Contemporary Art

Keeping it Real: London Exhibitions Explore Art and Life

Exterior View, Barbican Centre

Barbican Centre, London

Francis Bacon, for all his ambiguities, was always clear on his reasons for painting: “I would like, in my arbitrary way, to bring one nearer to the actual human being.” Two exhibitions in London explore the complex relationship between art and life in painting and photography over the past century.

Lucian Freud, Sleeping by the Lion Carpet, 1996

Lucian Freud, Sleeping by the Lion Carpet, 1996

All Too Human at Tate Britain features around 100 works by painters ranging from the early Modernist Walter Sickert to contemporary artists such as Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. Elena Crippa, the show’s curator, says it “reflects the way in which painters, particularly, have depicted, enlivened and intensified our experience of reality.” At the exhibition’s heart are Bacon and his long-standing friend-cum-nemesis Lucian Freud. A highlight is a portrait by Bacon from 1964 that depicts Freud reclining topless on a bench, which will be shown publicly for the first time since 1965. Crippa hopes the exhibition offers viewers a chance “to reconnect more deeply with what truly makes us human.”

Paz Errázuriz, Evelyn, La Palmera, Santiago (detail), 1983, from the series Adam’s Apple

Paz Errázuriz, Evelyn, La Palmera, Santiago (detail), 1983, from the series Adam’s Apple.

At the Barbican Art Gallery, Another Kind of Life brings together twenty photographers from the 1950s to the present who have documented people on the fringes of society. Curator Alona Pardo says: “Some of the most compelling images of the 20th century have originated on the margins.” These include the cross-dressing regulars of Casa Susanna in 1950s New York and Nigerian “hyena men” captured by Pieter Hugo in 2013. Many are challenging, such as Paz Errázuriz’s portrayal of life under the Pinochet regime in Chile, but ultimately, Pardo explains, the show is “an absolute celebration of the plurality and the complexity of the world in which we live.”

All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life, Tate Britain, 28 February–27 August.
Another Kind of Life: Photography on the Margins, Barbican Art Gallery, 28 February–27 May.

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