The Easel

17th April 2018

The Lurchingly Uneven Portraits of Paul Cézanne

Feted in London this show has moved to Washington. Cezanne “faltered” in his portraits because of the difficulty of showing what he wanted to show – a person not a personality, “an absoluteness not just of seeing, but of being”. This idea is a building block of modernism and not easy. “Cézanne’s fate has been to be revered more than enjoyed.”

Jerry Saltz, New York and Vulture Art Critic, Wins Pulitzer Prize

Art critics don’t often win prizes. New York critic Jerry Saltz is now an exception, today winning the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for criticism. Saltz writes across a wide range of the visual arts, sometimes attracting controversy with his social media activity. One of his essays, mentioned frequently in the discussion of his award (and featured in The Easel when first published), is here.

Meet Grinling Gibbons: The ‘Michelangelo of Wood’

Many regard the Baroque woodcarver Gibbons as the greatest wood carver ever. His exquisite, almost unbelievably detailed, work brought fame in his lifetime and prestigious commissions from royal palaces and elsewhere. A panel of his work has been purchased for a British public museum, prompting a celebratory exhibition. An excellent video (2 min) is here.

Paul Brown: Process, Chance and Serendipity: Art That Makes Itself

The idea of art expressing the unconscious has a long history. Paul Brown has given the idea a modern twist – writing computer programs that autonomously generate art. These works are not Brown’s self-expression but rather art that “makes itself” and is testimony to the “beauty of spontaneous and organic structures”.  Images showing the development of these ideas are here.

At the Nasher Sculpture Centre

Should some ancient stone tools be viewed as sculpture? A “provocative” US show promotes this hypothesis, displaying hand axes too big for practical use and other tools so symmetrical as to compromise usability.  Early examples of Duchamp’s concept of the readymade, perhaps? A concession of sorts comes from one critic – “some of the oldest aesthetic objects on earth”.

Knowledge of the past is the key to the future

An art world heavy hitter draws attention to the nearly-forgotten Colescott. Colescott anticipated important social issues, especially identity stereotypes. His preferred approach was not earnestness but humour. An obituary, in 2009, noted his “giddily joyful, destabilized compositions … satirized and offended without regard to race, creed, gender.” More images are here.

10th April 2018

EASEL ESSAY: Not just for “nerds”: vivid stories from the Old Masters

Why do we still pay attention to Old Masters paintings? There are a handful of famous names – Rembrandt, Vermeer, Velázquez, Michelangelo – toward whom adulation seems obligatory. Yet, walking the galleries of a major museum, you quickly realize there are many others. With their ornate gilded frames and often perplexing subjects, why should their works command modern attention? Indeed, why do museums continue to acquire them?

Keith Christiansen, a self-confessed addict of paintings by the Old Masters, is the John Pope-Hennessy Chairman of the Department of European Paintings at New York’s Metropolitan Museum. Recently Morgan Meis, Contributing Editor of The Easel, talked to Keith about the modern relevance of these works. Keith’s response to the topic was, well, emphatic.

Stray Dog

Great essay. “Moriyama [is] interested in the dreams that cities sell. [He] doesn’t need Tokyo to give us his vision of modern urban life, of the marks human beings have made on the world. These are often lurid, ugly, aggressive, and destructive. But they can also contain a perverse kind of beauty. It takes a great artist like Moriyama to make us see it.”

Unknown Unknowns Come Sweeping In: On Geoff Dyer’s “The Street Philosophy of Garry Winogrand”

Winogrand, it seems, “lost it” later in his life Perhaps it was failing health, perhaps artist’s block. “Winogrand knew as well as anyone that he’d lost it, and he thought the best way to get it back was to take more and more photographs until he became good again.” Some of the fruits of that effort are now the subject of a book. More images are here.

Milan’s Fondazione Prada sheds light on Italy’s Fascist past on eve of country’s elections

Mussolini was laid back about art – provided it supported fascism. Government-staged exhibitions were propagandistic, hugely popular and many artists participated. By being open to all styles and artists, Italy’s “visual culture” was in effect gradually harnessed to the fascist cause. A “landmark” exhibition according to one critic. More images are here.

The Berkshire Museum Gets the Final Green Light to Sell Works From Its Collection, Ending a Long-Running Saga

Berkshire museum has won a protracted battle to raise money by selling key artworks. Having satisfied the court about its financial difficulties, the museum can proceed with its sale. One key work will be purchased by another institution and kept on public display. Few on the ‘losing’ side seem happy. Says one “I think the precedent here is, frankly, disastrous”.

Tony DeLap’s hybrids of painting and sculpture are impossible objects

California’s “light and space” art (also called ‘finish fetish’ art) is cerebral – quiet pieces with exact, immaculate surfaces, manipulating light and geometric shapes. DeLap was an early contributor and is viewed mainly as a painter. However, the reviewer admits, “painting … is almost never the main event.  [B]eyond the painting’s edges, the possibilities are several.”