MAG exhibit offers disturbing views of human body

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Oct 25 2009

MAG exhibit offers disturbing views of human body

‘Paint Made Flesh’ is a brave, disturbing exhibit
Stuart Low ¢ Staff writer ¢ October 25, 2009

"Paint Made Flesh," an exhibit opening today at the Memorial Art
Gallery, is for adults even though few of its paintings are erotic.

It offers unflinching, often disturbing views of the human body by
leading modern artists such as Pablo Picasso, Lucian Freud, Julian
Schnabel and Willem de Kooning.

They work with skin and bone like master surgeons, wielding brushes
instead of scalpels. Yet the flesh they lay bare reveals more than
their own virtuoso touches. They use the body as a mirror for the
political and social upheavals of the 20th century.

"These artists are in a certain amount of pain," says Marie Via,
director of exhibitions. "After World War II, their paintings
reflected existential angst in all areas of daily life."

Many artists in the show survived the Holocaust, firebombings in World
War II and Vietnam, or devastating personal crises.

Sometimes these experiences are physically branded on the subjects.

Chicago artist Leon Golub paints two men fleeing a napalm attack,
their naked bodies deeply charred. A more shadowy despair inhabits
Francis Bacon’s Head in Grey. He scrapes and smears his paint until it
fades to a ghostlike pallor, creating a face with no identity.

Several paintings stop you in your tracks by their enormous size ‘ up
to 12 feet long, filling an entire wall. Schnabel constructs a
larger-than-life nude with paint and broken dinner plates. Her
shattered body, flanked by a crucifix-like telephone pole, may
symbolize the Armenian massacres of World War I.

Just as disturbing and brilliantly executed is Hyman Bloom’s close-up
view of an autopsy. Like many surrounding masterpieces, The Hull
(1952) is uncomfortably memorable.

It’s also typical of this exhibit in its fusion of fascination and horror.

The artists’ intricate, flamboyant styles demand close attention.
Their lurid subjects prompt you to look away.
Still, "Paint Made Flesh" is beautifully and spaciously presented.

You can view giant works from a considerable distance, making their
frantic brush strokes blend into a coherent design.
Or you can take an audio tour featuring voices of 12 local artists and
doctors who discuss the themes and medical conditions pictured.

The wall texts are informative and concise. But surprisingly for an
exhibit with this title, they omit details about painting techniques.
Art students will have to guess these magicians’ secrets.

It took a certain amount of courage to host this unsettling show, on
tour from Nashville’s Frist Center for the Visual Arts. Visitors who
can handle its visceral emotional impact will find its artistic power

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