The show is called “Francis Bacon and Henry Moore” with the subtitle “Terror and Beauty”, opening at the AGO on April 5th and running until July 20th.
As a Torontonian I have a relationship with Henry Moore, the sculptor & painter whose work already blesses a gallery at AGO as well as” Three Way Piece No. 2″ aka The Archer.
I’d been brought up in the presence of abstract art by a mother who’d studied art and taken us to see shows such as “Picasso and Man”. Some of Moore’s works are more abstract than others, but there are definitely some that are representational.
An artist friend showed him to me –that is, examples of his art in books and on posters—back in the 1970s. He clearly admired Bacon, who surely influenced him more than any other artist. Oh yes, when I think of it, most of his work at the time seemed to aim for the same kinds of effects. I believe art schools were impacted by Bacon—whether in students imitating or desperately trying not to imitate—in much the same way students at conservatories were influenced by great composers such as Richard Wagner. No wonder his paintings sell for lots of money.
I was surprised when I saw that AGO would have a show combining the two. I didn’t see the connection, and I’d thought of them as very different artists. Yet the more I thought about it, the more sense it made even in the most superficial terms.
- Bacon’s figures have expressive faces
- Moore’s figures are archetypes with no faces
- Bacon gives us unbearable intensity, white-hot
- Moore gives us coolness
- Both artists create works of all sizes, but especially some big pieces
Were they in some sense complementary opposites, who belong in the same show after all? I think so. Now of course painters or people aren’t mere abstractions even if we may sometimes toss them around in conversation as though they were just that. How can any people or artists be opposites? I suppose what I am thinking of is the way we see it in families, where one sibling is quiet and the other loud, or one is a good boy while the other is the black sheep, and all along there are profound similarities underlying everything.
That’s one reason why shows like this one are so important, taking you past superficialities like the ones with which I began this piece, and encouraging deep questions. If there’s a family relationship to observe, perhaps it comes from seeing a pair of artists presented in context, as survivors of the Second World War, particularly the blitz in London.
The show is guest curated by Dan Adler, associate professor of art history at York University.
Adler puts a third artist alongside the two painters, namely photographer Bill Brandt, whose images from the blitz powerfully frame the work of the two painters.
The show is a big surprise to me. These two painters who I think of as contrasting have much more in common than I ever knew. Adler sets up juxtapositions by putting works on similar themes side by side. For example, a painting by Bacon with marching figures who seem to salute a giant tooth (or that’s what it says on the card), mutely echoes Moore’s nuclear power meditation; that white shape is also an avatar of power, nuclear or otherwise.
One of the miracles of the show is the way the two artists work together. I felt crowded at times, as though an energy field from one painter’s work were colliding with the energies of the other distinct artist. I orbited the room, surprised at how energized this group of media seemed to be. There are points of contact in their subject matter –for instance in the concrete fact of how materials are assembled—even though their approaches seem diametrically opposed to me.
But they are brothers in pain, the one showing a muted and archetypal response, where the other’s responses are unrestrained and painfully individual.