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LOS ANGELES — “Art is a way back to reality,” Sigmund Freud once said, and it is a somber reality, at least where nudes and portraits by his grandson, artist Lucien Freud, are concerned.
About 110 of Freud’s watercolors, oils, etchings, charcoal and ink drawings are on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Los Angeles, in a show that opened to blockbuster crowds and runs through May 25. The exhibition first opened last year at the Tate Museum in London, followed by a stop at Fundacio Le Caixa in Barcelona. Yet those cities didn’t have the octogenarian’s latest work, the dark portrait of Angeleno David Hockney, who is said to have sat for 120 hours for his friend.
Art fans here are lining up to see the Hockney, hanging second to last after six decades of work chronologically organized according to the artist’s strict guidelines, but the show’s last portrait is of Freud himself, also realized in 2002 in his thickly layered manner.
Freud, frequently heralded as the greatest living realist painter, has said his work is “factual, not literal,” and certainly his subjects are presented warts, veiny flesh and all.
Unsettling? At times, since Freud’s aesthetic runs counter to the kind of flattering traditional to portraiture. The show’s catalog of biographical portraits includes Freud’s wonderfully corpulent nudes of Leigh Bowery and the lesser known pal he identifies as Benefits Supervisor. Clothed or not, his friends and family (including designing daughter Bella) who have sat patiently and long for Freud, undoubtedly know the score. Despite the show’s billing as a retrospective, Freud shows no signs of retiring.