Review: The Modern — Selections from the Permanent Collection

[Originally published in a different format in The Dallas Morning News]

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As the name suggests, The Modern in Fort Worth is featuring a show of works from its ongoing collection and, thus, it’s a veritable feast. Among the large array of the exhibition’s 97 stellar works, it’s impossible to resist the gravitational pull of Francis Bacon’s “Self-Portrait.” It exudes the artist’s signature dark-star pathos and sinister voluptuousness. The depicted figure is hunched and flares with such cumulative psychological torpor that it’s both mesmerizing and difficult to behold. It alone, as the saying goes, is worth the price of admission.

Bacon’s self-portraiture operates like a crucible and cooks up such emotional velocity and unmasked candor that it becomes nearly acoustic. “Self-Portrait” is no exception. It’s wounded and wounding and, thus, the shape of the body is offered up and branded with sufficient psychic pain to transform it into sheer spectacle — which, it should be admitted, is only recognizable because it’s also our own.

Thus, compared with Bacon’s work, Rothko’s “Light Cloud, Dark Cloud” is a veritable walk on the beach. It’s a ruddy exercise in scarlet and its attendant derivations and the piece operates with energetic resonance. In Rothko’s rectilinear cosmography, he uses a white streak in this work like a paired-up life raft. Perhaps the gauzy surface is intended to be a soothing bandage for the bloody stripe hovering above it. Who knows? As Rothko pointed out, “A painting is not a picture of an experience; it is an experience.” In this case, then, it’s also bloody good.

Hence, the work of both Bacon and Rothko become Rorschach tests that create space for poking around in our own noggins. It’s not for the faint of heart — however, that’s precisely what makes it so rewarding.

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