A casual visitor, stopping by MOCA to see the permanent collection or a traveling exhibition, might be in for a surprise. Instead of the razzle dazzle of abstract art, which, as we know, dominated 20th century art, and not incidentally is the specialty of this museum, the unsuspecting visitor will find nothing of the kind in the traveling exhibition of British painter Lucian Freud. Gallery after gallery is filled with portraits of shabbily dressed or uncomfortably naked, glum-looking people lost in their thoughts. There are no society ladies in their elegant drawing rooms, no captains of industry exuding confidence. In one of Freud's early portraits, a man is standing indoors wearing an overcoat. The gray autumn light of a London afternoon fills the room. Next to the man is an oversized, unhappy-looking, potted plant, its drooping leaves turning brown or already dead. Shortly speaking, we are a million miles away from sunny California. Welcome to the existential doom in Europe following the war, which couldn't be further from the optimism in America during the Eisenhower era.-
In the opinion of many art connoisseurs, the 80 year-old artist, the grandson of Sigmund Freud, is one of the best painters of the 20th century and, hands down, the most original portrait painter of our time. His family emigrated from Germany to England in the early '30s when Lucian was only 10 years old. He went to a good, traditional art school. All of his adult life has been spent in London. But still, looking at the art of this most influential of British contemporary painters, I am thinking about the unique culture of "Mitel Europa" and Kafka, a Jewish writer living in Prague but writing in German. Looking at Lucian Freud's portraits of pensive-looking people slouching on old chairs or lying down on worn out couches and unmade beds, it's impossible not to think of the long shadow of his grandfather, Sigmund Freud, with his psychoanalyst's couch.-
None of the people painted by the artist are conventionally attractive, to put it mildly, and he never bothers to compliment them. The artist agrees to paint only people he knows well and obviously cares for. The portrait can take anywhere from weeks to months to complete, requiring almost as much dedication from the subject as from the artist. The small portrait of David Hockney, finished just before the opening of this exhibition, required him to sit for Freud for well over 100 hours . The finished portrait presents Hockney, not as we know him here in Southern California - eccentric, charming, easy-going - but as an aging, wise man deep in thought, staring intensely through us into another dimension.--
I cannot help feeling that Lucian Freud, with his gorgeous, irresistible paintings of all these grotesquely overweight or painfully thin men and women, has created a collective portrait of all of us, without the slightest trace of sentimentality. I have to admit to recognizing myself in all of these paintings. It befits the grandson of Sigmund Freud to turn his art into a grand psychoanalytic session of our time.
February 9 - May 25, 2003
MOCA at California Plaza
250 South Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012