The artist broke a record for contemporary art sales when a triptych of his sold for $86 million dollars last year, and he was the subject of two retrospectives at the Tate during his lifetime, and another last year. (He died in 1992.) Now the retrospective is moving to the Met (of all places). It opens tomorrow–and I look forward to seeing it. Jerry Saltz wrote an excellent article on Bacon in this week’s New York Magazine because of the new exhibition, asking the question “Was Francis Bacon really the greatest painter of the twentieth century, or just a fascinating mess?” “Greatest painter of the twentieth century” is quite a title, and not one I’m sure I’d grant Bacon, although he was a good painter who created resonant, interesting works of great color. (If you want to see what a fascinating mess he was, Saltz touches on his life history.)
Figure with Meat
Bacon is a tough artist to understand: His paintings create such a visceral reaction in the viewer that I think it can be difficult to look beyond the subject matter. Margaret Thatcher famously described him as “that man who paints those dreadful pictures.” People commonly assume that such repetitive grotesque angst can’t be real, that he’s hamming it up. (Excuse the pun–and just be glad I haven’t tried my cleverness on his last name yet.) Saltz feels it becomes gimmicky, and so did quite a few people I was talking to the past Sunday. Yet the artist is at his best with these bruised mutants encased in flat rooms of color.
So what do you think, a yay or a nay for Bacon?
See Two Coats of Paint for more information on the exhibition itself.