The Easel

13th March 2018

Waiting for the Robot Rembrandt

Fascinating. Many artists of the day opposed building the Eiffel Tower, expecting it to be ugly. Mathematical rules now deeply influence art and ideas about beauty. In time, artificial intelligence will probably yield original art. “Untrained AI will [likely] produce something starkly original and even unrecognizable … both painfully boring and highly stimulating”

All Too Human – Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life review: The School of London gets a modern makeover

When Jackson Pollock was emerging in America, what was happening in post-war Britain? No one figure dominated, rather a prominent group of unusually fine realist painters, the so-called London school. Few critics seem persuaded that there was a school but most still like the show, even if a troubling number of works play to the male gaze.

Decoding the Silver Caesars: A Conversation with Mary Beard and Julia Siemon

Mary Beard claims this 16th century silverware is “the greatest jigsaw puzzle on earth”. Twelve plates, dazzling in their quality, were made, one for each of the first 12 Caesars. But who made them and for what purpose? Further, why were they pulled apart and then incorrectly put back together? Extraordinary eye candy, if you will, as this video (3.5 min) shows.

Setting the Stage in North Korea: An Interview with Eddo Hartmann

North Korea is getting plenty of headlines. Are we beginning to understand it any better? Hartmann’s images from repeated trips to Pyongyang reveal a lot, essentially because they reveal so little – “the immense blandness of the capital city … compressed into one monumental ideological statement.” Where do people fit in? They are scarcely to be seen.

Fashion or art? Belgian artist’s paper ensembles are both

Something from the outer reaches of the art world. de Borchgrave, a painter by training, re-creates dresses drawn from Renaissance art through to the Ballets Russes – all created from just folded and painted paper. Well known in Europe, a retrospective show of her work is currently touring the US. Multiple images are here.

Exhibition: High Society at the Rijksmuseum

A spectacular show of “magnificent” full length portraits, once de rigeur for the wealthy. “Her lace collar flows over her shoulders like sea foam … the bobbled silk of her rich black dress, which complements Soolmans’s, if anything, more flamboyant outfit, the intricate ribbing of which would have taken hours of painstaking work.” (An alternative, paywall-free, review is here.)

Sex and death in the classical world

The ancient Greeks thought the finest art should be “a perfect illusion of reality”. Likewise the Romans. Why? In sculpture and even more so the portraits painted on coffin lids, the effort at realism is striking. “These portraits … were not just memorials. They were attempts to keep the dead present among the living and to blur the boundary between this world and the next.”

7th March 2018

EASEL ESSAY: Now you’re over the sticker shock, what about the art?

The sale of da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi for over $US400m was an art world bombshell. Amidst the ensuing debate there was very little commentary about the work itself. Morgan Meis picks up that story.

“The central failing of Mona Lisa is that it presents mystery simply for the sake of mystery. Salvator Mundi, by contrast, is nothing but tension and great ideas. This is a work that tackles one of painting’s central dilemmas: How do you represent the unrepresentable? The painting that we now have before us is, I am arguing, more classically a Leonardo painting than the Mona Lisa. There is magic in the painting and there is mystery… This is not sfumato for the sake of sfumato. It’s sfumato at the service of the profound.”

Sally Mann: A great artist who loves tumbling into trouble

Mann is from the US South and its history shows in her work – family, mortality, racism. Images of her young children naked brought both acclaim and controversy, the latter seemingly a 1990’s over-reaction. “[Her work] looks caught up in some warped romance with the past, which nonetheless looks greater than almost everything around it.” More images are here.

Answering Society’s Thorniest Problems, With Performance Art

Part profile of the artist Pope.L, part defence of performance art.  “[E]verything the artist touches is imbued with elements of theatre“– crawling Manhattan’s streets, sitting atop a tower eating the Wall St Journal, chaining himself to an ATM using a string of sausages. While only on “the periphery of fame, [Pope.L is] the most significant performance artist of our time”.

Team Gallery’s Jose Freire on Why He Is Quitting Art Fairs for Good

Gallerists love art fairs. Well, maybe not all. “All the conversations I’ve had are about how much people dislike them. The booth costs, the exchange rate, the fabrication costs, shipping … If you show a work in your gallery and you don’t sell it, it somehow accrues value, because … it has an exhibition history. If you show a work at a fair and it doesn’t sell, the value is gone. It’s burned.”

Why MoMA’s Exhibition of Towering Brazilian Modernist Tarsila do Amaral Misses the Mark

Tarsila is feted in Brazil as a modernist pioneer but little known elsewhere. New York’s MoMA wants to connect her to Paris, Léger and cubism, underplaying her Brazilian roots.  Complains this writer “This exhibition seems to have been planned in a bubble.” Tarsila’s story is much more than a response to “Eurocentric art history”.