Lucian Freud, Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, 1995 oil on canvas, 59 5/8 x 86 inches

Lucian Freud’s distinctive brush stroke and muted palette are extolled for the powerful visualization of texture. Yet, meticulous representation, or rebuilding – if one is looking for the most accurate linguistic rendering of Freud’s painting process – of the surface of a human body and its environs is but a part of Freud’s project. What Freud seems to be after is an interrogation of corporeality’s limits and its interplay with the space that is defined by bodily presence. His work is informed by the inquiry into the properties of the body as human’s most immediate yet most misused and misunderstood shelter and the interpretive potential of the paint as a tool for its depiction.

WHAT: Lucian Freud: Monumental
WHERE: Acquavella Galleries, 18 E. 79TH ST, NYC
WHEN: APRIL 5 – MAY 24, 2019

One is tempted to draw a familial parallel with the work of his legendary grandfather. Whereas Sigmund Freud’s obsessive interrogation is limited to an exegesis of the inner workings of the human psyche, Lucian Freud has applied his to an astute representation of its physical aspects.

Lucian Freud, Large Interior, Notting Hill, 1998, oil on canvas, 84 3/4 x 66 1/2 inches

‘I want the paint [to] work as flesh,’ the artist famously said, and indeed, the experience of his portraits is voyeuristically absorbing while at the same time intellectually engaging. One feels the gravitational pull of his portraits instantly. As I entered the first room of Acquavella Galleries in Manhattan’s Upper East side, it took just a few steps before it landed me, mesmerized, in front of Freud’s Large Interior, Notting Hill. Captivation I experienced cannot be ascribed just to the baffling effect of the naked male body depicted while nursing an infant.

The confusion is a result of a chance – David Dawson, Freud’s longtime studio assistant, friend, and curator of the current show, had replaced Jerry Hall, its original sitter who, after a few weeks of vigorous sitting, repeatedly failed to show up. But it is an aura of trusting intimacy and authenticity that emanates from this and all of his portraits – a direct result of Freud’s painterly interrogation of his models – that is responsible for the engrossing effect of his work.

Acquavella’s show is dedicated to Freud’s portraits done during the last two decades of his life (the artist died in 2011) and comprises 13 paintings. Most of the works are nudes, done, from a standing position, with large and coarse brushes characteristic of his later style, and in close proximity to the sitter. The high viewpoints emphasize the voluminous properties of the body but also give psychological weight to inanimate objects at the boundaries of its presence.

While Freud’s works are analytical, they are neither clinical nor cold. They are intimate but not sentimental or crass. His portraits are akin to gentle but scrupulous descriptions. While most of the portrayed subjects on view are naked, they are strangely at ease at the height of their vulnerability. In contrast to the intellectual astuteness of Freud’s work, the vulnerability of his subjects becomes all more striking. The effect is compounded at the close range of the gallery space to a piercing and overwhelming degree.

A must-see – on view until May 26, 2019.