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Luc Tuymans makes paintings to be seen with your eyes -- and your brain

March 14, 2010 |  9:53 am

Secretary of State
Last year, when President and Mrs. Obama were selecting art for temporary White House display, I felt a twinge of regret that they were limited to work by American artists. At least two pictures by 51-year-old Belgian painter Luc Tuymans would offer a lot of contemplative substance hanging in the national residence. Both are now in his remarkable and cautionary traveling retrospective of some 70 paintings at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Milteer "The Heritage VI" (1996) is a portrait of the late Joseph Milteer, a notorious Georgia white supremacist who figures in numerous conspiracy theories about the 1963 JFK assassination, looking like a jolly grandfather. "The Secretary of State," painted almost a decade later, is a closely cropped portrait of Condoleezza Rice, shocking in its drabness.

Along with many other works in the survey, they demonstrate that painting retains its capacity for trenchant social and political exploration. I have a review of the exhibition in Sunday's newspaper.

-- Christopher Knight

Photo: Luc Tuymans' "The Secretary of State," 2005, top, and "The Heritage VI," 1996, both oil on canvas. Credit: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art