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the master on the master

Post #252 • April 7, 2004, 6:49 AM • 8 Comments

The best art critic alive reviews the best painter alive: Robert Hughes on Lucian Freud for the Guardian. (Via Fallon & Rosof.)

At 81, Freud is so much younger than any of the Britart dreck installed on the other side of the Thames: younger than Damien Hirst's slowly rotting shark in its tank of murky formalin; weirder than David Falconer's Vermin Death Star, which is composed of thousands of cast-metal rats; and about a hundred times sexier than Tracey Emin's stale icon of sluttish housekeeping, her much-reproduced bed. His work is supremely tough, ruthless even. But it has none of the facile emotional posturing that appeals to the kind of institutional adman's taste, the bratty cynicism and quick-fix sensationalism that pervades the Saatchi collection.




April 7, 2004, 5:23 PM

Now THIS is strong, solid, full-blooded, first-rate criticism. It doesn't matter who's the greatest in the world; that's beside the point. The point, at least mine, is that there's no criticism even remotely close to this quality locally, though I'm sure that's true for most places. THIS kind of review is what I dream about getting on a regular basis (not that I'm holding my breath). After reading this review, I felt like YES, this is it, this is the real thing. Like smokers say they feel after a great cigar.

I urge all who participated in and/or followed the recent thread on the state of art criticism to read the whole Hughes review via the link, if they haven't already. Just as a picture's worth a thousand words, or can be, so can such a concrete example be worth a thousand comments about art writing. The man is learned, articulate, passionate, opinionated, fearless and mighty convincing--certainly compelling. There's no dead weight or filler, no evasion or beating around the bush, no useless meandering or hazy philosophizing. It's all meat, red and juicy. Loved it.


Lucas R. Blanco

April 7, 2004, 6:31 PM

Enjoyed the article. Clearly the artists and critics in Miami have a long way to go. Those calling for everyone to put their money where their mouth is during the previous posts I believe, assume the false premise that their is lots of art worth criticizing in Miami. Freud is a diamond amidst a sea of cubic zirconium.


Michael Betancourt

April 8, 2004, 2:38 AM

I believe the premise of Franklin's post was (a) that the critics were not being sufficiently critical and (b) there needed to be an open forum for such critical writing, whatever the perceived quality of art shown in Miami might be.

Like I said earlier, I am tired of hearing these complaints. If you believe the art to be so terrible, then write a review somewhere. There's plenty of places.



April 8, 2004, 2:53 AM

As Lucas points out, the stronger the work in question, the stronger and deeper the critical response it's likely to evoke. Even given ample print space, most critics probably wouldn't be inclined (or inspired to) deliver a review of this level for work they found negligible. So yes, it helps to have work one can really sink one's teeth into. It also helps to have lots of experience, recognized stature and the confidence that comes with it.

I especially admired how Hughes pulled no punches in deflating a puffed-up big shot like Saatchi, how he made no concession to fashion, and how lucidly and thoroughly he communicated his response to the show in particular and his view of the artist in general. His engagement with his subject and the boldness of approach--calling it as he sees it as if he couldn't imagine doing otherwise--were quite striking. Even if one doesn't necessarily agree with him, there's no hint of BS: the guy has to be taken seriously because he IS serious, and he means business.



April 8, 2004, 5:38 AM

Lucas, Jack, et al (including, often, Franklin) ~

Are you listening to yourselves? Here's what I hear:

Stravinsky. There was a guy who could put together a tune. All these "jazz" musicians are dilinquents who think because lots of people like their noise it is great. They will be forgotten by history.

Sillful figurative painting can be impresive. But if you take that as evidence that contemporary "conceptual" work is without merit, then at least admit to yourselves that you're the guy in the quote above.



April 8, 2004, 5:58 AM

Not exactly. Science fiction author John Brunner put it best: "There are two kinds of fool. One says, 'This is old, and therefore good.' And one says, 'This is new, and therefore better.'"

The existence of skillful figurative work is no evidence whatsoever that conceptual work is without merit. I generally like skill in all styles, but often I am happily surprised by an effective use of clumsiness, or something else altogether. There's no telling, and I'll go look at anything.

But Freud is still the best painter alive.



April 8, 2004, 6:33 AM

Alesh, I will only speak for myself, but you've evidently misread me. I neither said nor implied anything about the relative merits of figurative vs. conceptual work. I was talking about the quality of the Hughes review as such, as an exemplary piece of art criticism, apart from the nature of the specific work being reviewed. You missed my point.


John Link

April 21, 2004, 4:24 AM

Franklin said "But Freud is still the best painter alive". The chance that this is true is slim. Same as the chance that " _____ (fill in the blank with anyone you like) is the best painter alive" would be true. Why is it that we humans (myself included) are drawn to statements like this, like moths to a flame?

I'll go further than messing with probabilities. Freud may not even be a great painter. Nah, further than that even. He is not a great painter. But a glorious painter, yes, yes, and yes ... as glorious as he is not great. And definitely younger than Damien Hurst - a clever statement but one that ought to be so obvious to anyone serious that it need not be said.

If art is to continue, and I'm not sure it will, it must continue without heros. Bang bang. They would all be shot if any were alive.



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