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Bacon: What's the Beef?

June 2, 2009

Just read ArtsJournal colleague Jon Perreault's extensive and erudite blog entry about the Francis Bacon retrospective at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The opening paragraph sums up Jon's thoughts about the artist:

When it comes to Francis Bacon (1909-1992), less is more. The current "Centenary Retrospective" at the Metropolitan, on view through Aug. 16, is ample proof. One picture at a time can be quite effective, but seeing any Bacon that once might have taken your fancy (perhaps out of some deep-seated perversity) along with others of the same or far too similar ilk destroys any credence he might once have had as a major artist.

Perhaps I'm a sick soul. But since having experienced by first Bacon retrospective in London as a teenager (albeit I was slightly older than 13, when Jon wrote that he saw a reproduction of Bacon's famous Painting, 1946, at the Museum of Modern Art) I can't seem to get enough of this artist's work. Contrary to what Jon thinks, I believe that "when it comes to Francis Bacon (1909-1992), more is more."

My thoughts about Bacon were confirmed by a visit to see the exhibition at the Met last week. The cumulative effect of experiencing all those canvases together was overwhelming in a good way, like a great performance of the Verdi Requiem. It was also strangely life-affirming.

As I moved through the galleries from the artist's screaming early works through his pining reflections following the death of the love of his life George Dyer and finally to more introspective and almost detached pictures of sundry boyfriends and acquaintances in his final years, I felt like I was watching the evolution of a soul at close quarters. I liked the fact that the exhibition didn't simply dwell on the iconic paintings of the 1950s and 60s -- the ones depicting sinister popes and nightmarish monsters -- and instead only lingered for a while before moving on to show different stages of the artist's career and preoccupations. The progression allowed me to transcend the cliches that one thinks of when conjuring the work of Bacon (the fanged, moist-lipped mouths, the shapeless-fleshy abattoir forms) and thus appreciate the quality of Bacon's draftsmanship, his fragility and his malign sense of humor. I'd spend the night wandering those galleries if I could.

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