Francis Bacon, Fried

June 8, 2009 · Print This Article

francis-bacon-1Looks like Francis Bacon is getting singed by the art press. The recently-opened Francis Bacon retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art has critics seriously reconsidering this painter’s legacy. Some excerpts, and links:

Jerry Saltz, New York Magazine: “…the Metropolitan’s retrospective, like most Bacon shows, makes it clear that he kept working his theme until it became a gimmick. The calculated pictorial repetitiousness and lack of formal development wear thin. Except for a number of fabulous portrait heads and the astounding Jet of Water—made in 1988, just four years before his death, featuring an enormous streak of blue paint across an interior—Bacon’s formula had grown stagnant by 1965.”

Roberta Smith, New York Times: “The stately if cursory survey of Bacon’s paintings that opened Wednesday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art suggests a more lasting pertinence: Bacon’s depiction of the love that until a few decades ago dared not say its name, much less demand the right to marry. Bacon convincingly painted men having sex and sometimes making love. Whether this makes him a great painter, it certainly secures him a place in the history of both painting and art. He emphatically turned the male gaze toward males.”

Peter Schjeldahl, New Yorker, (online access to the June 1st issue is paid only); here’s an excerpt from the summary they make available: “Vamped with an eclectic mix of Expressionist tactics and decorative longueurs, 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. While Bacon’s work is routinely celebrated as an authentic reactive to the horrors and the dislocations of the Second World War, it can come off as a pageant of hangovers and refractory lovers. Bacon’s striking formal innovations, in handlings of pictorial space, include swiftly limned cubical enclosures and evocations of proscenium stages, in which painted figures leap to the eye. His paintings, despite their extraordinary visual drama, thus lack a de Kooningesque sense of scale, which knits marks to the shape of the canvas and relates that shape to the viewer’s body.”

Sebastian Smee, Boston Globe: “…a lot of his work, with its teasing arrows and ashtrays, its syringes and swastikas, seems coyly involved in games of storytelling, and his drawing frequently feels flatly descriptive – exactly like illustration. Despite all that, I remember well the effect Bacon’s work first had on me, as well as its impact on several friends who have gone on to become artists. His paintings combined abject violence with a kind of immaculate beauty in ways that teenage boys are probably predestined to find alluring. I may be fussier in my mind about what succeeds and what doesn’t now, but I remain in awe of that early union of Bacon’s imagery and my own teenage hunger for maximum impact.”

And Jed Perl really hated it: “Bacon, who died in 1992 at the age of eighty-two, may well be the greatest exemplar of a wrongheaded tradition that we have ever seen. He had a knack for adapting all the wrong elements from all the right artists. He zeroed in on those moments when Van Gogh and Picasso were pushing their glorious anarchic energy to the brink of incoherence. This would have been fine, except that Bacon willfully ignored their ordering intelligence, preferring to sacrifice pictorial sensibility to literary sensationalism. What Bacon produced are not paintings, at least not satisfying ones. They are little more than rectangles of canvas inscribed with noirish graffiti: angst for dummies.”

If you’re in Chicago and want to see work by Francis Bacon, the Art Institute has one painting by Bacon on view in the Modern Wing: Figure with Meat, from 1964.

3 Responses to “Francis Bacon, Fried”

  1. fred guidolin Says:

    is it possible that critics who talk down great artists like francis bacon have started to believe that they stand above all artists and that they are the real heroes?

    ist it possible that to be noted in the big apple art szene one has to criticize bacon?

    the critics message seems to be: “don’t waste your time looking at art – look at me the greatest critic on earth.”

    the good news is that 20 years from now the stuff those important people wrote will be completely forgotten.

    only their lonely grave will say “he/she was in fact important”.

    regards

  2. Francesco Cracolici Says:

    I never read so many aesthetic heresies!

  3. Francesco Cracolici Says:

    Francis Bacon is a Genius!

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