The Easel

12th December 2017

Lubaina Himid – the Turner Prize winner on art and why it matters

How important is Britain’s Turner Prize for contemporary art? It boosts a particular artist, but beyond that? Himid, widely seen as a deserving recipient, thinks its significance is that it’s a celebration of culture. “I think ordinary people understand how important culture is to our lives, it’s policy makers that try and strangle it, cut it, or ignore it. But people on the street get it.” More images are here.

Macron Promises To Return African Artefacts In French Museums: A New Era In African-European Relationships Or A Mirage?

A carefully worded offer by the French President to repatriate stolen cultural artifacts has highlighted African grievances on the topic. “Westerners are quick to argue that Africans have created nothing worthwhile but at the same time high-jack our cultural artefacts … the illicit traffic [in artifacts] exists because Western museums have been willing to buy objects they know must have been looted or stolen.”

Building the Boat While Painting

A huge controversy ensued when the Whitney exhibited a painting by a white artist of the murdered Emmett Till. Now that things are a bit calmer, what can be said about the artist and that painting? “It’s not a work of assuagement [but it] encompasses contradictions … enough ugliness to register the horror of what happened to Till, while paying tribute to him as a human being .”

What Sold at Art Basel in Miami Beach

The pulse of the market at Art Basel Miami Beach. Some $3.5bn of works were offered and “hundreds” of sales occurred in the six figure range. Older collectors are selling, newer collectors buying. Mid-sized galleries are “challenged” and some expect “an industry-wide reckoning” on costs and strategy. Dealers and collectors both feel “art fair fatigue” but 41% of gallery sales come from art fairs.

Art Riot: Post-Soviet Dissidence In Russia

What is the significance of protest art coming out of Russia? Is it reflecting a popular mood of dissatisfaction or only the Moscow intelligentsia chafing (understandably) under limited freedom of expression? Perhaps optimistically this writer concludes that this show reflects “a certain spirit of extremism that has historically played a part in Russian culture. The ghost of Dostoevsky hovers somewhere just out of sight.”

The False Narrative of Damien Hirst’s Rise and Fall

Galleries and auction houses provide elaborate – and thus expensive – services. So if high profile artists can avoid using them what is wrong with that? “Buyers don’t care anymore about waiting for the verdict of history; they’re consuming Hirsts in the exuberant present, while those who believe in art’s eternal verities try desperately to avert their eyes.”

Canvasing opinions: what can books by Julian Bell and Andrew Marr tell us about painting?

What, really, are painters doing when they paint?  Answering this question has become more difficult over time as the painter’s options have grown – perception, perspective, narrative, feeling, abstraction, colour, medium. One suggestion – a painting is “a corner of nature seen through a temperament”. A more declarative alternative is that a painting is the artist saying “I exist, and therefore you, the viewer, do too”.

6th December 2017

In Rome, Vogue’s Hamish Bowles Investigates the Work of a Baroque Art Genius

Borghese Gallery has borrowed extensively to supplement its already formidable collection of Bernini’s work and create a “once-in-a-lifetime” survey. It’s a show brimming with “unimaginable treasures”, though none seem likely to outshine his sculptures. They are expressions of genius and quintessentially Baroque – dramatic, full of movement and emotional appeal. A video of the Apollo and Daphne sculpture (5 min) is here.

More Light!

Hockney’s very first show was a sellout and helped establish his reputation for bright colours and “debonair playfulness”.  As art world tastes shifted to the conceptual he has remained stylistically constant. His youthful work carried a quotient of “homosexual propaganda”, making a point to conservative Britain Now in his 80’s, he is “an apostle of niceness and kindness”. A promo video (2 min) is here.

Thinking Machines

Computers can be used as art-making tools and artists have been exploring this use for decades, in film, music and graphics as well as traditional image-making. The story of how art was influenced by computer capabilities is interesting. Perhaps more interesting is the way some artists, for example Vera Molnár, have experimented with computer-like logic independently of any hardware.

Exhibition review: Rose Wylie at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, W2

Art institutions continue to unearth underappreciated female artists. Returning to art after raising a family Wylie worked for decades “all but unrecognized”. Now, a flurry of prizes, membership of the Royal Academy of Arts and solo exhibitions. “Wylie’s canvases work like some high-culture equivalent of Snapchat … [and] approach today’s image-drenched world in a way that feels current and relevant.”

The Truth about ‘Cultural Appropriation’

Did Matisse and Picasso rip off African art when they copied tribal face masks? Did the Beatles rip off musical ideas from Blind Willie Johnson? Should artists seek permission before creating such works? But permission from whom – and, anyway, don’t all artists borrow ideas? “Nobody owns a culture, but everyone inhabits one (or several), and in inhabiting a culture, one finds the tools for reaching out to other cultures.”

Show captures splendor of Viennese designers

Fin de siècle Vienna could boast not only Freud and Klimt but also illustrious designers. The Wiener Werkstätte produced exquisite objects but only in tiny qualities. Profitability was not its strong point. Its experiment with an artist collective was more promising and led to an even more illustrious name in twentieth century design – Bauhaus.  Some images are here.

Remembering the Playful, Hopeful, Pictures of Malick Sidibé

The story goes that Sidibé was invited to parties because his camera had a flash. 1960’s Mali was newly independent and looking to the future. This optimism is perfectly reflected in his dance party images, “the people of post-colonial Bamako affirming their identities and proudly asserting their modernity”. Sidibé, who was eventually widely honoured for his work, died last year.