For the fourth and final presentation of works from the V-A-C collection, Moscow, Turner Prize nominated artist James Richards has selected Francis Bacon’s Study for a Portrait (1953) which is currently on show at the Whitechapel Gallery until 30 August 2015. Richards has created an immersive sound work for the exhibition, which envelops the redesigned gallery space and Bacon’s powerful work sitting at its heart.
The V-A-C collection brings together a range of important art works including sculptures, paintings and photographs from leading, internationally recognised artists such as Francis Bacon, Liz Deschenes, Natalia Goncharova, Wade Guyton, Wassily Kandinsky, Lucy McKenzie, Amedeo Modigliani, Sigmar Polke to Gerhard Richter, Bridget Riley, Egon Schiele, Dayanita Singh and Christopher Wool.
This major work from the V-A-C collection by Francis Bacon depicts an unknown, suited man sitting on a grand chair evocative of the artist’s oft-used Papal throne, set against a midnight blue backdrop. One of the last works painted in his studio at the Royal College of Art, this unique work by the artist pre-dates his 1954 Man in Blue paintings. Unsurprisingly the work holds the usual gravitas of many of Bacon’s works. One might think that the artist’s ‘screams’ were loud enough not to need the addition of sound.
But Richards has composed his audio work as a direct response to Bacon, choosing to pick only one singular iconic work from the V-A-C, in an attempt to produce a highly impactful juxtaposition. The artist transforms the space through sound, what was the exhibition of a singular painting becomes the combination of image and audio transforming space into a sound installation encompassing the viewer. Richards describes his sound work as a ‘sonic filter’ for Bacon’s painting.
The artist who usually works in video substitutes his own images for Bacon’s, juxtaposing the iconic work with sounds from various sources, including late night radio and the artist’s own field recordings and musical arrangements, to create a suspenseful narrative journey through a series of audio cues expanding upon Bacon’s existing theatricality; the figure stares out at the viewer pregnant with a seeming anticipation as the composition of layered human voices and electronic rhythmic sounds plays through the multi-channel sound installation alluding to some unfolding drama.
Bacon would often conflate various visual sources; with the artist’s series of screaming popes, and the obvious connection to Velázquez, so to have a Bacon itself as a conflated source, and simultaneously a component of a larger work, is an affecting decision by Richards. It could be argued that this is in fact an almost Richard Prince-esque act of appropriation by the artist. That The presentation by Richards is in fact appropriation art.
Richards worked with a group of singers to create the soundscape – and they can be heard inhaling and pausing before breaking into song – speaking in tongues – creating an orchestral and ambient sound installation, which has operatic, and theatrical leitmotifs that build the already existing tension of Bacon’s classic painting creating an almost choral and liturgical atmosphere forming a unique visual and audio work, a third piece of art born of a juxtaposition across the decades.
Words: Paul Black, images courtesy of Whitechapel Gallery © Artlyst 2015
James Richards Selects From The V-A-C Collection – Whitechapel Gallery – until 30 Aug 2015