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Luc Tuymans. The Secretary of State. 2005

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Luc Tuymans (Belgian, born 1958)

The Secretary of State

Oil on canvas
18 x 24 3/8" (45.7 x 61.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Fractional and promised gift of David and Monica Zwirner
MoMA Number:
© 2015 Luc Tuymans

The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2007, p. 263

In 2005 Condoleezza Rice left her position as national security advisor to replace Colin Powell as United States secretary of state. That same year, for the second time, Forbes magazine ranked her the most powerful woman in the world. In this painting Rice's likeness is heavily cropped and faded in color, as if she has already been relegated to history, but her formidable presence is undiminished. The immediacy is further amplified by the close-up view, which at the same time proscribes intimacy, denies psychological insight, and holds back communication on issues of gender and race. Rice's averted eyes and focused grimace communicate nothing. In Tuymans’s painting this immensely powerful woman, appointed to negotiate controversial wars and world conflicts, remains a public figure—a media image.

Tuymans has often presented highly charged political subject matter. He has taken up historical episodes such as colonialism and the Holocaust, and prominent figures such as Patrice Lumumba (assassinated prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Nazi architect Albert Speer. Tuymans’s cool, detached treatment keeps horror outside the picture, but his paintings evoke deeply troubled histories. "Violence," the artist has said, "is the only structure underlying my work."

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