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Francis Bacon auctioned painting sets new record May 15, 2008

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Triptych had been in private hands since it was bought at auction in 1977 > A Francis Bacon masterpiece has broken the artist’s record at auction after selling for $86.3m (£43m) in New York.

The sale of Triptych (1976) beat the previous record of £27m paid for Study For Innocent X. The piece was sold at Sotheby’s by a private collector from Europe who had owned the work since it was first exhibited in Paris in 1977. Bacon used Ancient Greek legends as inspiration for the painting, which depicts disfigured human faces.

Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s London deputy director for contemporary art, described the work as a “totemic triptych”. “It created an overnight sensation when it was first exhibited in Paris in 1976,” he said. “It showed Bacon working in a new way. It is a watershed painting which sees him moving beyond personal grief on to a more universal scale. Bacon was heavily influenced by Greek tragedies where personal stories relate to grander, universal issues. He saw the large format triptych as the greatest vehicle for artistic vision and this work sees Bacon achieve a new level of complexity.”

Irish-born Bacon, one of the most prominent contemporary artists of his era, died from a heart attack in Madrid in 1992.

Related Links > http://www.sothebys.com


Uproar over spectacle of death May 2, 2008

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The prize winning artist Gregor Schneider, enfant terrible of the German cultural scene, is looking for a volunteer who is willing to die for his – that is, Mr Schneider’s – art.

He wants someone whose dying hours will be spent in an art gallery with the public admiring the way the light plays on the flesh of a person gasping for the last breath.

Politicians and curators are in a state of uproar about Mr Schneider’s plans. The 39-year-old artist has been concerned with death for much of his career. He gained critical acclaim for a sculpture, Hannelore Reuen, of a dead woman. He has been hatching his current idea since 1996, and now has a sympathetic pathologist and art collector to help to find a candidate who wants to become a work of art in the final days of his or her life.

Death is commonly seen as the last taboo, but artists have been trying hard to demystify it. The Schneider project, however, seems to have gone too far. It is being compared with watching executions in the United States. The influential gallery owner Beatrix Kalwa spoke for many German curators who rule out the idea of giving space to Mr Schneider’s artistic endeavour. “Existential matters like death, birth or the act of reproduction do not belong in a museum,” she said. “There is a fundamental difference between portraying these acts in an art form, and showing them in actuality.”

The head of the German hospice foundation that provides care for the terminally ill, Eugen Brysch, said: “This is pure voyeurism and makes a mockery of those who are dying.” But Mr Schneider, who feigned his own death as part of an exhibition in Germany in 2000, argues that death is already undignified and that his aim is to restore its grace.

Linda McCartney’s photos on display at London gallery May 2, 2008

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An exhibition of Linda McCartney’s photographs, hand-picked by her husband, will be put on display as of April 25 at the James Hyman Gallery in west London.

The prints show the range of the late photographer’s career, which was overshadowed by the fame of her husband, former Beatle Paul McCartney. Featured photos include iconic portraits of John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Janis Joplin, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. But the display also intends to show her range, with family photos of Paul McCartney and their children, as well as landscapes and interiors. Reporters were given a preview of the collection on April 22.

Linda McCartney was a professional photographer before she met Paul McCartney, but her career changed once she settled down, gallery owner James Hyman said. “I’d say she was a very strong photographer, and part of what we’ve done here is we’ve tried to show the range of her work – that it’s not just pictures of rock stars in the ’60s, which she’s most famous for,” Hyman said.

One of the most poignant images exhibited is a self-portrait she took in painter Francis Bacon’s studio when she was receiving chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer, Hyman said. The photograph reflects death, showing an empty couch, a bust of British poet William Blake and McCartney’s reflection in a broken mirror. “We tried to be as true to what she wanted as possible,” Hyman said. “That it’s the paper that she liked, the platinum which she liked and the print studio that she used.”

The display has taken three years to come together since Hyman approached Paul McCartney with the idea. There are 25 prints of 28 photographs on sale. Prices start at 4,800 pounds ($9,500; 6,000 euros) each. The exhibition coincides with the 10-year anniversary of McCartney’s death in 1998 at the age of 56. The McCartney family held a private opening at the gallery on the evening of April 23. The exhibition opens to the public on April 25.

