Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Expensive Garbage: Portrait of George Dyer Talking, by Francis Bacon (1966)

So, today we look at another example of the lunacy of the current art market.  On Valentine’s Day this year, the above painting, Portrait of George Dyer Talking, by “artist” Francis Bacon (1909-1992) sold at Christie’s, London, for £42,194,500.  The seller was reported to be a Mexican financier, David Martinez Guzman, who bought the picture from a private collector five years ago for $12 million. 

Two thoughts, before going a bit into the history of this truly revolting picture.  First, I think we have to create a whole new terminology when talking about the “value” of art.  One yardstick of value is the price these things fetch – rubbish sold by hucksters, sharks and con men to blinkered, unthinking, rich and over-entitled dunderheads.  If we want to say that the Portrait of George Dryer Talking is “valuable” because it fetched such a high price, fine.  However, by any aesthetic yardstick, the picture is a ridiculous and mendacious piece of calculated chicanery, without anything to recommend it to anyone with even the slightest sense of beauty or taste.  In short, perhaps we need a new word for “value” to apply towards art that uplifts, instructs, is beautiful, comments on the human condition, and brings the viewer closer to a sense of the sublime, and leave “value” for expensive garbage of the type created by Bacon and peddled by corrupt auctioneers.

Second, the prices fetched for works by people such as Bacon and Damien Hirst (born 1965) and Tracey Emin (born 1963) indicate only one thing: that more and more members of the 1% have too much money and too little taste.  The prices realized for these pictures have nothing whatsoever to do with intrinsic merit, and everything to do with a rapacious art market that turns art into a commodity, and plays into the insecurities of collectors by convincing them that junk is art.  Sad times, indeed.

Above is the picture, along with a photo of the original model, George Dyer.  The story goes something like this:  in 1963 Dyer, a petty criminal and sneak thief, broke into a home in South Kensington.  The place was filled with canvas and paint and half-finished male nudes.  A man – painter Bacon – comes into the room and says, “you’ve got two choices.  I can call the police, or you can come to bed with me.”  Dyer chooses the latter – in the long run, he would have been safer in prison.

Bacon, an abusive drunk, became Dyer’s lover.  Dyer became Bacon’s muse.  Bacon spends years abusing Dyer horribly.  The two stayed together until Dyer committed suicide on October 24, 1971, two days before Bacon’s career-making retrospective at the Grand Palais.  By that time, Dyer himself had become an alcoholic, and suffered long-term depression.  He killed himself with alcohol and barbiturates in a room at the Paris Hotel where he reconciled with Bacon following a breakup.  He was only 36. 

Let’s take a look at this picture – Dyer sits in a bare, purple room with a blood-red carpet lit by a single light bulb.  One eye seems to be missing, almost as if it were gouged out of the skull.  The mouth is covered by gauze or bandaging; at any rate, as an avenue for speech, sound or nourishment, it has been rendered void. 

Dyer’s arms are fused before him, much as if he were in a straightjacket, his hands rendered invisible.  One leg knees upward, as if seeking release, but both legs fuse into an indeterminate swatch of color.  His legs have been rendered as useless as his eye and his hands and his mouth.  Papers of some kind litter the floor, but Dyer looks away from them, in fact, he seems to be trying to get away from them.

What images come to mind?  Prisons?  Abu Ghraib?  Mad houses?  Thoughts of torture, torment and humiliation?  Whatever comes through in this picture, Bacon’s smothering, suffocating influence on Dyer is perfectly clear, as well as Dyer’s anguish.

That such an ugly, decadent and anti-human picture can be considered a modern “masterpiece” is a telling and shameful indictment of us as a culture and as human beings.  That someone would invest £42,194,500 in it – even if the buyer himself thought it was rubbish – is an unpardonable offense to man and nature; much like investing in Nazis in 1933 because they look like a good bet.

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