“Francis Bacon: Monaco and French Culture”, a major exhibition on one of the most essential post-war artists, opened earlier this month at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco. Curated by Martin Harrison, editor of the newly published Bacon catalogue raisonne, the exhibition is a must-see, not only for its curatorial focus that sheds light on an enigmatic period of Bacon’s life but also for the compelling, detailed and extravagant curatorial decisions. As viewers enter the windowless exhibition, they find themselves caught in a “Baconian” setting: dark rooms, purple velvet draperies, metal structures reminiscent of Bacon’s cages in which he incarcerated his figures, dramatic lighting; the exhibition is breathtaking. During our conversation, Catherine Alestchenkoff, the Cultural Director of the Grimaldi Forum talked about the making of the exhibition, Martin Harrison’s curatorial approach, the objective of their institution and the general Monaco art scene.
How did the exhibition on Francis Bacon come along?
In December 2013, Martin Harrison was working on Francis Bacon’s catalogue raisonne and meeting him at that time was a turning point. Dedicating an exhibition to Francis Bacon had always been one of our deepest wishes. When Martin Harrison agreed to curate a retrospective that would present a new angle on Francis Bacon’s work, we had to seize this opportunity.
Martin Harrison has dedicated more than ten years of his life to the works of Francis Bacon, collecting an exceptional documentation on each single painting, allowing him to acquire an in-depth understanding on the complexity of his work. As building up the exhibition took three years, the Grimaldi Forum has not only benefited from his expertise and sensitive approach to Bacon’s work but also his “network” which allowed the institution to gather more than sixty paintings mainly on loan from private collection. The other major asset to the exhibition was the strong bond that Francis Bacon had with Monaco, an attachment that was instituted in the principality with the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation, which opened in 2014. The foundation is a site for research aiming to unveil the life and works of Bacon during his years in Monaco.
Finally, Martin Harrison chose to reveal how Old and Modern Masters, influenced Bacon’s work. Influencers such as Leger, Lurcat, Soutine, Van Gogh ou Picasso, either French or tied to France, questioned and guided Bacon’s work in the 1930s. Although Bacon’s close relationship to France had never been questioned, that particular curatorial theme had never been subject to any large exhibition until today.
What was the curatorial approach?
Martin Harrison chose to present the works thematically, a perspective which places emphasis on Bacon’s own research: his influences, the human figure, Bacon and Monaco, his portraits as well as his most iconic works, the triptychs. With works ranging from 1930 to 1992, the year of his death, the exhibition offers an installation by resonance. For its scenography, the Grimaldi Forum explores notion of verticality and contrasts, and plays with different atmospheres, materials and colors – various effects that harmonize throughout the rooms of the exhibition.
What is the cultural objective of the Grimaldi Forum?
Since we opened in 2000, the exhibition program has focused on various subjects matter, from cultural heritage, modern artists’ retrospectives to Contemporary Art. Contrarily to museums, the Grimaldi Forum does not hold any permanent collection, allowing us to focus on different cultural themes. Although we risk to have an irregular audience from one exhibition to the next, having eclecticism within a cultural program is necessary. It is what ensures our mission to meet the cultural interest of different audiences and generations. Contemporary art has already been subject to an exhibition with Art Lovers in 2014 which presented a selection of works from one of the most important private collection in France, the Pinault Collection or “Extra large, œuvres monumentales du centre Pompidou à Monaco” which focused on works of large formats from the collection of Centre Pompidou. Exploring subjects linked to Contemporary Art means opening a cultural site that is receptive to our time, which places Monaco within the international art scene. The Principality even revisits its own heritage with a contemporary outlook: in 2014, for the exhibition on Pinault Collection, a piece by Urs Fischer was installed at the heart of the Prince Palace’s throne room.
The Principality’s commitment to artistic creation exists and takes a long-term view.
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