"Ethics of Scrutiny, Curated by Daphne Wright”
“Freud Project: The Ethics of Scrutiny, Curated by Daphne Wright” at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (“IMMA") in Dublin is part of a five year project focusing on the work of Lucian Freud. IMMA has brought together 52 works by Freud, including 32 paintings, a number of which of which are on loan to IMMA from other collections. IMMA has dedicated its Garden Galleries, a separate building on the IMMA grounds, to the project.
Lucian Freud was born to a Jewish family in Berlin in 1922. His family left Germany in order to escape Nazi persecution and settled in Great Britain in 1933. Freud studied art in England before enlisting in the British merchant navy during World War II. After being invalided out of the service, he began a career as an artist, which lasted more than 60 years.
During the post war period, abstract art ruled the art establishment. Although Freud concentrated on figurative and representational works, he was able to become a successful artist.
Freud focused on portraits, often nude portraits. These were not pretty or flattering pictures. Rather, they were often stark and disturbing.
Painting from life, Freud would spend a great amount of time with his sitters. Indeed, he is estimated to have spent more than 2,000 hours on one picture. Typically, the sitter had to be present throughout the process even when Freud was working on backgrounds or other parts of the picture that normally do not require the sitter's presence. The object was for him to get to know the sitter.
For the same reason, after sketching the picture in charcoal, Freud would often begin by painting the face. When he felt he understood the sitter, he would proceed to the rest of the picture.
The end result of this intense scrutiny were often paintings that revealed the sitter's inner character and emotions such as vulnerability and isolation.
Accordingly, the focus of this exhibition is the relationship between the artist and the sitter, the way people look at each other.
The title of the exhibition states that it was curated by Daphne Wright. It is unusual to see a curator credited in an exhibition's title and so it raises questions about the role of a curator in an exhibition.
The curator's role is somewhat analogous to the role of an editor with regard to an article. The editor takes a work created by someone else and then organizes and adjusts it so that the work communicates its ideas more effectively. Similarly, a curator selects the works to be shown, organizes how they will be displayed and creates such things as signs and supporting materials so that the exhibition will communicate the artist(s)' ideas more effectively.
In the editing process, the editor injects some of his or her own ideas into the work just by deciding what will be included and what will be excised. Similarly, a curator's thinking is revealed in such tasks as deciding what will be included in the exhibition and how each work will be displayed. For example, the decision to hang a particular painting on a wall by itself rather than in among a group of other paintings affects the focus of an exhibition. So too, the words that are written in the signs and supporting materials reflect the curator's thinking about the works.
Usually, the editor's or curator's ideas remain secondary to those of the writer or artist and so the editor or curator remains behind the scenes. The credit that they receive is usually buried someplace few people read. However, at some point, the ideas they inject can become so primary and center stage that it is appropriate to call the editor a co-author or as in this exhibition, give the curator credit in the exhibition's title.
Here, Ms. Wright has included a number of works by artists other than Freud. They are not necessarily contemporaries of Freud or necessarily artists who have an artistic connection to Freud . (There are a couple of paintings by the artist's grandfather Sigmund Freud, however). In addition, the exhibition includes poems by Emily Dickinson as well as audio and visual recordings by people other than Freud. These works seem to have been included in order to show how other artists handled the topics of the relationship between artist and sitter and how people look at one another. The curator is in effect saying to the viewer, I think these works are relevant and should be considered.
Inasmuch as this exhibition is part of IMMA's Freud Project, one would expect the inclusion of these works to help the viewer better understand Freud's work. They do not seem to be tailored to this task. However, on the broader topic of looking at one another, it was interesting to see the differing approaches of the various artists.
Above: The exhibition is being held in the Garden Galleries, a separate building at IMMA.
For more on travel to Ireland
Click here for our Ireland home page
Art review - Irish Museum of Modern Art - "Freud Project: The Ethics of Scrutiny, Curated by Daphne Wright”