Jul 6, 2009
If you’re going to New York this northern summer, you’ll no doubt be checking out the Met’s grand centennial show, or coronation, (as Slate puts it) of Francis Bacon. Like the New Yorker‘s Peter Schjeldahl, I have mixed feelings about the paintings – still, Bacon is unavoidable. He’s got the car crash factor. Not going to NYC? See what we’re missing:
Schjeldahl at The New Yorker: in audio, and the article. As urbanely sharp as ever: ‘Bacon now looks more prophetic than the Abstract Expressionists do about subsequent developments in art, starting with Pop and continuing through the so-called Pictures Generation. The key is his pioneering use of photographs and printed sources for his subject matter.’
At The New Republic, the old guard is represented by Jed Perl who thinks Bacon is an overinflated phoney: ‘Before the Bacon retrospective opened, Vogue asked a number of artists to comment. “What’s profound about his work is that it’s not settled,” declared Lisa Yuskavage, who paints bimbos with floppy hair. “It’s too big. It’s like a bomb dropping.” George Condo, our thrift-shop Picasso, observed that “each one of his paintings is like a very elegant, bad hangover.” And John Currin, who has made misogyny safe for high-end collectors, believes that “the feeling you get from Bacon is something akin to a stately mansion that you can’t pay the taxes on, and you can’t afford to heat. And yet, with his poverty of means–simple, unsophisticated techniques–he’s able to do grand painting, completely.” ’
Vanity Fair, of course, has John Richardson, of muti-volume Picasso biography fame, who begins: ‘I knew Bacon and used to watch him apply great swoops of Pan-Cake makeup to the stubble on his chin in order to rehearse the brushstrokes that set his figures squirming and spinning on canvas. Bacon’s visit to New York in 1968 was the blackest of comedies. At a lunch in his honor, Francis, who disdained the use of masculine pronouns, hissed at me, “Who’s the gorgeous girl they’ve put next to me?” A nephew of Jackson Pollock’s, I told him. “You mean the niece of the old lace-maker?” he chortled.’ You can just about imagine the rest, or else, go there.
Slate has a neat, brief nine frame slideshow annotated by Christopher Benfey. ‘Intensity was what he was after—and jarring incongruity. Like a chemist in the lab, he combined unstable substances—in this case, a familiar portrait of a pope with a still of a screaming nurse from Sergei Eisenstein’s film Battleship Potemkin—to see what explosive compound might emerge. … Head VI, the earliest surviving version of the series, may invite an initial sense of horror, but it also looks surprisingly like a triumphant college graduate with a tassel dangling from his mortarboard.’
The New York Times, as channelled by Roberta Smith, is itsfrightfully respectable self. Starts with ‘Francis Bacon is an artist for our time,’ and ends ‘it is always bracing to see his work and to realize that part of its energy derives from its refusal to go softly in art history. He reminds us that in the end very little about art is fixed, and that we should always be ready to turn on a dime. z z’ zzz.
Last is best with the ingenious Morgan Meis at The Smart Set: ‘Francis Bacon is a scream. He will always be a scream … How you feel about the screams is, I think, the essence of how you’ll feel about every Bacon work … I always take very seriously the way that teenagers look at Bacon. They see the purity of that scream and they respond to it immediately. They know that it is right, that Bacon got that scream absolutely right because he formalized the subject matter and not because it points to any outside meaning.’