Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Bacon Special

Two kinds of Bacon for me on Monday morning in London: the crispy kind, followed by the painterly kind. Unsurprisingly, the first sat much easier on the stomach than the second.

There's a major exhibition of Bacon's work currently running at the Tate Britain. Not sure why the powers-that-be chose there vs. the Tate Modern, but the contrast between Turner the artist, Bacon, and Turner the prize, with all three being available aunder the same roof, certainly throws up some interesting, not to say disturbing, contrasts.

Since both the Turner Prize 2008 and Francis Bacon exhibits are running in parallel, you can get an interesting dish at the ticket counter: Bacon and Turner special, priced at just 15 quid.

First then, Francis Bacon. The exhibition coves a broad sweep of Bacon's work, starting in the 1940s and closing with canvasses produced right up to his death in 1991. I won't here try and add to the glowing reviews this exhibition has garnered (here's a prime example) but I will echo all that they have said: this is a visceral experience that presents an artist - perhaps one of the last - whose art has a real, enduring impact on the viewer. Bacon's tortured, screaming figures deliver such a unified vision of bleakness and isolation that you are snapped to attention, as much by a defence mechanism against their grim depiction of mortality as by anything especially aesthetic in his works. Open, fanged jaws -- a symbol he used frequently to show primal emotions - are as powerful in his human pictures as they are in his animal works. But for me the images with the most impact are those of Pope Innocent X, a subject Bacon returned to many times, shown seated on his throne but caged within a delineated cubic space (as per the example posted above). In one depiction, vertical shutters of dark grey further bind him and his head from the mouth upwards bleeds into the back ground darkness as might "a sunset" to quote the artist. This is a "must see" exhibition and well worth making time to see a very comprehensive collection of some of Bacon's finest work.

On then to the Turner Prize exhibit. Oh ... dear. For me, the only reason to see the Turner Prize exhibits is to be annoyed, perplexed or dumbfounded by it all. Emmin's bed, Hirst's cow - they all have been there, forcing their way into the modern art world and launching big $ careers, so you have a certain level of expectation going into this thing that you'll see boundaries being pushed once again. Well, forget it. All safe-and-sound this year. Some architectural installations that look like something you'd find in a DIY store showing how to use perspex and stainless steel hand rails; a minor installation comprising a couple of check-out tills and associated ephemera; two audio-visual presentations that were utterly unmemorable, and you've about done it all. Conclusions? Retro AV is in - the Tate had several 16 mm film projectors showing stuff for these pieces, but Lord alone knows where people are getting the equipment from to shoot and show this stuff - and trying to shock is out. Dull, dull, dull, dull, dull,

Brit art has become bland art. Wait another year and we'll see what comes up next, but meanwhile go and see Bacon for what a true master can produce over a lifetime of delivering and refining an artistic vision.

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