The Easel

12th February 2019

The Star of the Silken Screen

Warhol’s art. He thought “the true substance of photography is the shadow cast by and on its subject. This was the essence of his major innovation, which still reverberates today: the reciprocity between painting and printing. The sheer graphic power of the silkscreen image … confers on any subject a drama of light and shadow, an urgent aesthetic bounty grounded in the photographic now.”

“More famous than famous”: Michael Craig-Martin on the changing nature of “ordinariness”

Ordinary, says Craig-Martin, is more famous than famous. Hence, “a light bulb is more famous than Marilyn Monroe”. This realization led to his signature style – precise line drawings and sculptures of ubiquitous objects.  “My sculptures … aren’t sculptures of things, they’re sculptures of images of things. That play between my object and the reality is very interesting.” A good video (3 min) is here.

Julie Mehretu with Allie Biswas

Mehretu has travelled far – Addis Ababa born but now New York based. Urban imagery has inspired her paintings, “story maps of no location”. Some find her abstract expressionist style frenzied, a criticism also directed at Jackson Pollock. He insisted his works were planned and a reviewer of Mehretu’s show likewise finds structure in her work, describing it as “impressive and authentic”.

Will Gompertz reviews Jeff Koons at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford

It’s difficult to sit on the fence about Koons but one critic tries: “funny, weird, and surprisingly horrible to look at. I mean that in rather an admiring way.” Others seem to either dislike this show or dislike the show AND Koons. “What was once subversive has now become crass. The show starts brilliantly, but … fades into a tawdry and insipid display of very shiny but rather dull art.”

‘Rockefeller effect’ contributes to Christie’s £5.3bn record total in 2018

The forecast calamities of Brexit, Trump and slower global growth are not quite yet with us. Christie’s, the market’s largest auction house, has just announced colossal sales figures for 2018. Phillips, Christie’s smaller competitor, has also announced growth in its 2018 sales. As a further sign of bullishness, Christie’s has increased the fees it charges for most art sales.

The Secret Streets of Brassaï & Louis Stettner

Brassaï and Stettner both cut their artistic teeth on street photography but from there they diverged.  Brassaï avoided improvisation where he could, sometimes giving his images a “frozen” quality. Stettner, whom Brassaï mentored, was all spontaneity. His sympathetic images of New York commuters combine “theatrical composition and voyeuristic opportunism”.

Head and Shoulders above the Rest

Why should the “glorious” miniatures of an Elizabethan court painter be of interest to an audience broader than art historians? The answer in a “definitive” biography is that Hilliard not only helped define the English identity but also built a strong “European” reputation. For one writer Hilliard’s cosmopolitan outlook is apposite when confronting the “sad and disorienting effects of Brexit”.

5th February 2019

Robert Mapplethorpe was one of the most controversial artists of the ’80s. Now he looks entirely innocent.

A fine essay on Mapplethorpe’s art. “Was he an art-world dandy who used sexual imagery to boost his brand? Or was he using his exceptional technical skills to give pornography the sheen of high art? Neither was the case. [He saw] desire as inherently dignified and, as such, nothing to be confined to dark spaces or behind closed doors.”

The Exhibit That Painted Itself

John Cage sometimes put “indeterminate” sections in his music, inspiring his friend Steir to do the same in her art. Her works (“emphatically not abstract”) are not so much painted as poured and flicked, a result of “chance within limitations”. The writer thinks they are “gorgeous”: Steir says “In some way, the paintings paint themselves.” A video of Steir working (8 min) is here.

The Prado Museum, Spain’s cultural jewel, turns 200

The Prado has turned 200. It boasts a fabulous collection, especially of Old Masters, reflecting a national journey through monarchy, civil war and a still uneasy relationship with the Franco dictatorship. Many see an institution invigorated by the greater autonomy it now has to pursue its art history mandate. Says one proud local “the Prado represents the best image of Spain.”

Elisabeth Frink’s Human Bestiary

Anxieties about war didn’t show in Frink’s daily life but sure did in her art. Her 1960’s “goggle head” forms are noble but also sinister. The later Riace figures suggest “a warrior as the aggressor and a brutalized victim”. Immune to the emergence of abstract art around her, these natural forms were the perfect vehicle to express the “coexistence of empathy and dread in [her] moral imagination.”

Obituary: Susan Hiller, the artist of neglected memories

Half way through an anthropology doctorate, Hiller fled its “factuality” for “irrational, mysterious, numinous” art. Some suggest she believed in aliens. Not quite; she was fascinated by “the fact that people believed they were abducted by aliens.” In one work Hiller played back hundreds of such accounts, together, through tiny ceiling speakers – not facts but “a different kind of truth”.

Doing the Work: Carolina A. Miranda and Siddhartha Mitter in Conversation

A writer’s perspective on the art market and art criticism. Art fairs – “I just don’t think an art fair is a story.” The art market – “[combines] a speculative finance market as well as the traits of books and music”. The loss of small newspapers “What the alt weeklies did was community-building accountability journalism”. The internet – “has allowed this flood of new voices … I love the internet”.

The art of restoration: Artemisia Gentileschi, Rembrandt, Van Eyck and a new gallery trend

The puzzling non-appearance of Leonardo’s restored Salvator Mundi in its new Abu Dhabi home puts a spotlight on art restoration. Some old paintings have had a hard life and cleaning reveals that some of what is seen is not by the artist. Watching a painstaking restoration, sometimes now public, is “a new kind of art pleasure … [and] always tasty meat for the pigmented naysayer.”