The Easel

17th October 2017

EASEL ESSAY: “How to See the World Properly”: An Interview About Jasper Johns

A companion piece to Morgan Meis’ recent Gallery Essay.

The Royal Academy of Arts landmark survey of Jasper Johns work, “Something Resembling Truth”, was co-curated by Roberta Bernstein, a personal friend of Johns.  Johns has said about his work “I have no ideas about what the paintings imply about the world. I don’t think that’s a painter’s business.” Morgan recently interviewed Roberta about this famously elusive artist.

“He is a complex man and his art is challenging. The understanding of a painting as a real object occupying space was so vividly conveyed [by Painting with Two Balls (1960)] and made me think about art in a new way. [Johns] is, I think, struggling with (and also fascinated by) the impossibility of fixing meaning or meanings. He’s more interested in how the mind … constructs meaning.”

Collecting Strokes of Genius

Wow … “one of the paramount group drawing shows of the era”!  A distinguished collection of drawings, gifted to the Morgan Library, includes “heartbreaking” Rembrandt, “gossamer-handed” Tiepolo, “beyond superb” Palmer and others. 16th century drawing was moving toward “a medium for inventing rather than recording”. [By the 18th century] “drawing as a vehicle for fantasy took full flight”. More images are here.

‘Trigger’ Exhibition At The New Museum Tackles Gender But Ponders So Much More

Too often, art that addresses gender issues is discussed in cliché-ridden prose. No such problem here. A group of artists was invited to address gender issues, resulting in some “stunning” art and an “unmatched” survey of rising contemporary artists. Does a clear narrative emerge on this vexed topic? Not really – “any show with 40 plus artists is going to run into curatorial issues”. More images are here.

Japan’s Pioneering Street Photgrapher

This writer’s description of Moriyama – a “photography obsessive” – seems apt. Growing up in a post-war Japan that was furiously modernizing – and westernizing, Moriyama gravitated to those on the margins of this profound social change. His signature dark, grainy aesthetic seems reflective of that gritty environment in which he moved: “When I am in the streets, I feel like a hunter”.  Multiple images are here.

The incredible story of how the last known work of Leonardo da Vinci was almost lost forever

All eyes will be on the Christie’s NY saleroom next month when the only privately owned da Vinci painting goes for sale. The story of its re-discovery and authentication is fascinating but so are subsequent events. Once confirmed as genuine, it was sold twice – both times leading to law suits. Assuming it reaches the expected $100m its current owner, a “divorced oligarch”, will have lost on the deal!

Martin Puryear

Puryear, a “giant” of American art, is well overdue a London retrospective. This “tremendous” survey makes amends. Puryear clearly loves working in wood, an echo of the wood cultures he encountered in Africa and Japan. His sculptures convey allusions and ambiguities. As one critic noted about one of his pieces “the logic of the thing’s making is obvious but… something else is hidden … lurking”.

Photography, Poetry, Music and Philosophy: The Medium from a Critic’s Eye

A gently interesting interview with a photography critic interspersed with piercing insights about the medium. First, the big claim – “photography is the key medium of the moment, the only one keeping up with, and indeed driving, the fast-forward digital-social media-insta culture.” Then, caveats: “the image [is] often dependent on [being accompanied by] just the right words—and just the right number of words.”

COMING UP: According to renowned US author and critic Jed Perl, Alexander Calder remains America’s greatest sculptor. Based on unprecedented access to Calder’s letters and papers, Perl is completing the first biography of this artist. It will be published by Alfred A Knopf later this month. Easel Contributing Editor Morgan Meis recently talked to Perl about the project and its famous subject. The interview will appear in The Easel at the end of October.

10th October 2017

Gordon Parks: Collected Works Study Edition

Parks was one of America’s most celebrated photographers of the last century. Starting out as a self-employed society photographer in Chicago he then joined the Farm Security Administration where his images of social injustice carried a distinguishing lyrical aesthetic. A decades-long career at Life magazine showcased a vastly broad talent that included writing and, after Life, film directing. Multiple images are here.

Another Renoir show? But this one is worth it.

Some critics grind their teeth about Renoir feeling some of his works are akin to happy snaps. Luncheon of the Boating Party is not immune to criticism but is far from lightweight. Technical analysis reveals its careful and “masterful” construction. “Heroic striving on the painter’s part yielded exactly the superficiality he was aiming for, a bibulous moment of fun among a gathering of good looking, high-spirited young people.”

Treading on Euphemisms for Women

Mao said that ‘women hold up half the sky’. To Lin Tianmiao, an eminent Chinese contemporary artist, that’s not a feminist statement. She takes descriptors of women, such as ‘leftover women’ or ‘soccer mom’, embroiders them into rugs, and then invites viewers to walk on them. It is art that expresses her individual experience as a woman. Just don’t call it feminist. An interesting tug-of-war with an interviewer on this topic is here.

Broken Bones and Marble Thrones: A Night With Jenny Holzer

Holzer is renowned for her large scale illuminated displays of text. The offer to install a show at Blenheim Castle must have been irresistible. Ancestral home of Winston Churchill, it was built to commemorate war victories. In contrast, her art expresses skepticism about military power. As one critic puts it “This is not a subtle show, but Blenheim is not a subtle building.”

The Collector of Lives: Giorgio Vasari and the Invention of Art

Vasari was a fearsome gossip. His saving grace was that in 1550 he wrote a book on Italian art and artists that established art history. Artists were viewed as merely skilled labourers but Vasari argued that authorship was all-important. “When Francis I … could write to Leonardo [Da Vinci], Raphael, Michelangelo and humbly request something, anything, by their hand, it marked a drastic change from old ways of

The Anger of the Guns

Has the story of art in the Great War been fully told? Vivid anti-war imagery by Otto Dix and others is well known but only part of this story. Other artists expressed a range of views, not all of which were opposed to the war. “The Met sees an arc from initial enthusiasm at war to horror and revulsion, but it was difficult to separate them even from the start.” Multiple images are here.

Shagged Out: At Frieze 2017

Some critics clearly had big expectations of Frieze London. Isn’t this the art fair that helps define the cutting edge of new art? By that measure, it disappoints “[I]f this is the new, the new is starting to look old and jaded”. Others are a lot more relaxed “This is a selling fair after all … Frieze is like one big hodge-podge of a jumble sale, and like a jumble sale offers many delights and discoveries.”