The Easel

14th August 2018

“I Want to Paint Every Color in the World”

Stanley Whitney’s colour grid paintings have put his star in the ascendant. These grids also feature in his works on paper. They are not “high end copies of his paintings” but autonomous experiments in colour balance and materials. Still, they share the same ambition as his paintings – “I wanted color like Rothko, but I wanted air like Pollock.”

Magic Realism: Art in Weimar Germany 1919-33 review – sex, death and decadence

The aftermath of WW1 was, for Germany, tumultuous – abolition of the nobility, female suffrage, unemployment, social decadence. The art of the period was accordingly fierce. It reveled in “the perverse, the decadent, the depraved … rich and strange fusions of the real and fantastic.” Small wonder that Hitler saw in it an opportunity to discredit the Weimar republic. More images are here.

Paradise Is Found Underfoot in These Majestic Persian Textiles

For Persian royalty in the 17th century, bliss was a walled garden with water channels. Carpets, which they took with them when they travelled, adopted garden design motifs. The legendary Wagner carpet, on display in New York for the first time, is a most spectacular example. Its pattern is fabulously detailed, invoking a well-ordered natural world – “a mirror of heaven”.

What Does it Mean for Art to be “Relevant”?

Jay Nordlinger, a noted US critic, opines on some art sector anxieties. Does society need art? “Society in general would be poorer without art … or at least I think. But it’s a matter of individual choice.” Should art be relevant our current times? “[T]his mania, this fashion, this fad for relevance is bizarre. The best art speaks for all time and is timeless. It’s beyond time and place”.

When a Rock Is a Stone: Finding “Spiral Jetty

An appreciation. Spiral Jetty was built in 1970 by land artist Robert Smithson on the shore of a remote salt lake. Its once pink water has now dried up. “As the jetty coiled leftward into its spiral, I thought of those left-spiraling lightning whelks, gorgeous mollusks … Dante’s pilgrims descend a sinistra — into the funnel of hell. Toward heaven, they ascend a destra, to the right.”

Profit Flop at Sotheby’s: Auction Houses’ Self-Defeating Assumption of Consignors’ Risk

One for art market buffs. Auction houses offer price guarantees to snare prestigious consignments and then share the price risk with others. Are such complex arrangements wise? Only, it seems, if stellar prices are realized. Either way, lovers of auction room drama lose out. Big ticket sales are often “pre-orchestrated charades … The thrill is gone”. (Jargon warning)

7th August 2018

At the MFA, pastel treasures make a rare appearance

Pastels are a humble art material, frequently used for a preparatory sketch but rarely the star of an exhibition. Their appeal rests on an ability to capture the spontaneity of a moment quickly. Once created the works are fragile as the chalky pigment is not fixed by resin or varnish. Even worse, they are light sensitive – available for showing in low light for just a few months every decade.

Ugliness Is Underrated: In Defense of Ugly Paintings

Ugliness has its virtues. Deliberately ugly art has had many uses – a warning against sin, danger or disease. Da Vinci wanted his grotesque figures to flatter those he thought beautiful. Now ugly is its own aesthetic category and part of the canon.  “Beauty and ugliness do not negate each other. [Ugly works] aren’t about pleasing anyone [but] about discomfort … desire gone awry.”

How polychrome sculpture revolutionised art in 19th-century France

It was only realized in the 19th century that ancient sculptures had been painted in vivid colours. Once the penny dropped coloured sculpture became the vogue. Some felt that to popularize art was to debase it. But the weight of opinion was elsewhere “Coloured sculpture wasn’t just beautiful; it was part of a revolution in what it meant to make and consume art at the end of the 19th century.”

The Tatler years: Dafydd Jones on his photographs of Britain’s partying aristocracy

Just for fun. The Thatcher years in Britain brought significant social change. Images of partying “posho’s” at Cambridge can be viewed either as student exuberance or, as the writer thinks, a last hurrah of the privileged. Either way, few will look at these images without some self-recognition or perhaps a twinge of nostalgia. More images are here.

Stale and Almost Dead?

There are now over 300 biennales internationally. Are they at risk of become boring? Some curators think so, especially when they recycle the same few high-profile artists. Others emphatically disagree. Museum blockbusters tell us “more about what we already know” whereas biennales can focus on new ideas. If one is boring “blame the doctor, not the disease.”

Can I Interest You in a Masterpiece?

Jankowski’s much postponed New York show overviews his varied work – video, painting (originals and knock-offs) and sculpture. The humorous use of other artworks is a common theme across these diverse works. “By using other people’s imagery … Jankowski exposes the spark of life that animates great art, and the craving people of all persuasions have to experience its jolt.”

‘Donald Judd: Specific Furniture’ Review: Designs With Purpose

Donald Judd’s boxes embody an impersonal aesthetic. The same approach produced austere pieces of furniture “no more uncomfortable than your average park bench”. Judd though of furniture as part of his art: “Art cannot be imposed upon [architecture and design]. If their nature is seriously considered the art will occur, even art close to art itself.” More images are here