The most powerful museum show I saw last year — or, for that matter, for decades — was the Francis Bacon retrospective at Tate Britain in London. From there it traveled to the Prado and now it’s finally coming to the U.S. On May 20 it makes its third and final stop at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
Bacon was one of the favorites of the art market that just collapsed. One of his triptychs sold last year for $86 million and so on. But unlike the hundreds of overvalued players in that extended low comic episode, he will always be a name to be reckoned with. Money has nothing to do with his value. Some artists simply validate art itself. Bacon was one of those. He demonstrated the continuing authority and ingenuity of paint as a way of reaching to places where no other medium — not books, not movies, not music — can go. He didn’t make it easy. What he was good at were emblems of loathing and despair, wretched creatures in abject moments, seen in the full light of day and without sentiment. This isn’t the only way to make great art — it’s certainly not the road Matisse went down, or, most of the time, Picasso — but as we sort out the 20th century it’s becoming more and more obvious that Bacon is one of the greats.
I don’t have space to say everything I want to say about him here, but this is what I said in Time this week.