Still Life, 2002

Still Life is among Luc Tuymans’ most monumental paintings although the subject is particularly intimate: a still life with fruits and a jar of clear water in the background treated in the manner of Cézanne’s watercolors. It was first shown at Documenta 11 in Kassel (2002), which featured many artworks about the tragedy of 9/11. Luc Tuymans’ work, which raised a lot of expectations, wrong-foots this theme by highlighting that art does not illustrate reality but rather puts it into perspective, that it does not respond to a fact as such but turns it toward the viewer in an interrogative, mysterious or alarming manner. In other words that what counts is not the subject matter but how it is treated. Positioned on a barely tangible horizontal line, almost suspended in the heart of the painting and considerably enlarged—on the scale of an American city, or the impossible facts, or the enormity of the terrorist act?—each fruit states its presence not through realistic representation but with a physicality that slowly emerges from the depth of time, space, air, emptiness and breath. The point is not to show the explosion, the two smashed buildings, or the bodies buried under the rubbles, but what is left beyond good and bad, after the catastrophe, once the cloud of dust has settled: the natural or human determination to keep going no matter what, to grow again, to rethink oneself, fruits and water, substance and color, the density of life being reborn. Still life can also mean that there is, still, life. In this sense, the painting is like an inverted vanity: it doesn’t signal that life is ephemeral and fragile, but on the contrary that it resists and is resilient. In a way, this is the first meal offered for sharing in the face of human madness.