World’s oldest oil paintings in Afghanistan May 2, 2008

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Scientists said on April 22 they have proved the world’s first ever oil paintings were in caves near two destroyed giant statues of Buddha in Afghanistan, hundreds of years before oil paint was used in Europe.

Samples from paintings, dating from the 7th century AD, were taken from caves behind two statues of Buddha in Bamiyan blown up as un-Islamic by Afghanistan’s hardline Taliban in 2001. Scientists discovered paintings in 12 of the 50 caves were created using oil paints, possibly from walnut or poppy, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in France said on its Web site on April 22.

“This is the earliest clear example of oil paintings in the world, although drying oils were already used by ancient Romans and Egyptians, but only as medicines and cosmetics,” said Yoko Taniguchi, leader of the team of scientists.

It was not until the 13th century that oil was added to paints in Europe and oil paint was not widely used in Europe till the early 15th century. Bamiyan was once a thriving Buddhist centre where monks lived in a series of caves carved into the cliffs by the two statues. The cave paintings were probably the work of artists travelling along the Silk Road, the ancient trade route between China, across Central Asia to the West and show scenes of Buddhas in vermilion robes and mythical creatures, the ESRF said.

Afghanistan’s Taliban government used dozens of explosive charges to bring down the two 6th century giant Buddhas in March 2001, saying the statues were un-Islamic. Later in the same year, US-led and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban government after it refused to give up al Qaeda leaders behind the September 11 attacks. Now work is underway to try restore the biggest of the two statues, once the tallest standing Buddha in the world, but the mammoth task could take a decade to complete.

Prado opens ‘disturbing’ Goya show May 2, 2008

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It’s not a show for the squeamish or faint-hearted. In its main spring event, Spain’s Prado Museum unveiled an exhibition on April 14 featuring some 200 paintings and drawings by Spanish master Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes, including many depicting in unnerving detail the horrors man is capable of unleashing.

“It’s an exhibition to be seen, but it’s not one to have a good time at,” said Jose Manuel Mantilla, the museum’s drawings and engravings chief. “One comes away from it distressed.” Titled Goya in Times of War, the exhibit includes 90 paintings and more than 100 drawings and engravings from a 25-year period that spanned the changeover from the 18th to the 19th century.

The show is part of Spain’s 200th anniversary commemorations of the country’s war of independence following an invasion by Napoleon’s troops. “Art ought to show beauty, but it should also make us reflect,” said Mantilla.

The centrepiece of the exhibition features two large-scale masterworks, the second and third of May 1808 paintings, specially restored for the show. They depict a gruesome revolt against French forces in Madrid and the chilling reprisal by Napoleon’s troops the day after.

“It’s a disturbing exhibition that leaves little room for optimism,” said the show’s curator, Manuela Mena. The show concentrates on Goya’s work after 1793, when a near-fatal illness left the artist deaf. “He came out of the sickness renewed and started to painting differently. He was searching for independence and liberty,” she said.

During this time he evolves from official Spanish court painter to an independent artist blessed with a critical eye and an exceptional talent for realism, offering an intense insight into the nature of man. In it, he alternates from exuberant portraits of royalty in all their finery – such as the family portrait of Carlos IV – to dozens of paperback-book-size drawings and etchings of Disasters of War, Bullfighting and Follies, series with ironic captions depicting the cruelty, stupidities and vices of Goya’s contemporaries. Many of the works show scenes of bloody and torturous beatings and slayings, bodies piled up in heaps and people fleeing in terror.

The exhibit displays works from the troubled decades covering the French revolution, the Napoleonic Wars and the ensuing treaties that brought an end to the Ancien Regime in France and ushered in modern Europe. Organisers point out that in many ways Goya was a privileged witness, something of a pictorial war reporter. But he broke with a style fashionable up to his time of eulogising war and instead highlighted its barbarity.

“It is the artistic diary of Goya in one of the most turbulent periods of Spanish history,” said Prado director Miguel Zugaza. For curator Mena, the show should help put an end to the myth that Goya was mad. “The work we have before us could not come from a person not in possession of all his faculties,” she said. “The madness was not inside Goya, but outside him.”