The Easel

19th March 2019

You’ll Never Know Yourself: Bonnard and the Color of Memory

A very different view of Tate Modern’s show. Bonnard’s multiple portraits of his wife show that he constantly fiddled and changed his mind. Picasso diagnosed indecision. “Wrong … Bonnard, like many artists, was working to find himself and sort through his past … a form of therapy. [His wife] was Bonnard’s shifting projection of himself [and] color was Bonnard’s arbitrator of emotion.”

An encounter with John Richardson, Picasso’s biographer who has died at 95

Richardson was an intellectual aesthete, a “protean citizen of the art world”. His close friendship with Picasso led to an acclaimed biography, a “vast monument” to the artist.  “One of the problems is that whatever you say about him, the reverse is also true. The more I find, the more I dig, the greater he becomes.” A revealing excerpt, about Picasso and his first wife, is here.

‘A Black Aesthetic: A view of South African Artists (1970 -1990)’ A challenge to existing ideas of South African art history

Can a “landmark” exhibition change South Africa’s awareness of its own art? That’s the aspiration of a show of art made during the apartheid era. This ‘black aesthetic’ was distinctly modernist, mainly non-political, and still influences current South African art. “A cornerstone [show] for what art made by artists who are black … is all about.”

Only Human – Martin Parr review: Britain in focus, with a new Brexit twist

How timely – a show about Britishness, just as the Brexit debate peaks. The linked piece airs criticisms of Parr; a lover of kitch, satire lacking in compassion. Fellow artist Grayson Perry disagrees: this work “hovers uncomfortably between comedy and tragedy … humour bleeds through all these photographs, but also compassion … one of the foremost chroniclers of our times.”

Why Is Work by Female Artists Still Valued Less Than Work by Male Artists?

The second half of this piece has some interesting analysis. Works by women artists sell for about 38%(!) less than those by men. Multiple factors are at work. Women tend to work in lower priced media (works on paper), men in higher priced media (painting, sculpture). It seems that art by women has “different characteristics” to art by men. Oh … and perhaps there’s gender discrimination as well.

Cady Noland, MMK Frankfurt

Noland left the art world in 2000. In the absence of new works or interviews, she exists “mainly as a legend”. Now, suddenly, a survey show. Is it comeback or just contrariness? Whichever, it is a reminder of the potency of her bleak work. Her sculptures portray an America where “violence is synonymous with amusement … an openly exploitative society”.

Okwui Enwezor Has Died at Age 55, the Visionary Curator Broadened the Geographic Scope of the Contemporary Art World

Enwezor was regarded as a great among contemporary curators. Initially a poet, he switched to curating contemporary art and rose to the pinnacle of curation – the Venice Biennale. His exhibitions were distinguished by “aesthetic rigour” and a willingness to tackle art’s “persistent Euro- and Western-centrism … he created a revolution in curating contemporary art.”

12th March 2019

The Helmet Heads review – Henry Moore should never have gone near a chisel

An excoriating review. Moore’s fascination with armour led to a decades-long series of modernist heads. “The Helmet Heads are Moore’s answer to Bacon’s screaming popes. The trouble is, they have none of Bacon’s cruel genius. [They have] neither the immediacy of a photograph nor the imaginative impact of truly original art. Moore is always a few miles from life.”

The Female Power of Carolee Schneemann

Lady Gaga’s meat dress is but one indicator of Schneemann’s broad influence. Her pioneering body and performance art was criticized for its eroticism, a charge she rebutted by saying “sensuality [is] always confused with pornography”. Only in the last decade has recognition come from major galleries. Schneemann thought herself “a painter … using her naked body in lieu of the “phallic” brush”. A video (2 min) is here.

Is the Renaissance nude religious or erotic?

Nudes in the early Renaissance were most common in religious art, their realism serving to portray Christ’s sacrifice. New humanist ideas about beauty led to a sly eroticism. Male nudes particularly showed this, reflecting a society where same sex male relationships were common. The Reformation tried to re-establish modesty but “after the Sistine Chapel, “everyone wanted their artists to paint nudes.”

The Global Art Market Reached $67.4 Billion in 2018, up 6%

The art market in 2018 was looking “top heavy” and “vulnerable”, according to a key market report. Turnover was $US67bn, little changed from recent years. Dealers accounted for 53% of this with big galleries growing their share. Auction lots of over $1m were just 1% by volume but a huge 61% by value.  The US and UK are the two biggest markets. Gender equality improved, at a snail’s pace.

Dorothea Tanning review: This artist is the surreal deal

Tanning was tagged a surrealist as much because of her marriage to Max Ernst as her work. Surrealism was certainly a reference point for her but a retrospective shows a wide artistic range – abstraction, gothic, pop-like sewn sculptures. Not all these forays were successful but “whatever she made, she gave it a feeling of believable surprise.” More images are here.

Transformative Sculpture

Matthew Barney gets high praise – among “the greatest [artists] of the last 50 years”. His work – video, “wonderous” sculpture, drawings – is undoubtedly influential. Skeptics persist, though, seeing his work as less than the sum of its parts. One reviewer thinks his current show a “visual dreamscape, both on the movie screen and in the gallery space [but] without legible intent.”

The AI – Art gold rush is here

An interesting and at times hyperventilating piece.  Are AI images art? Probably yes. It’s a big step, though, to fretting that AI might “dominate” aesthetic trends. AI uses existing works to create a software ‘recipe’ for a given genre, such as portraiture. Novel (and lucrative) this art may be, but it isn’t inspired by new ideas. No-one is talking about a “shock of the new”.