The Easel

16th July 2019

Olafur Eliasson’s Tate Modern retrospective shows reality in “higher granularity”

An Eliasson retrospective must be a great temptation for Tate Modern. His 2003 “weather” installation had 2m visitors. This show feels a bit like a collection of greatest hits and is, according to one critic, “disjointed”. Still, Eliasson’s eloquent works are acclaimed as experiments in perception and statements of concern about environmental loss. The video in the article is worth a look.

Stanley Whitney’s Machine for Painting

Whitney’s paintings have been called ‘portals into colour’. His first museum show in 2015 brought greater attention to his signature grids – saturated colour fields separated by horizontal bands. Whitney admits a debt to other artists – notably Velazquez – but the end results are completely his: “stacks of rectangles seemingly supported by horizontal, shelf-like stripes … compositions [that] are like a liquid Rubik’s cube.”

The Revival of Pattern, Symbolism, and Craft

Pattern is becoming big, declares this eminent design critic. Not coincidentally, craftsmanship and the artisanal are also enjoying new appreciation. Why so? Industrial production techniques favoured standardised designs while newer digital technology now allows product diversity at a reasonable cost. Besides, with all the time we spend online, “intimacy and spontaneity feel more attractive to us than globalized blandness”.

Photographers creating work through the queer gaze

Western art is full of heterosexual role models. One can hardly object when LGBTQ folks seek to balance things up. One critic complains about the curation of this show, calling it a “shambles”.  Surely, though, the main point is the virtue of an inclusive visual culture. One artist wants to remove perceptions that the LGBTQ community is exotic: “[My art] encourages people to see those ‘Others’ as equals.”

Groundbreaking Artificial Intelligence art exhibition to open at Somerset House

Views of artificial intelligence in art vary from “it’s a miracle” to “it’s rubbish”. Eaton, a classically trained animator, uses AI as a humble ‘assistant’ to complete his drawings. The result is notably “coherent” work. Perhaps AI is merely a technological yeoman? Not so fast. Says Eaton “The result [of the collaboration] is often a wondrous, unexpected, interplay of visual ideas, both mine and the machine’s.”

Howardena Pindell with Toby Kamps

An accomplished career as curator and artist did not bring Pindell the accolades one might expect. Recent high-profile exhibitions have changed this and she is currently “riding a triumphant wave”. This interview is interesting throughout including, sadly descriptions of “microaggressions” against women artists and, especially, against women artists of colour.

What Happens When an Artwork Is Damaged beyond Repair

Accidents happen. When an artwork is ruined, insurance is paid and the insurance company becomes the owner.  It’s curious then that, although deemed worthless, these works are still treated with respect. The cultural attitudes that gave rise to their value cannot easily be removed. “You remove something from having monetary value and, at every turn, people are trying to bring it back “.

9th July 2019

Easel Essay: Bauhaus: A Failed Utopia? Part 2: The Strains of Middle Age

By 1930, many key Bauhaus figures had left Germany for Britain or the US. There, the idealism around supporting craft traditions was less and less to be seen. Something had changed.

“Even at a young age, Gropius found himself frequently influenced and inspired by American architecture and industrial design. Mies van der Rohe once wrote, “We must understand the motives and forces of our time and analyze their structure from three points of view: the material, the functional, and the spiritual.” The oft-voiced criticism of Bauhaus is that, as time went on, that third component dropped out almost entirely. Why was Bauhaus unable to maintain its balance into the middle and later parts of the 20th century?”

Neo Rauch at the Drawing Center

One writer puzzles about Rauch’s works thus “We wonder why the characters are doing what they are doing, and they do not seem to know either”. Sometimes they wear clothing from other eras. The Leipzig of his childhood might be relevant. Just don’t look to Rauch for guidance – painting, for him, is “walking into a fog”. Besides, he “hates painters who think of themselves as philosophers.”

Enigmatic and erotic: the art of Félix Vallotton

Will the real Vallotton please stand up. Vallotton’s early satirical woodblock prints are “astonishing in their sheer graphic force”. He then married into money and switched to painting. These later works are diverse, some having the polished realism of Holbein, others anticipating the acute psychology of Edward Hopper. Perhaps the only common thread is “the uneasy sense … that something is going on, concealed from the viewer.”

An Unshakeable Visionary – On the Late David Koloane

Koloane grew up thinking art was not a career option for a black man in Johannesburg. He was in his mid-30’s before getting formal art training. Despite the late start he was pivotal in establishing South Africa’s first gallery for black artists, as well as non-racial studios and artist workshops. International recognition for his own art came late. Many of his works feature scavenging dogs – at least, noted one writer “the dogs are free”.

We’re All in a Flutter About Rebecca Horn

An anxious childhood led to Horn’s interest in alchemy and absurdity. She has since produced extraordinary, unsettling works – performance art, films, machine sculptures. Some reflect on the solitary nature of human experience. Others concern social change, aiming to “drill a little hole in a problem that exists in a place or social situation”. A video of Horn’s machines is here and images here.

Market Values

Art market theorizing on a grand scale. Prices for figurative art are currently healthy because “society wants truth from its art in a time of social distrust”. In placid times we like the ambiguity and “messiness” of abstraction. How does this view fit with Impressionism and Cubism emerging in Paris at a time of great social change? And, do New York auctions reflect the broader art world? Hmmn.

How posters became art

The role of posters is to persuade. They were perhaps the defining form of mass communication in Belle Époque Paris. Since then they have become more, a street view of culture. Not all critics approve – Susan Sontag described posters as “emotional and moral tourism.” That’s severe. There is something to be said for their democratic nature that tells “a story of collective consciousness”.