European & American Art Contemporary
The major works in this space are Francis Bacon’s magnificent triptych, Chuck Close’s photo-realist portrait Bob, and Colin McCahon’s Victory over death 2. Neo-Expressionist paintings from Europe are included, as well as more contemporary works. After a period in which abstraction was foremost—and conceptual art, performance and site-specific work dominated—painting again achieves its prominence as painters reinvent figurative art.
In Georg Baselitz’s ‘fracture painting’, parts of three woodcutters and their dog are shown amid pieces of sawn timber, making a dramatic statement on art after WWII. McCahon’s unstretched canvas makes a grand statement of another kind, with the size and graphic force of a billboard. Close’s and Bacon’s paintings both show the impact of photography—Bob is a passport-style photograph but greatly enlarged, while Bacon used Muybridge’s photographs of wrestlers for his triptych. Philip Guston painted figurative works such as Bad habits after several decades in which he had become known for his delicate painterly abstraction.
From 1982 Willem de Kooning adopted a white ground and emptied out all but the essentials of painting. The colours and gestural language of Gerhard Ritcher’s Juno produce different associations, from a computer-animated virtual reality to a Utopian vision of tropical vegetation. By painting on velvet Julian Schnabel achieves dramatic effects with intensely-saturated blue oil paint and white gesso. The theatre of Lucian Freud’s canvas is played out on a monumental stage, rendered with thick, fleshy paint and a rich palate of browns, gold and white.