Luc Tuymans’ paintings have an atmosphere all their own. They stand out whenever I have seen them on display, with that signatory diluted palette and the painterly, brushstroked surface. His content is usually identifiable and yet the paintings have a mystery to them that makes them feel more aligned to non-representational work. Although much younger than Gerhard Richter, the giant of German contemporary painting, Tuymans shares similarities with Richter (another artist whose work I adore) in the way he uses photographs as source material, the cropping of images and the highlightly of subject matter that is often, on the surface, rather mundane.

Tuymans has achieved that rarefied success in the international art world that is reserved for a select few. I have seen his work on display in museums and galleries everywhere–Europe, Asia, Australia, the United States. So it is rather interesting that he agreed to conduct a version of the “Joshua Bell playing in the subway” experiment in his home town of Antwerp. (A description and link to the video are posted on Slow Painting.)

While the design of the “experiment” that anonymousizes great art or music in public spaces can be criticized, the issue of art and context is still relevant. And the visibility of these stagings with the likes of a Joshua Bell and a Luc Tuymans may shift what we as mere pedestrians on a city street expect. I’d like to think that more people have been opened up to the possibility of seeing and hearing a moment of greatness outside the context of a concert hall or gallery.

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