The Easel

19th June 2018

Egon Schiele’s God of Desire

Schiele’s works still shock. They exude a sense of angst that somehow prevails over the eroticism and nudity. “Klimt [Schiele’s mentor] suffused his pictures with the heady, aphrodisiac perfume of fin de siècle Vienna, while Schiele scraped the era’s fecal underside.” More and more, says the writer, history’s judgement is appreciating the latter. More images are here.

In Iranian art show at LACMA, the past wrestles with the present

A big show in LA seeks to introduce the art of Iran. A key idea is that Iranian visual arts have always merged historical and modern imagery. “By evoking the past, Iranian artists create new visual metaphors to describe their present day.” Fine. But if you are not an expert, and without explanatory wall texts, grumbles the reviewer, many pieces are ”insular and unengaging”.

Ed Ruscha Still Has Plenty More to Say About America

Appreciative bio piece on the American artist who is currently enjoying a high-profile year. His reputation rests on an ability to pinpoint commonplace words or objects that are more than they seem. ““I like any attention given to something that doesn’t require attention” … He showed me a recent work with the phrase MOP UP ON AISLE TWO. “I heard this in a department store””.

Tomma Abts @ Serpentine Sackler Gallery

Tomma Abst’s paintings – abstract, with just a hint of representation – have brought her acclaim and a Turner Prize. Modest in size, they are pure combinations of colour and line. Or, in the writer’s words, “[each] a distinct and powerful colour world … an image of nothing but the creative process itself.” A good video (3 min) of the artist is here.

Make America decay again – Thomas Cole and Ed Ruscha review

Cole’s five paintings, The Courses of Empire, are a highlight of 19th century American art. They depict the rise and fall of a grand empire, telling a story of transience. In the same exhibition is a contemporary homage to these works by Ed Ruscha. “The doomed empire Cole imagined inevitably looks like the USA … Ruscha [has] a colder eye. [He] shrugs and walks on”.

John Elderfield with Phong Bui

Reflections on Cézanne as a portraitist. These works were his own initiative – rather than commissions – where he was trying to work through ideas and issues. “There is a point at which you feel some works just got away from him. But I do not think that Cézanne was in pursuit of perfection. It was rather a pursuit of order, which acknowledged the existence of the unordered.”

12th June 2018

Giacometti: Beguiled by Thin Men and Women

Great though Giacometti’s ‘surrealist’ sculptures were, he was drawn back to the ““thrill and the anxiety” of figuration.” The reviewer finds optimism in these later, gaunt figures. That’s a surprise. A more common view is, as put by another writer “If existentialism was a brand, a Giacometti stick figure would be on the T-shirt”.

Amid surging interest in black artists, Art Institute spotlights Charles White

The linked piece gives a nice overview of a Chicago retrospective of White’s career but much the better accounting of this under-recognised artist comes in Kerry James Marshall’s poetic homage to his mentor. “His most accomplished drawings achieve true perfection. The effect is dazzling … nobody else has drawn the black body with more elegance and authority”

Restless Violet Shadows

What made the Impressionists so distinctive? Many things, but what upset their critics the most was their use of violet. Violet differentiated, which was welcome. More importantly, though, they were changing “landscapes into lightscapes”, painting the air between painter and object. ““I have finally discovered the true color of the atmosphere,” [boasted] Manet “It is violet.””

At Age 84, Living Legend Sam Gilliam Is Enjoying His Greatest Renaissance Yet

A retrospective in Basel is just the latest in a rush of recognition for Gilliam. After making an impact early in his career, Gilliam’s profile slipped in the absence of gallery representation. Displays at Tate and the Venice Biennale have changed that. A gallerist admits, perhaps a touch defensively, “there’s a cycle … it’s hard to be the focus of everyone’s attention incessantly.”

‘Made in L.A. 2018’: Why the Hammer biennial is the right show for disturbing times

There is sometimes not a lot to say about biennales. The eponymous biennial in Los Angeles is a little different in its diversity and focus on emerging artists. Rather than revealing a characteristic LA style (“72 suburbs in search of a city”, notes one writer) it provides a cross-section of current artistic practices and preoccupations. More detail on some artists is here.

Prized Possessions: Dutch Masterpieces from National Trust Houses at the Holburne Museum, Bath

Having expelled the (Catholic) Spanish, seventeenth century Holland was keen on non-traditional, secular paintings. The Dutch Golden Age resulted, rightly celebrated in this show. It is also a celebration of the million object collection of England’s National Trust, an astonishing inheritance from the era of the grand country house.

Giuseppe Penone, Sculpture Park review: these trees really are worth hugging

Not everyone loves this show. Penone has a preoccupation, trees. In his view, they eloquently express the work of time. Some like the works presented but not the above reviewer. “When his weighty philosophical inferences don’t quite connect with the subject they can feel ponderous … [pieces] of rather corny ecological illustration”.