The Easel

19th September 2017

The Beauty of Ugly Painting

A paean for disruptive art. Dadaists attacked beauty as a “boring sort of perfection” and many famous names embraced this view. Does the art market prefers inoffensive art? Perhaps, but major institutions seem to be embracing the new and ugly. Hence, today’s ugly might just be tomorrow’s ‘wild and daring’. Or, as the writer notes: “to achieve harmony in bad taste is the height of elegance”.

America—What’s in a Name?

Los Angeles’ has a big Latino population but cares little for Latin American art. The Getty has responded with Pacific Standard Time, a “mammoth” initiative focused on Latino and Latin American art. An “undeveloped” market is not helping, says a curator: “It is only when the collecting community gets involved in a particular type of art that museums can really engage in a meaningful way,” Some local press is here.

Object lessons: Rachel Whiteread and the legacy of the Young British Artists

London’s “YBA’s” – of which Whiteread was a peripheral member – brought a blast of new ideas. Has her early promise been fulfilled? Whiteread’s reputation has benefitted because, atypically, her work is quiet – it carries “the imprint of anonymous lives.  She is a somewhat limited artist … But in refining her technique, she also refines the expressive possibilities of her work … a still-life artist whose work commemorates Everyman”

Camera Obscura

It’s impossible not to be fascinated by Vivian Meier. Working as a nanny paid the bills but her secret preoccupation was street photography, for which she had “magisterial gifts”. Meier made numerous images but printed relatively few. Those she did scarcely overlap with those that have brought posthumous fame. A biography fills in some blanks but she remains a “particularly vivid … ghost”. Multiple images are here.

Vase to Vase

Bernard Leach is often called the “father” of British studio pottery. But by extolling the humble domestic pot he inadvertently introduced the craft / art distinction that has plagued ceramics. A major survey show suggests this argument is now losing relevance as ceramics break out of “the specialized craft gallery context and [come] into the larger world of art”. An excellent overview of British ceramics is here.

The Art of Space Art

An apposite essay in a week when the Cassini spacecraft is no more. Space art thrives, seemingly unconstrained by the flow of factual deep space images. “Humans have always been able to imagine more for ourselves than we can achieve, and this idealism lends a touch of heartache to space art. We can picture the world that could exist, the lives we could be having.”

China’s 8 Brokens

Bapo painting became popular with China’s emerging middle class in the nineteenth century. With its hyper-realistic style – radically different from traditional Chinese painting – and coded allusions, it was more witty than scholarly. Bapo also provided a platform for coded dissent at the presence of Western occupying forces. Forgotten after 1949 it is now being rediscovered by curators and collectors.

12th September 2017

Kara Walker’s New Show Was a Sensation Before It Even Opened

Kara Walker’s art focuses on racism and misogyny. So, in the uproar over Charlottesville and its aftermath, her latest show was bound to be controversial. And it certainly is that. “Walker’s work is a reminder that good art may be confrontational, but it is never didactic; rather, it holds a mirror up to life and demands only that you see what you see in that reflection.”

The Outside-In Art of Grayson Perry

“Popularity,” says Perry “is a serious business.” Via his art and associated media activity, he has become a popular – and astute – social commentator on contemporary Britain. So why does he irk some critics? Is it art world anxiety that popularity denotes a lack of seriousness? Or is it that Perry, a potter, wants to show that “craft is also “art,” and that it belongs to us all.”  More images are here.

Seurat to Riley at Compton Verney

Op art was popular in the 1960’s but these days is passé. This review mounts a defence. This show “is a genuinely independent display of curatorial thinking. And I cannot tell you what a relief it is to encounter it. [Pop art is] the artistic equivalent of having an ice cream on a sunny day. The art world … needs to stop obsessing about identity and to place some renewed trust in its eyes.”

Clothes That Don’t Need You

How much do fashion and art overlap? In the case of Rei Kawakubo, founder of Comme des Garçons, quite a lot. “This is the stylist’s art taken to a whole new, one wants to say philosophical, level. Draping, wrapping, clustering, layering, stacking, scattering, and scaffolding—all the verbs of Postminimalist sculpture have their counterparts in the techniques of the needle trades.” Multiple images are here.

Zero Gravity

The Rauschenberg retrospective, now in New York, is reviewed in the context of the 1950’s New York art scene. Art for the abstract expressionists was about portraying their inner impulses. Rauschenberg, however, “was interested in making art out of the disparate and impersonal matter of everyday life, the castoffs of commodity culture. He wanted his work to express, not himself, but the strange new world around him.”

From Maize to Museum: The Long-Awaited Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa Aims to Let the Continent Tell Its Own Story

Africa gets its first world class museum of contemporary African art. Unreserved celebration? Well, not quite. Is it appropriate that such an institution be based in South Africa? Does it matter that the drivers of this project are white males? Can one institution capture what it means to be African? All good questions – but at least now those interested in African art won’t have to go to Europe. A background video is here.

Giovanni da Rimini: A 14th-Century Masterpiece Unveiled

We take perspective for granted but it only appeared in painting around 1400. Before that Byzantine iconography was the dominant style – no sense of depth, figures without a sense of volume or genuine emotion. Around 1300 Giotto broke with this tradition by painting from real life and Giovanni followed suit. But, progressive and talented though Florence was, it took another century before realism was fully mastered.