Palazzo Grassi, the historic home of the Grassi family in Venice, is what you would expect of a grand palazzo with its central courtyard and baroque staircase. Now a centre for contemporary art, two years ago it was taken over by Damien Hirst; this year the courtyard and rooms are filled with work by the Belgian artist Luc Tuymans, which I managed to see last week. The good news is that, although the Palazzi is currently closed due to the high tide, the Pinault Collection reports that there is no damage to artworks, though inevitably there are precautionary actions to ensure the safe operation of systems and services before it, and their other building the Punta della Dogana, can reopen.
Many of Tuymans’ on show here in ‘La Pelle’ works have sinister overtones – the large mosaic on the floor of the central courtyard is entitled ‘Schwarzheide’ after a German forced labour camp is an image which appears and disappears depending where you looking at it from, just as the original camp and people housed there were unseen to local residents, hidden behind the trees – and the first painting you see as you walk up the grand marble staircase is of the architect Albert Speer who worked with Hitler, asking you to think of what secrets he might have known, things that he denied…..
Elsewhere other work includes links to the Klu Klux Clan and to medical procedures and experiments….each work has a story and meaning within something that might initially appear quite simple such as a portrait, but of whom and what is his or her history…., such as ‘Donation’ which in fact a portrait of Jeremy Bentham whose body is still to be seen, fully preserved, in University College London. But wait, while physicians could preserve his body, they could not preserve his head and the one we see today is a resin copy. Tuymans’ portrait, with its sad empty eyes, is not even taken from that copy, but of filmed images of it, asking questions about our perception of reality. Tuymans painted the portrait in 2008 and may indeed have been anticipating the next decade which, with accelerated misuse and infiltration of social media, means that are continually bombarded with images and news and we no longer know if they are real or not. ‘Fake News’ indeed!