Soutine/ Bacon

Soutine/ Bacon

May 2 – June 18, 2011
Helly Nahmad Gallery
975 Madison Avenue

Soutine/ Bacon, organized by former LACMA curator Maurice Tuchman and Esti Dunow, at Helly Nahmad Gallery adds to the elite list of museum quality exhibitions visible in New York this spring.

Complementing Gagosian’s blockbuster Picasso and Marie-Thérèse L'Amour Fou downtown, Nahmad draws attention away from Chelsea and the realm of contemporary to something quite original within the greater discourse of Modern masters. Soutine and Bacon’s subject matter relates quite clearly from an aesthetic perspective, most notably through the prominence of wildly expressive distortions, but only now has this thoughtful analogy been examined in a gallery context. Beyond the admittedly disturbing heightened tones of bloodied remains, fragments of animals, lovers, and the self, the artists’ own temperaments suggest startling similarities that become increasingly clear as the exhibition wears on.

Chaim Soutine (1893-1943), a Belarusian painter of Jewish descent, developed a style that prioritized the role of color and texture over visually accurate representation. Soutine’s practice, somewhat difficult to situate historically, seems more modern than his Expressionist peers but preserves the tradition of figuration, never delving into pure abstraction. Paintings of animate carcasses heavily layered with thick, oily paint evoke feelings of pain and desperation at moments while others thrust the viewer into the thick of a swirling tempest or the depths of howling forests. The savagery of life reigns supreme in each of the works selected for exhibition.

Soutine’s “Brace of Pheasants” (1926) incorporates two presumably dead fowl, one plucked and bloody, the other dark and largely intact, dangling from a nonexistent strand against a murky yellow backdrop. Juxtaposed with the left panel of a Bacon Triptych from ‘81, this curatorial arrangement exposes equally dismal outlooks on love and death. Bacon’s perspective remains uncomfortably clandestine as the chicken that bears an eerie resemblance to a heart hangs constrained by a glass prism while Soutine’s birds appear despondent, especially against the nauseating backdrop. Not disgust, but rather sorrow blindsides the viewer as if neither the artist nor his subject ever really had a chance.

Bacon (1909-1992), an angsty and temperamental Brit, eschewed lifelike representation in favor of psychological projections, often isolating an individual figure or entity in its most vulnerable state. Like Soutine’s flayed animals, Bacon’s ravaged figures appear mangled or constrained to a point of physical agony and by implication, psychological disturbance. His whipped, rapid strokes conjure up a sense of speed and immediacy within the images that simulate the inside of a neurotic or deranged mind. Intimate portraits such as “Triptych: Three Studies of George Dyer ”(1969) present quintessential Bacon.

In this harrowing series, Bacon outlines the profile of his lover with thin stripes of black paint and utilizes elongated dashes of white to create an almost skeletal feel. Bacon captures the shell of a man two years away from suicide, somehow deteriorating before his eyes. Dyer’s sparse, slicked back hair and angular features emphasize the same motion captured with the concurrent brush strokes. The only flaw might be that it’s too slick.

An arrangement of works hung on the second floor relate to earlier examples by Van Gogh. In “Cagnes, Landscape with Trees” (c. 1923-24), Soutine fixates on a singular tree in the middle of a quaint, dark neighborhood. The dashed, circular strokes are reminiscent of Van Gogh’s “Mulberry Tree” painted in Saint-Rémy during October of 1889 while the tonal structure of the painting bears stricter resemblance to some of Munch’s darker genre scenes. Bacon’s “Study for a Portrait by Van Gogh IV” (1957) harkens back to Millet’s original image but relates to Soutine’s disfigured portraits of downtrodden souls. This haunting interpretation contains an almost toxic palette of heightened colors surrounding an aching journeyman, crippled over traversing a suburban landscape. The figure, rendered in black, forsakes the path ahead in favor of the crosshatched, reddened earth. The atmospheres conjured in both pictures feel strained and cold. To both artists, the world remains an unforgiving and hostile place.

Despite the lack of critical attention, Nahmad’s tremendous clout within the art world and seemingly endless inventory have afforded them the opportunity to secure truly remarkable loans from both museums and important private collections. While the fully illustrated catalogue provides a thoughtful argument and demonstration of Soutine’s influence on Bacon specifically, the nature of that relationship remains somewhat indeterminable and open to conjecture. However, the exhibition succeeds in a broader scope by asserting that Soutine’s influence on subsequent generations remains too widely underrecognized. The fact that several of the most prominent artists of the 20th century, from De Kooning to Dubuffet, rose to prowess by, in part, prioritizing elements of Soutine’s practice is evidence enough.

Bacon postulated that as a student of circumstance, he learned from all sensory experience and that this awareness informed his painted works. Soutine never seemed to make such profound nor general claims, allowing his paintings to speak for themselves. While Bacon typically draws tremendous attention, and rightfully so, for once he is out done by an equally unusual and inventive artist. Even when put in conversation with some of Bacon’s premier works, Soutine rises to the occasion and the strength of his hand becomes increasingly clear. 

