The Easel

13th June 2017

It Takes Two Museums to Cover the work of this Prolific German Neo-Expressionist

On the event of his first US retrospective Lüpertz cheerfully reveals his forthright views. Basically, new media is fine but painting is what matters. “You can’t do anything differently, whether it’s Baselitz or me there is no difference. All we can do is put a brush to a canvas. Caravaggio couldn’t do anything differently. The individual aspect of art is the artist … and that’s the exciting and wonderful part of painting.”

A must see: Dorothea Lange’s remarkable photographs at OMCA

Lange is commonly referred to as a social activist but that’s not how she saw it. She said she just wanted to show the truth. Her portraits of people who fled to California from the Dust Bowl are iconic images of poor America.  “Five years earlier, I would have thought it enough to take a picture of a man, no more. But now, I wanted to take a picture of a man as he stood in his world.” More images are here.

Paul Carey-Kent Writes on Ding Yi at Timothy Taylor Gallery

Ding Yi never liked China’s trendy political pop art. Instead he started making abstract paintings using just “x” and “+” marks. But that doesn’t mean they could be robotically generated. “There’s an emotional element to it. And that’s vital. A painting is a flat object, hung on a wall in silence – it has to offer the viewer something they can’t get enough off, that they can’t be finished with.”  An excellent commentary by the artist is here

10 art spectacles not to miss at Documenta 14 in Kassel

Documenta is a prestigious five yearly art event held in Kassel, Germany. This year for the first time an additional venue, Athens, has been used. The Athens part of the event received a muted reception. Being well funded, the Kassel show is huge and diverse – even disjointed according to one critic. Coverage of the opening press conference with the curators is here.

Portraiture rules, Part 1

Semiotics – the study of signs and symbols – is used to analyse a portrait of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. Her choice of a (very costly) painting rather than a (costly) photograph “demonstrates her assimilation into the royal family as only wealth can”. The image itself communicates “a modern monarchy consciously keen to assert itself as less ostentatious, yet as a powerful unfading institution nonetheless.”

The continued expansion of Art Basel

Art Basel has opened and has over $3bn of art for sale. “Basel remains the fair to which galleries bring their best work. [It’s] increasingly diverse programme [reflects] the art market’s enthusiastic colonisation … of other cultural fields, in particular experimental film and theatre. Art Basel follows the contemporary art world’s broader shift away from its historic focus on objects towards the production and sale of experiences.” Really?

6th June 2017

Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave review – the mastery simply amazes

The writer seems awe-struck by this London show. Hokusai felt his art developed as he aged – he was over 70 when he produced “The Great Wave”. His technical mastery and a focus on everyday life helped make his art globally influential – Degas and Monet both owned his prints. “[The] technical mastery of the woodblock print, so intractable, simply amazes.  Nothing visible or invisible is beyond his art’s reach.”

Image: Metropolitan Museum

Spanish Treasures Overlooked in New York Find Love in Madrid

Museums that attract few visitors can raise money by loaning out key works. New York’s Hispanic Society has been doing just this, given that they have one of the greatest collections of Spanish art. Some works were lent to the Met and now a large collection is on show at the Prado. It is a blockbuster. As part of the deal the Prado agreed to restore several key works. A fascinating short piece on this process is here.

‘The Carpet and the Collector’ combines art and history

New York’s Met currently features an old “Bellini carpet” on its website. The back story is an interesting one. Relegated to being a “decorative art” by some, rugs are for others the most distinctive art form of the Islamic world. Accurate dating is difficult but can be approximated for some very old rugs by reference to paintings in which they appear. For those with an appetite for detail, the history of carpets in painting is here.

Galleries Representing Felix Gonzales-Torres Are Editing HIV/AIDS From His Legacy: It Needs To Stop

Felix Gonzalez-Torres died of AIDS and the illness was an important theme in his art. Decades later, his gallery is emphasizing his broader relevance – their press release for a major show of his work does not mention AIDS. Some object vehemently. ”[The gallery is] perpetrating a shameful act of redaction. [W]hen an artwork leaves the artist’s studio, it is no longer his or the gallery’s prerogative to demand how it is discussed.”

“Independent Visions: Helene Schjerfbeck and Her Contemporaries” at Scandinavia House

Her art training had included Paris but by mid-career Schjerfbeck was in rural Finland caring for her mother. This semi-isolation may have helped her find her own voice. Her landscapes are “pleasant”; in contrast her portraits have a “nettlesome gravitas. You’d have to look to late Rembrandt or Bonnard to find a picture that confronts mortality with as much sobriety and candor. [She] deserves a place of prominence in the genre.”

The Discovery of Mondrian review – the most comprehensive survey ever

Mondrian first used exuberant colours in landscape paintings. With a visit to Paris conversion to abstraction was sudden and complete. Kandinsky felt Mondrian’s abstractions might be “decorative”. But restoration of his paintings has uncovered the rigour Mondrian used to construct his works. His interest was not at all in the decorative – he was striving to use line and colour to express spirituality.

Art in conversation

De Montebello presents the optimists’ case for museums. They are “vessels of culture” that facilitate “conversations that we have with works of art”. Reasonable people can disagree. Robert Hughes, for example, mourned the impact of money on museums. An expensive painting is “imposed on us as an authoritative object … and withdrawn as a communicative one. [Art and treasure] have fused to a disconcerting degree.”