It’s a spectacle that brings old-timey nouns to mind: brouhaha, hubbub, hullabaloo. The rather sudden and mysterious appearance of Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucien Freud
at the Portland Art Museum has engendered tireless (and tiresome) speculation about who owns the astronomically priced triptych. But purely as an art object, does the piece live up to all the Sturm und Drang? In a word, no. Despite its art-historical and economic significance, it’s a pretty drab, flat exercise in basic psychological portraiture. Bacon sits his friend Freud down in a simple stool in a loose, crass pose. Bacon renders his subject’s body with illustrator-like simplicity and depicts his face in the grotesque contours that were Bacon’s stock and store. He places the stool within a receded cube, a bed frame at its endpoint, before a mustard yellow background. Bacon and Freud fans will no doubt relish the chance to see this relic of the influential painters’ complex dynamic, but viewers with tastes running toward more purely optical pleasures will likely leave underwhelmed. The work’s visual symbolism is simplistic, and Bacon’s flashy technique, which once held genuine shock value, now comes across as sophomoric and tame. Jan. 1-March 30.
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