Milwaukee, With a Side of Bacon

Sunday, January 21, 2007

WHAT:"Francis Bacon: Paintings From the 1950s" at the Milwaukee Art Museum

WHEN: Jan. 27-April 15


WHY GO: Francis Bacon created some of the most enduring -- and gruesome -- images of the 20th century with his paintings of screaming popes, howling dogs and haunting figures. It all started in the 1950s.

"It's the decade in which he formulated his style," says Joseph Ketner, chief curator of the Milwaukee Art Museum. "It's at this point in time you can see the development . . . of this iconography, this pantheon of horrifying figures that have so captured our imaginations."

In post-World War II Europe, Bacon stood out in the art community by taking surrealism, the dominant art form of the time, and using it to express his own turmoil and the sense of devastation that Europeans faced in the wake of the war.

"He somehow, instinctually, welled up from the bowels of his subconscious these horrifying images that are uniquely his own," Ketner says.

The exhibit comprises nearly 50 paintings gathered from collections around the world. Curated by Michael Peppiatt, a close friend of Bacon's, the exhibit gives a first-person perspective on his emerging style.

DON'T MISS . . . "Figure With Meat" (1954), which is one in a series of Bacon's "Screaming Pope" paintings and depicts a papal figure sitting on a throne with two slabs of beef hanging behind him. It's one of the artist's iconic images.

Also look for 1957's "Study for Portrait of Van Gogh V," one of eight haunting paintings based on Vincent van Gogh's self-portrait. Ketner says Bacon, who died in 1992, viewed van Gogh as a "kindred spirit." With the eight-foot triptych "Three Studies for Portrait of John Edwards" (1984), Bacon depicts his former lover in a twisted and distorted manner; it's an attempt to capture the man's personality.

EXTRAS: Ketner will give gallery talks on Jan. 30, Feb. 20 and April 3, all at 1:30 p.m., dissecting Bacon and his paintings. Tickets will be sold on-site for same-day visits only. . . . Wear your favorite beret and black turtleneck for "Beatnik Beat" on March 2. The after-hours event, which starts at 5:30 p.m. in the museum's Windhover Hall, features a jazz performance by Jill Jensen and the Jack Grassel Trio; guided tours of the exhibit; free appetizers and a cash bar; and a screening of Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 classic film "Battleship Potemkin," which had major impact on the artist. For tickets ($10), call 414-224-3279 or visit the museum's Web site (see below).

EATS: The Museum Cafe, with floor-to-ceiling windows, offers a stunning view of Lake Michigan. Open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., the cafe offers plenty of German fare and is having a little (unavoidable?) fun with dishes prepared in honor of the exhibit's namesake. A bacon and green chili quiche is $7.95; a bacon, turkey and cheddar melt sandwich runs $8.95.

Sanford (1547 N. Jackson St., 414-276-9608), in a former grocery store, promises seasonally driven menu items; winter fare includes chargrilled loin of elk ($36) and sake-glazed black cod ($34). Gourmet magazine recently weighed in and ranked Sanford No. 40 in the country. On the more affordable side, there's Coquette Cafe (316 N. Milwaukee St., 414-291-2655), which has a French sensibility. The grilled hanger steak and coq au vin both cost under $20.

SLEEPS: The Pfister Hotel (424 E. Wisconsin Ave., 800-472-4403,, a century-old Milwaukee institution boasting its own Victorian art collection, offers a "Milwaukee Art Museum Package" for $259 a night double. The package includes two tickets to the museum, a bottle of wine, a $40 dining credit at one of the hotel restaurants, parking and an art collection book.

Hotel Metro (411 E. Mason St., 877-638-7620, is a European-style boutique hotel; like the Pfister, it's near the museum and offers an art lover's special. The Milwaukee Arts Package is $239 a night and includes two museum passes, a $20 certificate for the hotel's Metro Bar & Cafe, parking and a disposable camera.

INFO: The Milwaukee Art Museum is at 700 N. Art Museum Dr. Details: 414-224-3220,

-- John Maynard

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