Exhibition of the week

Lucian Freud: The Painter’s Etchings

Lucian Freud:

The Painter’s Etchings

Museum of Modern Art, New York

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Through March 10

The painter grandson of Sigmund Freud cares less about searching for hidden meanings than about letting it all hang out, said Dan Bischoff in the Newark, N.J., Star-Ledger. Long considered Britain’s finest portraitist, the 85-year-old Freud painstakingly “builds his pictures by wattle, dewlap, wrinkle, and pucker, each adding a brushstroke to the one before, so that the image is like a great pile of clothes that threatens to topple over.” A new exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art brings together more than 20 Freud paintings from the past half-century, but its main attraction are nearly 70 etchings by the artist, many depicting the very same individuals as their subjects.

“You probably wouldn’t want to be immortalized by Lucian Freud,” said Ariella Budick in Newsday. The artist’s preoccupation with the physical flaws of his subjects frequently isn’t just an effort to reach for realism. Often his portraits tip over into the grotesque. “Wandering through this virtual freak show, it’s hard to know if this is how Freud really sees, or if some ineluctable hostility drives his brush.” His etchings are, if anything, even more stark, abstract, and cruel. “Freud has become a sucker for ugliness,” which seems to be part of the attraction of his work for many fans. But this relentless exaggeration of the negative limits him as an artist.

Freud isn’t really cruel, said Roberta Smith in The New York Times. He’s merely capturing the ruthlessness of time itself, “the cruelty of light,” and the burden that a human body can become. His paintings, almost all of which depict people he knows well, are “the painterly equivalent of tough love.” Flesh, bone, folds of skin: This is what age looks like. The etchings here are like X-rays of the paintings. “The best show us sides of the image, like scaffoldings that have been partly draped with nets—often hallucinatory patches of lines, gouges, hatching, and crosshatching.” And not all the works are relentlessly bleak. Three recent portraits of men, made since 2005, “suggest that something both softer and grander is creeping into” the art of this already acknowledged master.

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