually, when I was looking at Tuymans' Wonderland, I think my mouth dropped open a little as I imagined myself riding on the train through the tunnel. Daddy, it was like magic. I want to go on that ride again.
Luc Tuymans, Forever, The Management of Magic continues through March 22, 2008. David Zwirner. Chelsea.