British artist Lucian Freud is represented in the exhibition by two very fine paintings. Head of a naked girl 1999 is a searingly intimate close-up portrait, while Double portrait 1988-90 depicts a woman lying with a hound. As Freud has said, ‘I paint people not because of what they are like, not exactly in spite of what they are like, but how they happen to be.’
Based in Dusseldorf, Andreas Gursky’s 99 cent 1999 has become an iconic image in contemporary photography. This large-scale image of the interior of a discount store in America is one of largesse and the excess of consumerism. While Gursky’s images seem purely documentary he digitally manipulates them, adding to the sense of the unreal. According to Village Voice critic Jerry Saltz, ‘he’s one of the few photographers that could make a moviemaker jealous.’
Damien Hirst, one of the highest profile contemporary British artists, is represented with a large painting of coloured dots on a white ground. Titled Albumin, Human, Glycated 1992, it is from his series of randomly arranged spot paintings with titles that refer to pharmaceuticals. Hirst has described this series as happy paintings, and yet that joy has a chemical reference; accordingly they appear decorative but could be disorientating, and so complement his neatly arranged boxes of medications on pristine surgical shelves, which can be either life-saving cure or deadly poison.
Roy Lichtenstein, prominent among pop artists, erased the boundaries between high and low, art and commerce in sophisticated and daring ways. His trademark use of the bold visual language of comic books, especially with a scaled-up, reproduced-in-a magazine look, can be seen in this big oil on canvas painting (244 by 203 cm), of a suburban interior titled Post Visual 1993.
Yasumasa Morimura’s photographs explore the dialogue between photography, drawing and painting in relation to famous historical paintings. Daughter of art history (Princess B) 1989 is based on one of Velasquez’s last paintings and in Angels descending a staircase 1991, Morimura has depicted himself as the angels in Edward Burne-Jones’ enigmatic painting The golden stairs 1880. ‘I don’t do my painting on a canvas,’ explains Morimura, ‘I do my painting on my face.’
Gerhard Richter is one of the great painters of his generation. Born in 1932 (within four years of Andy Warhol), Richter is also a virtuoso and a chameleon who trades in multiple styles. He can move from deadpan photo-based hyperrealism to hazy landscapes to abstraction as an image. Helen was painted in 1963, transcribed by the artist from a photograph to oil and graphite on canvas and conveys the bittersweet quality of an old photo – as if we were just a smudge of duration.
American pop artist Andy Warhol changed the course of art history. Blurring the boundaries between high and low, art and commerce, pop art was about ‘liking things’. Money, fame, power, and above all death, were Warhol’s themes. His portrait of Joseph Beuys is from 1984. Colour and paint-handling adds mood to the negative image of the iconic face of the great German artist with mood.