People are Becoming More and More Stupid

Iona Bielby 

According to The Art Newspaper, Belgian painter, Luc Tuymans claims that “people are becoming more and more stupid, insanely stupid.” He explores the notion of society’s dwindling intellect in his new major exhibition of work, which has opened in Venice this past month. 

Matteo De Fina , A picture of the artist, Luc Tuymans.  2019.

Matteo De Fina, A picture of the artist, Luc Tuymans. 2019.

Taking inspiration from the Italian writer, Curzio Malaparte and his novel on Naples during the Second World War, the show is entitled La Pelle (Skin). Tuymans bridges the gap between the Second World War and modern day society, insisting that “Europe was in chaos, just like today.” It is this chaos that is manifested in the many layers of Tuymans’ exhibition. 

The exhibition is held in an 18th century palazzo, where visitors are greeted with pearl coloured marble, a sophisticated atmosphere, and perhaps most notably, a large mosaic of pine trees on the floor. This mosaic is based on a painting Tuymans painted outside a German labour camp at Schwarzheide. 

Matteo De Fina , Schwarzheide, 2019, by Luc Tuymans, installation view at Palazzo Grassi . 2019.

Matteo De Fina, Schwarzheide, 2019, by Luc Tuymans, installation view at Palazzo Grassi. 2019.

Tuymans has an interesting relationship with Nazism, as it proves a consistent theme in his oeuvre. Within the exhibition, fourteen paintings address the Third Reich. Tuymans insists his fascination with Nazi subjects stems from his parents’ unhappy marriage. He explains to The Art Newspaper, “my mother was Dutch and my father was Flemish. The Dutch part of my family was in the resistance, the Flemish part collaborated with Germans.”

But what do Third Reich inspired paintings in a Venetian palazzo have to do with the decline in human intellect? Tuymans considers 2019, much like the time of the Second World War, as a dark one. He tells The Art Newspaper – “Think about Brexit, about this narcissistic Trump, the whole constellation of the West is in dire straits.” This raises the question: do we ever learn from history? Do we learn from our mistakes? Do we remember accurately or do we, as a species and humanity, tend to misremember and reconstruct our wrongs? Or are people, as Tuymans puts it, becoming more and more stupid? Reporter, Cristina Ruiz suggests that at “the heart of Tuymans’s project is a central conceit: that images are unreliable, that they can offer us no more than a fragment of reality and that our own memories, personal or collective mislead us.” 

Tuymans explores the idea of truth in his works, leaving the viewer to question: is objective truth possible? Does society practice and experience truths as it should? Tuymans uses light colours for his canvases which highlight the theme of faded memory – or at least memories which lie slightly out of one’s focus and recollection.

Delfino Sisto Legnani and Marco Cappelletti,  The Arena I, II, III, 2014, by Luc Tuymans.  2019.

Delfino Sisto Legnani and Marco Cappelletti, The Arena I, II, III, 2014, by Luc Tuymans. 2019.

 Caroline Bourgeois, a co-curator of the show, claims the artist “does not intend to take the visitor by the hand, he is asking them to make an effort to come closer; a reflection and a physicality instead.” The exhibition thus, is not a commentary on the ignorance of society. The exhibition is an invitation to reflect on the darker moments in history while recognising society’s obligation to objectify truth and right its own wrongs.

Tuymans’ exhibition, La Pelle, will take place at Palazzo Grassi in Venice until 6 January 2020. 



Lloyd-Smith, Harriet. "In Venice, Artist Luc Tuymans Is Going Against the Current." Wallpaper*. April 03, 2019. Accessed April 04, 2019.

Ruiz, Cristina. "Luc Tuymans: 'People Are Becoming More and More Stupid, Insanely Stupid'." The Art Newspaper. March 29, 2019. Accessed April 04, 2019.