The Easel

22nd May 2018

The Hyperreal Meets The Slightly Unreal At Met Breuer ‘Life Like’ Exhibition

New York’s Met is focused on the historical but wants the crowds that contemporary art attracts. A current show combines the two. One critic is appalled – “politics by other means … indifference to distinctions of high and low art.” More, however, side with the writer: “a marvel … it’s disarmingly appealing to indulge in a show that is so rooted in pure aesthetic”.

Adrian Piper: The Thinking Canvas

The critic writes of a “fierce, steady logic” to Adrian Piper’s career. And fierceness was probably needed given her focus on racism and sexism. Her art is varied – graphics, performance, film – and tough. An unusual choice for MoMA, which has “tended to shave off the awkward corners of art … In this case, the corners and edges stand firm.”

Joseph Beuys review – a show steeped in fat, felt and fiction

It’s not a criticism to call Beuys’s art elliptical. One critic suggests it looks “more found then formed, as if dug up somewhere”. Beuys wanted to revive German art after the horrors of Nazism. He succeeded, inspiring a new generation of artists. “Yet he was also a bullshitter, a fake prophet” who propagated myths about himself and his art. An excellent video (5 min) is here.

The Art of Looking at Art

Just for fun. Between assignments, noted photographer Elliott Erwitt would sometimes go to museums and record the behaviours on display.  The result are some droll images and a few conclusions. “Art is a good way of looking at nudity without embarrassment”, and “in the end all museums are interesting. Even when they’re not.”

German Art Without Jews

It is hard to look at 1930’s German art without searching for hints of the disaster to come. Yet there is little sign of prophesy in these works. The prevailing style – “New Objectivity – was rooted in the politics of the day, if not the ghosts of WWI. One commented later that catastrophe was not suddenly visible; it revealed itself slowly through the details of ordinary life.

Art dealer discovers unknown Rembrandt missed by Christie’s

A grimy old painting caught the eye of a dealer who bought it at auction on a hunch. After much research experts have now confirmed it as a previously unknown Rembrandt. A rueful auction  underbidder admits – “I thought on seeing the picture that it had an excellent chance of being by Rembrandt. The brilliantly painted collar in particular I thought was almost as good as a signature.”

15th May 2018

The Vulnerable Ferocity of Chaim Soutine

When it comes to Soutine the real attention grabber is his use of paint. One critic described it as trying to “turn the substance of the world into thick, squidgy, excited paint”. Thoroughly modern, but not easily categorised, Soutine is widely influential among artists but lacks public recognition. Hold the art theory suggests the writer, “only look”. More images are here

“Heavenly Bodies” Brings the Fabric of Faith to the Met

Catholicism, says an archbishop, is as much about beauty as goodness. This rationale has inspired an immense show tracing the influence of church regalia on contemporary fashion. The show is careful, respectful – “these designers are sometimes rule breakers [but] not apostates”. The current Pope’s aversion to ostentation goes unremarked. A video (5 min) is here.

Thaddaeus Ropac on Why We Can’t Give up on Galleries

Compared with Jerry Saltz’s recent blast, a more moderate perspective. Art fairs offer global reach and new influences, but galleries remain central to the art eco-system. Galleries should continue to “work with a group of artists and grow with them. [A]rt deserves spaces that are less fleeting than fairs. In the galleries, we can create memorable happenings”.

Per Kirkeby, Pioneering Neo-Expressionist Painter, Dies at 79

Kirkeby came to prominence in the 1980’s when, together with German expressionists such as Baselitz, he helped revitalize painting. His works reflected the naturalist traditions of Nordic art and an early career dalliance with geology. One critic writes that Kirkeby “achieve[d] what many post-war painters have tried, coaxing abstraction and representation into uneasy but perpetual balance.”

Modernists and Mavericks by Martin Gayford

New York was the centre of the 1950’s art world but a new memoir champions the achievements of post-war London. Francis Bacon was the central figure who “revolutionized how proceeding artists would handle paint”. The legacy of this period is “the survival of the medium of paint itself [which has proven capable of] taking on a multitude of different approaches”.

Shape of Light – A Hundred Years of Photography and Abstract Art review: Informative but heavy going

The Tate wanted to show how art and photography have influenced each other. A photography-inclined critic likes the resulting exhibition. Not the above writer – too many photos and the comparisons mostly favour paintings. A Mondrian painting is “richly ambiguous” whereas the paired photo creates the feeling “of things closing down badly.”  More images are here.

Japan’s Global Baroque

When global trade came to 16th century Japan it stimulated a new visual aesthetic of bold patterns and bright colours – somewhat parallel to Europe’s Baroque. Open trading lasted just 50 years after which Japan was closed off for another 250 years. Trade resumed with Admiral Perry’s arrival and shortly thereafter, a craze for Japan’s aesthetic swept 19th century Europe.