The exhibition of Mr Bacon’s work, which will open this Saturday, includes a warning sign on the door stating “this exhibition contains adult content”. The sign is included even though, an art expert argues, Western audiences are already desensitised to nude figures, and the warning may even be contributing to sexism in the art world.
Over 40 artworks by the infamously dark artist have been brought together for the Francis Bacon: Man and Beast exhibition.
The exhibition also includes a final canvas which is being displayed in the UK for the first time, and it is understood that the Royal Academy themselves decided the works warranted the warning.
While the exhibition does contain nudity, the Royal Academy of Arts is no stranger to such paintings, and they have not felt the need to warn visitors of the content in the rest of the gallery.
The content of the exhibition was reviewed, and the cautionary note was added to alert art lovers and Francis Bacon fans to the violent or potentially disturbing concepts either suggested in the paintings themselves, or referred to in display information.
The works included in the exhibition feature a series of nudes, including two male figures on a bed.
There are also many distorted and bestial human forms, images of crucifixion, and quadrupedal creatures that appear to be in agony.
Notes in the exhibition space state that Bacon’s intention was to “unlock the valves of feeling and return the onlooker to life more violently”, and his work is described as suggesting “a disintegration of civilised humanity”.
While Mr Bacon’s work is doubtlessly dark, the warnings have been criticised by art experts who point out that mere metres away from it are artworks packed with nudity, such as Sebastiono Ricci’s “Diana and her Nymphs Bathing” and “The Triumph of Galatea.”
These works have no content warnings.
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Ruth Millington, art historian and author of Muse, said: “This trigger warning is not only over the top, but oppressive and somewhat infuriating, given current contexts.
“Aren’t Western audiences already desensitised to naked bodies?
“We see them everywhere: adverts, influencers’ Instagram accounts, and, of course, pornography, which is readily accessible at the click of a button.
“We also see countless nude bodies inside museums worldwide.
“Just like interpretative wall panels in an exhibition, museums’ trigger warnings act as a framing lens, leading the viewer to feel that they are gazing upon disturbing content which requires censorship.
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“But it is these warnings that should be used with caution.”
Ms Millington added that historically, people may be more comfortable with female nudity in art, unlike Mr Bacon’s depiction of the male form.
She added that “art history is steeped in sexism”.
The Royal Academy of Arts stated that content warnings have been used before for exhibitions on Tracey Emin and Edvard Munch, with warnings allowing visitors the option of finding out more about the contents of galleries and making informed choices about what they wish to see.