Well, the story is simple, yet it remains, as for my current knowledge without a precedent in the contemporary art history. It goes like this:
At 7 Reece Mews in South Kensington, London; at the last floor in a shabby, industrial-looking building Francis Bacon has lived and worked for the last thirty years of his life (1961-1992). It was there, where a big chunk of his works of had been created – in solitude and in the ‘ordered chaos”, as he would call the towering pandemonium of his workshop.
John Edwards, the artist’s old companion became a heir of the space (and its contents) and after its main occupant’s sudden death, he has donated Bacon’s studio to the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Contemporary Art in Dublin. For three long years art historians and conservators, supported by archeologists were documenting, removing and reconstructing every inch of the room and every bit of dirt in the new ‘home’.
In May 2001 the studio was open to the public, drawing significant numbers of visitors – art students/researchers/admirers to the gallery. However, some bitter discussions and arguments has sustained for years over that ‘transplantation’ as London’s art world – never truly giving any credit to Bacon’s Irish roots (artist was born in Dublin, then moved to London in his teens) had to swallow a bitter pill indeed, after Edwards had decided against everyone’s expectations (of leaving the treasure where it was). Irony adds a grotesque element to the whole story – the perpetrator of the mess, the painter himself had nothing to do with all that phenomenon germinating as happily and unstoppably as the mould has been in his beloved studio. He remained loyal to it despite numerous offers of much better (objectively speaking) locations, and never truly concerned what will happen to it after he’s gone.
But, what is that phenomenon all about? Does it exist at all beyond the claustrophobic circle of Bacon’s fans and London-Dublin microcosm of the local politics? What is the matter – after all?
A relatively tiny attic space, gray and dark, with no widows except of a skylight. Its contents – beyond any description (hence photos). Treated with awe, respect and a sort of a silenced admiration which one adopts facing a great artwork. Is Bacon’s Studio an artwork on its own? There are many, who have never doubted it… If so – can a significant artwork be created without its creator’s conscious will, sometimes – even against it; as Bacon would ‘fight’ his chaos from time to time, removing a part of the mess? What sort of the methodological and aesthetic tools one needs to approach ‘an artwork’ of this kind? Questions just keep flowing raising some controversial issues on the nature of art, its very core/sense/meaning…
I remember seeing it at Hugh Lane, with a long, elegant corridor of a very well-behaved art decorating the walls leading to it – the contrast was almost sublime, yet – all the project of that post-mortem ‘repatriation’ seemed pointless to me, even cruel for some reason. Great artist’s spirit locked in a maze of his belongings was right there – mocking mercilessly all the ‘gentile’ surroundings, yet – paying an unfairly high price at the same time – the price of being the perfect stranger, the alien “Other”… Packed in a sterile cage of a gallery’s room like a bizarre gift and a trophy for the visitors – that intensely private (Bacon would never let anyone to enter this space, except the closest friends), and – must say – profoundly moving and in a deep sense beautiful room seemed like the loneliest, the most misunderstood space within the art-world. An amusing ‘freak-show’ for some, a perfect epitome of the genius-artist’s workshop for many…
What else can be said – would you ever consider a couple of your old socks, you’ve had used as wipes becoming a gallery/collection jewel?… would you ever give a thought, that your online ‘studio’ – your ‘e-space’ may look as madly creative, legendary and desired to ‘possess’ by dozens as 7 Reece Mews had been? Would you… this makes all the art-creating business even more interesting… Doesn’t it – after all?…
Both photos above of F. Bacon’s studio by Perry Ogden; scanned by me from 7 Reece Mews; Francis Bacon’s Studio, Thames and Hudson, London, 2001.