When visiting the Luc Tuymans retrospective at the WexnerCenterfor the Arts, which opens today, there is one thing you simply must do. Take the cellphone tour . . . or the walk-in tour . . . or download the tour at wexarts.org. Whatever you do, hear the meaning behind the work. It's too disturbing not to.

The Tuymans exhibit runs through Jan. 3 at the Wex, its debut stop in the firstU.S.retrospective of the Belgian painter, who, despite not being a household name in this country, is considered one of the most influential artists of contemporary art.

The exhibit is quite different from last year's star-studded retrospective. You remember: the silk screens and bold colors; the giantCampbell's soup can; the video of David Bowie looking like he ate too many special brownies, acting like a butterfly. The life of Andy Warhol and his opulent outlook gushed from photos of him and his work.

Tuymans is a stark contrast. "A big painting is not necessarily an important one," Tuymans said yesterday at a preview tour at the Wex. "A smaller one can be even more powerful." There is nothing easy about his work. Many of the pieces leave you itching, asking what the hell is going on.

The first page of the Wex's guidebook has this quote from the artist: "I want to make people think. I want them to be confused and unnerved."


Schwarzheide" seemed simple enough. Black lines had been painted on an aged canvas, and the shadows of what looked like trees sat at the bottom. As you stepped back, though, Jill pointed out that she couldn't tell if some of the shadows were that of people. There was something very depressing about the way they stood; something you couldn't lay your finger on, but it made you feel uneasy.

During the tour, Tuymans shared that the "Schwarzheide" shadows were that of concentration camp workers and the lines represented slicing artworks to preserve them during World War II.

Tuymans took the group through the chronological exhibit of 70 plus paintings and several films. Much of his work touches on the manipulations of images with heavy political and sociocultural statements. Early work themes focus largely on the impact of World War II, and later works touch on the politics of the Democratic Republic of Congo and theUnited Statesafter 9/11.

All the works are powerful, but an explanation is highly recommended to fully appreciate what Tuymans brings through in his work. Even the beautiful paintings have a deeper, bleaker meaning.

For example, "Bloodstains" is a color-cooled trace of whimsical flowers-that represent a pattern from a seat someone was killed on. And then there's "The Heritage VI," which initially looks like a black and white portrait of "the epitome of the American guy," Tuymans says. But the more you look, the more anxious you feel. Turns out it's a portrait of a presumed member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Also, be sure to experience the final painting, W, before learning who and what it is about.

The exhibit premieres today, and cellphone tours start Sept. 21. Click here for hours and more information on Tuymans.

Contact Jackie Mantey at jmantey@acncolumbus.com.