Wednesday, April 07, 2004

highbrow

Without addressing the more complicated arguments of our betters, one pretty significant difference between Jeff Koons's and Lucian Freud's work is the experience of seeing it in person. I like one liners, and gigantic flower puppies, and sharks in tanks, but there is almost literally nothing to the personal experience of them [aside from the effects of scale, which can be profound but don't, I think, constitute art in themselves]. Freuds in person are transfixing, and not only in the painter's, um, transfixion of his object, "imposing scrotums" and all. To me the most astonishing thing about Freud's painting is the way it reveals the strangeness of representation within itself, even as it remains a representational tour de force, in a "nostalgic" way. It is like cubism, but without the bomb-throwing and pretentiousness [maybe Cezanne is a closer analogy, but I at least find it hard to really see Cezanne any more, as opposed to the posters and datebooks and coffee mugs of Cezanne]. This is not a mere technical trick; in fact, it is impeccably self-modern in the sense that the paintings are to a large extent about painting itself; thus seeing, and representing, and even, after John Berger, possessing.

It is not hard to admire Freud for reactionary reasons, and perhaps Robert Hughes is guilty of that. But the fact is that Freud is not indulging in empty or nostalgic virtuosity. He has something complicated, interesting, and above all subtle to say, and you New Yorkers should go see what it is when the show comes to Acquavella (April 28-May 27). The rest of you will have to look at this jpeg instead.

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