The Easel

6th December 2017

In Rome, Vogue’s Hamish Bowles Investigates the Work of a Baroque Art Genius

Borghese Gallery has borrowed extensively to supplement its already formidable collection of Bernini’s work and create a “once-in-a-lifetime” survey. It’s a show brimming with “unimaginable treasures”, though none seem likely to outshine his sculptures. They are expressions of genius and quintessentially Baroque – dramatic, full of movement and emotional appeal. A video of the Apollo and Daphne sculpture (5 min) is here.

More Light!

Hockney’s very first show was a sellout and helped establish his reputation for bright colours and “debonair playfulness”.  As art world tastes shifted to the conceptual he has remained stylistically constant. His youthful work carried a quotient of “homosexual propaganda”, making a point to conservative Britain Now in his 80’s, he is “an apostle of niceness and kindness”. A promo video (2 min) is here.

Thinking Machines

Computers can be used as art-making tools and artists have been exploring this use for decades, in film, music and graphics as well as traditional image-making. The story of how art was influenced by computer capabilities is interesting. Perhaps more interesting is the way some artists, for example Vera Molnár, have experimented with computer-like logic independently of any hardware.

Exhibition review: Rose Wylie at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, W2

Art institutions continue to unearth underappreciated female artists. Returning to art after raising a family Wylie worked for decades “all but unrecognized”. Now, a flurry of prizes, membership of the Royal Academy of Arts and solo exhibitions. “Wylie’s canvases work like some high-culture equivalent of Snapchat … [and] approach today’s image-drenched world in a way that feels current and relevant.”

The Truth about ‘Cultural Appropriation’

Did Matisse and Picasso rip off African art when they copied tribal face masks? Did the Beatles rip off musical ideas from Blind Willie Johnson? Should artists seek permission before creating such works? But permission from whom – and, anyway, don’t all artists borrow ideas? “Nobody owns a culture, but everyone inhabits one (or several), and in inhabiting a culture, one finds the tools for reaching out to other cultures.”

Show captures splendor of Viennese designers

Fin de siècle Vienna could boast not only Freud and Klimt but also illustrious designers. The Wiener Werkstätte produced exquisite objects but only in tiny qualities. Profitability was not its strong point. Its experiment with an artist collective was more promising and led to an even more illustrious name in twentieth century design – Bauhaus.  Some images are here.

Remembering the Playful, Hopeful, Pictures of Malick Sidibé

The story goes that Sidibé was invited to parties because his camera had a flash. 1960’s Mali was newly independent and looking to the future. This optimism is perfectly reflected in his dance party images, “the people of post-colonial Bamako affirming their identities and proudly asserting their modernity”. Sidibé, who was eventually widely honoured for his work, died last year.

28th November 2017

Michelangelo’s Majestic Humanity

No superlative seems too lofty for this show, which has been eight years in the making. One critic gushes “we’re seeing an artist stop and start, reconciling deep inner urges, his own probably thwarted homosexuality, surging religiosity, and pride all mixed with a classicism now filled with elemental unconscious, id, asymmetry, and imbalance. Nothing like it had existed on Earth before.”  More images are here.

Anni Albers: Picking Up the Thread

Albers has slipped from prominence. Is it because she was a weaver, or was it gender bias? She was the first textile artist to receive a retrospective from MoMA. But that was 1949 when Bauhaus credentials were contemporary. A Bilbao exhibition is a “rediscovery”, revealing that her work “has the precision and grace of a Bach fugue: themes sounded and reconfigured, echoes, repetitions, and variations, all assembled with élan and poise.”

Thomas Ruff at the Whitechapel Gallery

Ruff is one of a group of German artists (the “Dusseldorf school”) who are highly influential in fine art photography. His early interest in close-up portraits has shifted to a focus on manipulating digital images – subverting the adage that ‘the camera never lies’. “[T]his is photography boldly going where no photography has gone before.” An excellent backgrounder on Ruff is here.

The Comedic Beauty of Laura Owens’s Work

Laura Owens’s show at the Whitney is notable. Firstly she is not well known. Further the accolade is being directed to a woman artist. Notwithstanding her use of fun colours and an eclectic feminine style Owens is being recognised as an important artist. “This smart, beautiful exhibition [shows] that painting can be renewed in ways we haven’t seen before … [and the artist is not] among the usual white male suspects”.

The economics of ridiculously expensive art

The art world is still reverberating from last week’s Salvator Mundi auction result. What comes next? The linked piece, a perfectly sensible analysis of art pricing, suggests that average pieces of art are not always a great investment. However, a noted art market writer thinks “incredibly important” works may be driven by entirely different rules. “We will probably end up with ‘best of the best’ sales”- and more eye-watering prices.

Modigliani packs a powerful, emotional punch – Tate Modern, review

Modigliani’s graceful, sensual portraits are instantly recognizable. Are they truly innovative or simply romanticism with a modernist veneer? Did he do more than draw inspiration from contemporary greats – Brancusi, Picasso, Matisse? The doubts persist. “His entire art hangs on the brink of corniness, but you’re charmed into submission by paintings which … are very easy to enjoy.” More images are here.

The time is right for an Erté revival – a new hero for our gender-anxious times

The Paris International Exposition of 1925, showcased art deco and the decorative arts. By then Erte was a global tastemaker, via his cover illustrations for Harper’s Bazaar. And art deco allowed him to range widely – theatre, fashion, jewellery, homewares. Erte’s influence came through his drawings, which best revealed his métier – the romantic flights of fancy that underpin art deco’s enduring popularity. More images are here.