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Controversy as Bacon’s paintings get content warning

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A member of staff looks at Francis Bacon’s work ‘Second Version of Triptych 1944’ at the Royal Academy of Arts. Photo: Jonathan Brady

A member of staff looks at Francis Bacon’s work ‘Second Version of Triptych 1944’ at the Royal Academy of Arts. Photo: Jonathan Brady

A member of staff looks at Francis Bacon’s work ‘Second Version of Triptych 1944’ at the Royal Academy of Arts. Photo: Jonathan Brady

A Francis Bacon exhibition has been given a content warning by the Royal Academy of Arts in London, with visitors cautioned about “adult” material.

More than 40 artworks by the Dublin-born painter, including a final canvas being displayed in the UK for the first time, have been brought together for the Francis Bacon: Man and Beast exhibition.

Visitors entering the gallery to see the artist’s distinctively dark works are greeted with a sign on the door stating: “This exhibition contains adult content.”

Although the exhibition contains nudity, the Royal Academy of Arts is replete with nudes that do not carry content warnings, and it is understood Bacon’s works warranted their own warning.

The content of the exhibition was carefully reviewed, and a cautionary note was added to alert art lovers to the violent or potentially disturbing concepts either suggested in the paintings themselves or referred to in the display information.

Bacon’s displayed works include a series of nudes along with characteristic distorted and bestial human forms, agonised quadrupedal creatures and bleak images of crucifixion.

Notes in the exhibition space state 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”.

The addition of warnings for his work has been criticised, with art experts noting that metres away from the Bacon show are the vast Sebastiano Ricci canvases Diana and her Nymphs Bathing and The Triumph of Galatea – both packed with nude figures – which do not have content warnings.

“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?” said art historian Ruth Millington.

“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.”

The Royal Academy of Arts said content warnings have been used before for Tracey Emin and Edvard Munch exhibitions, which allowed visitors to make informed choices.

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