The Easel

18th July 2017

Andrew Wyeth and the artist’s fragile reputation

It is curious that a retrospective to mark the centenary of Andrew Wyeth’s birth is not travelling to a big east coast US city, despite its likely popularity. Clearly disagreements about Wyeth continue. This writer offers a truce. “I believe he fits into a larger tradition of modernist creativity that goes beyond the medium of painting. His influence … has been most important in poetry, literature and film making.”

Some Time: Richard Deacon at Antwerp’s Middleheim Museum

More a chatty piece than a review, but such is English coverage of art in Europe. Deacon is an eminent contemporary sculptor though he modestly calls himself a ‘fabricator’. He mostly works in everyday materials and leaves the construction details visible as if to emphasise that art objects are no more worthy than any other manmade objects: they all “link the human subject to the world at large”. An excellent video (5 min) is here.

Scared of the modern?

British art in the inter-war period was torn – hew to tradition or be adventurous and follow Paris? It leaned toward the former and now attracts the slightly frumpy tag of “realist”. Unfair? Perhaps not entirely. “There is a sense throughout this exhibition of the modern being at once scrupulously recorded and avoided … you do find yourself yearning for just a bit more modernist slap-dash and swagger.”

Breathing Colour by Hella Jongerius at the Design Museum, London

Despite the paint industry’s best efforts colours look different at different times of day. Are their ‘flat’ colour designs depriving us of the beautiful subtleties of colour?  “I’m not concerned with having the blackest black, I’m concerned with having the richest. It was only a few years ago that a dress went viral on Twitter due to people’s mixed opinions on whether it was “white and gold” or “black and blue”.”

The Encounter at the National Portrait Gallery: historical figures live in the moment

Before the fine details of the painting comes the sketch. Although a working device, drawings of the Renaissance have long had their own appeal. It’s not just the stellar artists – Holbein, Rembrandt and others – but also the spontaneity of the sketch. “It seems as if his eyes have swiveled in our direction only a split-second earlier. At a stroke … the nearly 500 years since Holbein made this drawing dissolve into nothing. Poof!”

The Female Nude is Triter Than Ever – Just Look at Anselm Kiefer

Anselm Kiefer is hugely famous, but is all his work good? Some paintings in his current New York get the requisite praise. But the above writer is irked by the nudes. “[I]t is, truly, a worn and bloated genre. If you are going to make a Female Nude in 2017, it better be in some way new, it better not simply participate in the same male gaze pseudo-eroticism that has dominated the art world ever since men could paint.”

The Pivotal Role That Women Have Played in Surrealism

A favourite object of male surrealists was the female nude. But some important surrealists were women and fantasy object was not exactly the job description they had in mind.  A London show portrays a century of female surrealist artists.  In a Lee Miller image, “in a riposte to Man Ray’s use of the female figure as a curious, beautiful object a breast is served up on a plate, like a dreadful loin of meat.”

11th July 2017

As in Nature and No Rules: Helen Frankenthaler Times Two at the Clark

After Jackson Pollock some wondered what was next. Frankenthaler’s “soak-stain” technique was one answer. It expanded the vocabulary of abstract painting and allowed her to combine organic effects and painted shapes. Her woodcut prints, perhaps less acclaimed than her paintings, are also innovative: “these woodcuts are astonishing … and challenge a conventional understanding of the medium” More images are here.

Dark enlightenment of Edvard Munch

Munch wrote “My whole life has been spent walking by the side of a bottomless chasm”. And don’t his paintings show it. Seeing van Gogh’s work in Paris, he understood how colour might help express his grand theme – the self as a battleground. Self-analysis was a theme of the coming century and it brought him some commercial success. But his art retained its angst. Increasingly he kept his works, and himself, to himself.

These Four Painters Won’t Be Ignored Any Longer

London’s Lisson Gallery made its name by championing unfashionable modern artists. Fifty years later, it is still at it. A new show gathers four such overlooked artists, eliciting the writer’s wholehearted approval. “One gets tired of seeing the same combinations repeatedly. It is like eating in a parody of a Chinese restaurant from the 1950s, where there is only one item in column A and one in column B.”

¡Viva modernismo! Houston, Dallas shows highlight Mexican art masterpieces

Less a review than a survey of the last 100 years of Mexican art. In the lead-up to WW2, Mexico was a focal point of international modernism. But after the war abstract expressionism grabbed all the attention. Interest is now returning and more artists are being recognized in addition to the perennial Rivera and Kahlo. Claims the writer – “the world’s love affair with Mexican art is burning hotter than it has in years.”

The Novelty and Excess of American Design During the Jazz Age

The Roaring Twenties was famously a period of excess. But it was also a time of design innovation. Germany’s Bauhaus, the 1925 Paris World Fair, and Holland’s De Stijl were focal points, redefining what it meant to be modern. The US contributed innovations in architecture, fashion and music. One critic observes “Despite nearly a century … no other design period speaks as directly to contemporary tastes.”

The Vatican Discovers New Paintings by Raphael Hidden in Plain Sight—Right on Its Walls

It must be tough for the Vatican to keep track of its treasures. Raphael, engaged to paint four of the papal apartments, (and fired up by a rivalry with Michelangelo) produced some of his greatest work. The project took decades and the largest and last room was thought to have been done well after his death. Apparently not. Restoration work has revealed that he actually did some of the work himself.