Francis Bacon Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Centenary Retrospective
In some ways this is a risky exhibition for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, especially as its big summer show, a slot usually reserved for obvious crowd-pleasers, usually involving Impressionism. Because although Artist Francis Bacon is certainly one of the 20th-century's most important artists–not to mention the fact that his work commands extraordinary prices at auctions, including a record $86.3 million last year for Triptych–Francis Bacon's stuff is, quite frankly, unremittingly bleak. And often violent. And sexually, homo-erotically charged. In fact, when we were there, a tourist had brought her preschooler son, who kept asking her, in increasingly worried tones: "What's happening in that picture? Why is he like that?! Why is this so scary??!!" Needless to say, mother and child didn't make it past the second room.
OK, parental advisories aside, what of the exhibit itself? This is the first big retrospective of Francis Bacon in this town in more than 20 years, and it is a curatorial and artistic triumph. There are 65 paintings on display here, spanning the breadth of Bacon's career: his late 1940s studies of post-war fear and despair; his Screaming Popes, which have been called "religious paintings for atheists"; his tortured Head series, usually a man boxed-in by crushing machines; his bright though decidedly NOT cheery portraits of friends and lovers that dominated Francis Bacon's later years, and showed once and for all that, despite his dark subject matter, the man was a brilliant colorist.
In addition to Francis Bacon's paintings, the exhibition also features some 65 archival pieces, which are nearly as fascinating as the work itself. Bacon's life was as tortured as his work–he was the ultimate bad boy of the post-war art world, drinking and carrying on to disastrous excess–and he suffered through two long, obsessive love affairs with drug-addicted, abusive men. The photographs of his insanely cluttered studio, his notebooks and doodles, the candid shots of this self-taught British master and his cohorts all bring a new perspective on the man behind the paintings, which are worth the trip, especially for nearby residents of Upper East Side Manhattan real estate.
Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective runs through August 16, 2009. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is open Tuesday through Thursday, and Sunday, from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. The museum is located on Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street.
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