Luhring Augustine Chelsea
October 31, 2020 – February 20, 2021
All images: © Frank Auerbach; Courtesy Marlborough Fine Art, London and Luhring Augustine, New York
A landmark exhibition of Frank Auerbach at Luhring Augustine brings together a stellar selection of his landscapes and portraits spanning from 1978-2018. It is his first exhibition at this scale in New York since 2006. The artist is turning ninety this year and arguably is one of the most acclaimed living artists. He continues the lineage and legacy of Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, both of whom he knew well and had an intense connection with. In today’s time-stressed and media-savvy paradigm, Auerbach is clearly perceived as a breathing link with the glorious past of painting, a fact he most certainly does not pay much attention to.
His generation understood artists’ duty in different terms, not related to accolades and attention economy, but rooted in their own ideals that they tried to realize through their respective mediums. Not to say that attention was not powered back then and that artists, being humans, always wanted more of that. Yet, for Auerbach spending years in his studio in Mornington Crescent, London since 1954, working ten hours a day even now, life has a different mission. Being an archetypal reclusive artist, he upholds the purity and selfless purpose of art. If he works undisturbed in his studio, the rest of the art world could happily socialize at art fairs, because art at large has meaning only if selfless creation continues to exist. People like him do help to counterbalance the commodification of art and its infrastructures.
When one looks at the intensity and sublime vigor of these almost sculptural, impasto, works what comes to mind is a trite quote from Michelangelo who was supposedly looking for figures already existing in the marble slabs he chose. Likewise, Auerbach is using his immense sense of compositional unity and balance to mark down what is already there, merely transcribing his seemingly chaotic, but purposeful swaths of thick color as blueprints of the world. And the world materializes in front of our eyes, as though by its own accord.
In a way, his fragmentized landscapes and faces are homages to his younger years spent amongst the post-war ruins of Europe. Born in Berlin in 1931, Auerbach was then sent to London at age of seven, while his parents perished at a concentration camp. Gravity and dismemberment found a consistent, almost symbolic, place in his works on view. His landscapes show the city as though London is a vast geometric project, a scheme of lines and angles Auerbach puts together enlivened with spontaneous brushstrokes. He uses the medium to preserve the surrounding reality, the places and people with whom he spends countless hours during his legendary sittings.
The fact that his sittings for portraits, in some cases, last for years resulting in fifty or sixty renderings of the same face adds to his legend, but also testifies to his consistency and relentless unwillingness to compromise. Linear dynamics of Auerbach’s landscapes and humans are full of vigor, life, and motion. They pulsate with blood and oxygen. Something that is almost therapeutic to see after one year of semi-digital reality.