The Easel

29th August 2017

Raqib Shaw

When Manchester was the textile capital of the world it was deeply influenced by designs from the sub-continent. It’s unsurprising then that Manchester’s Whitworth museum is showing Kashmir raised, London based Raqib Shaw. Criticism that Shaw’s elaborate paintings are merely ‘decorative’ doesn’t bother this writer. The show “contradicts the “less is more” modernist credo; when the choices are good ones, more can be more.”

Marc Chagall and Twentieth-Century Designs for the Stage

Going to Paris in 1911 exposed Chagall not only to the titans of modern art but also to the fabled Ballets Russes. Set design became an enduring interest and a major contributor to Chagall’s artistic reputation. The idea that dancers’ costumes could make them “mobile elements” of the overall set design remains influential. More images are here.

Tom Wolfe on Marie Cosindas, an Artist Who Created Something Completely New

Wonderful. “[S]he arrived at my apartment in New York to photograph me for a series called “The Dandies.” So I put on a new suit, beautifully tailored. I was particularly proud of that suit. Before I answered [the door] I fixed a confident, slightly smiling, amusingly knowing look on my face. I opened the door, and here was a diminutive woman with wavy brown hair … in the softest of voices she directed me to go change my clothes …”


Municipal statues are public art that tell a story. So how should the removal of Confederacy – era statues be viewed? Are they suddenly intolerable? Pulling down statues “[embodies] a political attitude which would rather blame the political shortcoming of today on the far-distant past … erasing its traces to sanitise the public realm of any recollection of it … statue-phobia is the worst form of fetishism.”

Why a Massachusetts museum selling its prized Norman Rockwell painting should worry art museums everywhere

A Massachusetts museum plans to raise money by selling some of its art.  One prominent critic is incensed. “Plainly they’ve lost their minds. [A] collection is held in the public trust … Absurdly, museum standards are being vandalized to protect the museum. Here’s an idea: Donate the art to other museums that would benefit most from having it. With community treasures being turned into private possessions, the public is the loser.”

Cartier-Bresson’s Distant India

Having helped found the Magnum agency, Cartier-Bresson set out for photojournalism. Sent to India, his images of Gandhi just before his assassination, and the subsequent funeral, brought fame. “Cartier-Bresson’s Indian photos are quiet, self-effacing … If in Europe he chased the “decisive moment,” there’s something conspicuously timeless about his panoramas of Indian peasants and cowherds.”

22nd August 2017

Mary Heilmann’s New Dia Show Places Her among the (Male) Icons of Minimalism

Being a female ceramicist was not a promising start for an aspiring artist in 1960’s New York. Heilmann shifted to equally unfashionable painting and while she wasn’t ignored, she wasn’t celebrated either. That is now changing. “The unassuming quality of her work lulls you in and then you realize all the quirks and careful counterbalancing that take place within the geometric and color combinations.” A short video (4 min) is here.

Explore the Weird World of the Symbolists at the Guggenheim

In Belle Epoque Paris, some artists were articulating the emerging modern world. Others sought refuge in spiritual themes, loosely grouped around Symbolism. This latter movement held a series of Salon exhibitions but their work was kitsch – it was an art dead end. The Sublime, though, is a concept with enduring appeal. It has regularly been revisited in the last century, most spectacularly by Mark Rothko.

Nigerian Artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby Is Painting the Afropolitan Story in America

Bio piece on Crosby whose international reputation is growing in leaps and bounds. Born in regional Nigeria she has since settled in the US. Winning a plethora of prizes has brought her to the notice of major collecting institutions. Prices for her work at auction have risen accordingly. One of Crosby’s themes is the casual racism she experiences: “Sometimes the best critiques are just holding up a mirror so people see their reflection.”

“Drink That You May Live”: Ancient Glass from the Yale University Art Gallery

Glass objects were appearing in Mesopotamia earlier than 2000BC. Improvements in manufacturing accumulated steadily but the big step forward came with glass blowing in the first century BC. From this point glass started replacing metal and ceramic items in the average household. All of which doesn’t answer the burning question – how does a glass object survive for thousands of years?

Mamma Mia! Emma Hart’s Cute Yet Sinister Max Mara Art Prize For Women Work

Part review, part artist bio. Hart trained as a photographer but used the proceeds of a major art prize to study ceramics. The result, her first solo exhibition, is a family of hanging ceramic “heads”. “I had an epiphany that in Deruta I saw the maiolica patterns … Could patterns harness or capture the problems of repetitive human behaviour?”

Power in Simplicity: How This Modern Photographer Mastered His Style

Sheeler started photography as a side line. But the images he captured of modernizing America have become his most enduring work. One critic describes his images of the Ford manufacturing plant as an “epic survey of the Industrial Sublime. Ninety years later, the excitement Sheeler felt in the presence of these magnificent structures — monuments to utility, geometry, force — remains palpable.”

While You Weren’t Looking, Yayoi Kusama Sneakily Built Herself Her Own Museum in Tokyo

Yayoi Kusama is immensely popular. Her travelling retrospective, open for 11 weeks in Washington, attracted over 500,000 visitors. Recently, and without much fanfare, she announced the imminent opening of a museum in Tokyo dedicated to her own works. Its centerpiece will be her “infinity rooms”. Expect more queues.