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With three prestigious exhibitions at leading galleries in New York, the year has been off to a good start for Belgian contemporary art. Luc Tuymans and Francis Alÿs confirm their status of world famous artists while photographer Frieke Janssens is the talk of town with her 'Smoking Kids' exhibition. Tuymans and Alÿs, both superstars in the international art scene, had to postpone their exhibitions in two adjacent galleries in the Big Apple by two months due to the damage caused by superstorm Sandy. They were both in the city when the storm, which hit the shores on 29 October last year, flooded David Zwirner’s galleries near the Hudson River. In both galleries inner walls had to be broken down and rebuilt, but the damage to the artworks was relatively small. A number of drawings suffered water damage, but the paintings were untouched. Two weeks before the storm Zwirner opened a new gallery in London with Tuymans as inaugural solo artist. The exhibitions in London and New York run simultaneously under the theme of ’artist’ but while the London exhibition focuses on a romanticised Hollywood image of the artist, the one in New York concentrates on the artist himself. Once again Tuymans has chosen images of photographs and video stills as a basis, although this time from his immediate surroundings: a broken window pane, a fragment of a coat, a leg, unadorned without any addition. His banal and seemingly impervious subjects immersed in grey light hang between the figurative and abstract, while the artist confronts the transient and fragile nature of things and his own mortality. They show a last glimpse of life before death, he explains. The title of the exhibition, 'Summer is Over', are the words spoken by a demented elderly man he met two months before his death. It received mixed reaction in London, but in New York it was a commercial success, with all paintings sold at prices ranging between 1.4 and 1.8 million dollars on the opening day.
Alÿs’s work is a film clip entitled Reel-Unreel, which follows two children running through the city of Kabul while they unroll and re-roll a film reel. The clip was also shown at the Documenta 13 show in Kassel Germany. The artist, who does not earn anything from his film projects, finances these projects with the sale of his drawings and paintings. This exhibition, with paintings made in Afghanistan, shows banal images distorted by brightly coloured vertical strips reminiscent of a television test signal. This, explains the artist, implies distance, saying: “I struggled to process my experiences in Afghanistan. I needed something to remove myself from it.” On the same Thursday Belgian artist Frieke Janssens’ well-known Smoking Kids exhibition started its run in the New York VII Gallery. The exhibition will move to Chicago and other American cities later on. Frieke Janssens is already at work on another project entitled 'Your Last Shot', which shows people posing for their own death card.
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