PRINT March 1994

Frayed Fraud

MY INITIAL REACTION TO the exhibition “Lucian Freud: Recent Work,” at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art this winter, was an almost visceral repugnance. It was a malaise brought on by a combination of undistinguished painting and bad faith, tricked out with surely the most ostentatious hype ever lavished on a living artist: a veritable “blizzard of blague,” to borrow the words of Hilton Kramer, a critic whose words I do not borrow often. As I revisited the show, it became clear that Freud’s achievement rests on a traditional and complacent belle peinture—not even so beautiful at that, but often dull and muddy—deployed in the service of a trendy imagery of apparent sexual subversiveness. I say “apparent” because at no time does Freud ever challenge the most banal clichés of class, age, and gender, or call into question the stereotypes that keep them in place. On the contrary: the exhibition

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