Sunday, April 28, 2019

“Monumental” at the Aquavella Gallery

Last Monday my wife asked me, “what are you writing about this week” and I replied, “I have come up completely dry”.  Penelope proceeded to speak to me about exhibitions around town.  Then, as so often happens, I got an email.  This time from my older son, Daniel.  He was teasing me by sending me an article about a Lucian Freud exhibition of Nudes, saying, “I presume this will be one of your blogs I’ll be reading about”.  Guess what, he’s right!

The article was by Hilarie Sheets who often writes for The New York Times though this appeared in “Introspective Magazine” a publication of which offers according to them, “The World’s Best Interior Design”. This is, however, a serious review of the exhibition “Lucien Freud: Monumental” at Acquavella Gallery in New York.

The Acquavella Gallery was founded by Nicholas Acquavella in the 1920’s.  His son Bill joined in 1960.  I came into my family business 5 years later and we interacted from time to time.  The first time I met Bill, my father asked me to bring a small painting by Eugene Boudin up to his gallery.  Since the painting was small and Acquavella’s gallery was only about a mile away, I strapped it to my bike thinking all the way, “What if something happens and I get hit?” (that was New York City, after all), “what would I tell the insurance company” Anyway, I delivered it safe and sound.  That was half a century ago and since then other younger members of the Acquavella family have signed on. To show what esteem the gallery is held in, the former director of the Metropolitan Museum, Philippe de Montebello, is now on their board. 

Acquavella has represented the estate of Lucian Freud (1922-2011) for some time now and has over the years shown various aspects of his work. The 13 paintings in the current exhibition show Freud’s full painterly style.   It includes depictions of some of Freud’s most important models from 1990’s until the artist’s death. David Dawson, Freud’s long-time studio assistant, friend, and now director of the Lucian Freud Archive, curated the show and wrote the catalog for the exhibition together with Philippe de Montebello. You could not call up Freud and ask him to paint your portrait (with some exceptions in the Royal Family).  He sought out his models, choosing carefully.

The renowned British art historian, Sir Kenneth Clark said in his 1956 book, The Nude. A Study of Ideal Art, made a distinction between the Naked and the Nude, considering the nude as an ideal representation of the naked body. By Clark’s definition Freud’s works are not nudes but might be called naked portraits.
Freud himself wrote, “Being naked has to do with making a more complete portrait, a naked body is somehow more permanent, more factual … when someone is naked there is in effect nothing to be hidden. Not everyone wants to be that honest about themselves, that means I feel an obligation to be equally honest in how I represent them. It is a matter of responsibility, in a way I don’t want the painting to come from me, I want it to come from them. It can be extraordinary how much you can learn from someone by looking very carefully at them without judgement.”

Still Clark did say, “… no nude, however abstract, should fail to arouse in the spectator some vestige of erotic feeling …”.  I believe that this would be in the eye of the beholder.

If you wish to see all the Freud nudes, you will have to go to the show or buy the catalog, but I will try to pick out a few to illustrate.  It’s hard to choose images when it comes to Freud since he is such a great artist steeped in the Old Master tradition.  Which is your favorite Rembrandt?

First up, what I would call, the epitome of monumental, Freud’s, “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping” 1995.  59 5/8 x 86¼ in. (151.3 x 219 cm.).  The model, Tilley, was introduced to Freud in 1990 by the artist’s favorite subject, the performance artist, Leigh Bowery. The treatment of the sitter’s expanse of flesh gives one the chance to fully appreciate Freud’s rich painterly style.  Freud’s impasto is not as thick as Van Gogh’s, but it gives rich textural quality to the surface.  Dawson says that Freud always wanted to know all his sitters and asked them lots of questions about their lives.  Somehow, I feel that one comes to know something of the actual person in this portrait.

Probably Freud’s most famous nude is this painting of the performance artist Leigh Bowery lent by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Some of the photographs I have seen say so much about the characters.  Here you have the photo of the sitter posing in Freud’s studio for ”Naked Man, Back View”, 1992, as well as the painting.

Photo by Bruce Bernard © Estate of Bruce Bernard

In “Large Interior, Notting Hill” 1998 has an amusing story.  Model Jerry Hall, who was married to Mick Jagger had a new born son, Gabriel. Freud was going to immortalize the occasion by painting the mother breast feeding her son.  Jerry Hall sat for the painting but when she didn’t feel up to it after many daily sittings David Dawson sat in for her. Freud’s whippet Pluto lies at the feet of the writer Francis Wyndham who is not identified in the caption.

My last image is “Sunny Morning, Eight Legs” 1997, borrowed from the Art Institute of Chicago.  It shows Dawson, who sat for a number of Freud’s portraits and Pluto.   The extra pair of knees poking out from under the bed was Dawson’s idea.

I am sorry to miss this exhibition which is up through May 24. The material for this blog was all gathered on line.  I had no response to two emails to Aquavella’s publicist and one to the gallery directly.

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