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Francis Bacon: Five Decades

Francis Bacon: Five Decades
Nov 23rd 2012 | Jake Millar
November seems to be a good month for the Art Gallery Of NSW. Last year it was the mammoth Picasso exhibition, former director Edmund Capon's parting gift to art-hungry Sydneysiders, and now it seems Christmas has come early once again with the opening of Francis Bacon: five decades.

Although 20 years have passed since the great British artist's death, this is the first major exhibition of Bacon's work in Australia. But if something's worth doing, it's worth doing well, and the effort put into this event is pretty impressive – the 50-plus paintings on display were sourced from some 37 galleries and collections around the world, including New York's MoMA and the Tate London.

As the title suggests, the show covers half a century of Bacon's artistic output, from his breakthrough as an artist in the 1940s to his Screaming Popes of the 1950s – perhaps his best-known works – through to the '60s and '70s, which were dominated by portraits and, later, memorials to his lover George Dyer, who died in 1971. It's rounded off by the haunting, mythological works of Bacon's '80s period.

Chronological exhibitions don't always work, but in this case it's a clever move on the part of curator Anthony Bond, as is inclusion of archive material from the artist's London studio – a fantastic mess of books and paints and canvases – which gives viewers the chance to see inspiration become artworks. It's a valuable insight into a man who, like his work, was at once familiar and obscure.

Until Sunday 24 February, Art Gallery Of NSW

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