Kunsthaus Zurich... the Nahmad Collection and more

Note: this post was started earlier in the evening… and finished after dinner later in the evening…night.


I’m in Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich. It’s only 6:30 pm, but it seems I did a lot of stuff today, everything for my own pleasure… I’m glad I managed to wake up very early, compared to my standards, at 9 am! this taking into consideration that I fell asleep somewhere around 4 am.

For now I’ll skip the first part of the day, but later I’ll write about it a few words, cause it was also good :)

So, the second part of the day, around 3 hours and a half I spent in the Zurich Kunsthaus (Zurich Art Museum).

Starting October 15 until January 15 it is hosting the Nahmad collection!
“The more than 100 pictures that feature in this exhibition belong not to an individual but to the Nahmad family, who are second-generation, international art dealers based mainly in Monaco.”

“The Nahmad Collection is on show for a short time only, and only in the Kunsthaus Zürich. And the works by Monet, Matisse, Picasso and Miró just have to be seen.” Besides the mentioned guys, there are some others, like Leger, Gris, Kandinsky, Chirico, Ernst, Magritte…

For a bit more information - the exhibition page. 

Cool article: Zurich’s Kunsthaus was bound to rock the art establishment when it invited the notorious Nahmad dealers to exhibit. The museum’s director stands by his decision.

You are not allowed to take pictures of the exhibition (as usual)… thus I took just a few, until I was told that I’m not allowed… then I took some pictures of the permanent collection (again, with the plates).


Some time ahead I planned to visit the exhibition mid December, because October and November were pretty busy for me, free time activities - wise… and then end December until mid January I won’t be in Zurich. Yesterday evening I decided that today should be perfect.

Since it is Saturday, the museum was pretty crowded… for 15,50 francs (that is around 13 eur) a student can get in (exhibition and the rest of the museum)…

Again, more old people than young… anyway the number of young people… most of them couples, was considerably bigger than the last time I was at a modern art museum (Louisiana Museum of Modern Art).

With the entrance fee came the audio guide, a nice thing, surely it takes longer to get through the museum with an audio guide… but no doubt it is much more informative, sometimes the information was useful and interesting… other times, too “poetic”, like critics’ interpretation of the painting, school like analysis.

I listened to everything with regard to the Nahmad Collection, but skipped a lot of stuff from the permanent collection… I decided I should go there some other time, when there will be another temporary exhibition… then I’ll go again through the permanent one, because it is a fairly rich one.

In fact, the permanent collection has pretty many impressionism paintings… a movement which I really like.

(this Monet is from the Nahmad Collection)

Some post-impressionism… :)

There are also middle ages paintings… which I cannot stand :) but I liked this one

Some surrealism, cubism, abstractionism, Dadaism… I love 20th century art (most of the names from Nahmad Collection are also present in the permanent collection, but fewer pieces).

Today I understood that I love Miró!

and some Kandinsky

Between going through the Nahmad Collection and the permanent one… I had a cappuccino in the museum cafe/hall and read a bit more about the Nahmad “guys”… really impressive… so many economic terms in a leaflet you get in an art museum… market, investor, strategies, dealers, commercial and so on.

Drinking my cappuccino I was thinking how fascinating …art has its own kind of mafia, corruption etc. :) I would not mind working in this business :))

And while absorbing the exhibition… I understood that I have feelings (not opinions) for some pieces of art. Well, I have visited quite a few art museum before, but maybe I was not realizing that I have the feelings… or the feelings come with the age or after consuming (visually) a sufficient quantity of art :) I don’t know, but I would definitely love to have a house with some of those paintings… I am sure that looking at them every day would make me happier :))

And among these and other thoughts…there were the ones concerning the art scene in Moldova :) which is pretty much inexistent (especially compared to what I’ve seen today or in Denmark or other countries).

One thing is sure, at home I would not be able to wake up and say – I wanna go and look at some Monet or Miró – and then go and look at them in a few hours.

p.s.: I recommend people that live in Zurich and haven’t seen the exhibition to go and do so… and a tip - one can get a Zurich Card at the tourist center (train station) for 20 francs / 24 hours or 40 francs / 72 hours - go to as many museums as you can… and there are some :)

p.p.s.: I do write a lot.

Picasso à Monaco

Jusqu'au 15 Septembre, l'exposition “Picasso dans la collection Nahmad”, avec 116 tableaux et dessins de Pablo Picasso sera organisée au Grimaldi Forum de Monaco. Mise à part la collection Nahmad, le Grimaldi Forum présentera la “Picasso Côte d'Azur”, consacrée, comme son intitulé l'indique, aux années que Picasso passa sur la Côte d'Azur à partir de 1920.