The Easel

30th January 2018

Andreas Gursky, master of the contemporary sublime

Gursky is widely acclaimed because he reveals a world that we know and yet still takes us by surprise. He composes images where “all the pictorial elements are as important as each other”. Confronted with so much detail the eye defaults to a summary impression – “a kind of abstract expressionism, painterly in scale and epic in intention”. An excellent commentary by the curator (5 min) is here.

Jack Whitten: once neglected artist lately the toast of the art world

Despite getting an early career solo show at New York’s Whitney, Whitten struggled all his life for recognition. It is now starting to arrive, belately, after a long career of sustained innovation. His “visually arresting [work] can feel like a missing link between the abstract expressionists of the postwar years and the minimalists and conceptualists”. He died last week. An excellent interview with the artist (2.50 min) is here.

Rediscovering the Overlooked Talent of French Sculptor Camille Claudel

Claudel had beauty, talent and a famous lover – Rodin. She was, by all accounts, greatly supportive of his art and he reciprocated at least to some degree. Like other female artists of the day (but particularly because of her association with Rodin) she received little acclaim during her lifetime. Now a group of her sculptures have been deemed to be of national importance and acquired for France’s public museums.

Chuck Close is Accused of Harassment. Should His Artwork Carry an Asterisk?

Accusations of sexual misconduct against American portraitist Chuck Close have led Washington’s National Gallery of Art to cancel an exhibition of his work. Is this the right response? Cancellation of the show is a gesture of support toward his accusers. On the other hand, many esteemed artists are on display, despite deeds that are far worse. Is “the prism of reprehensible behaviour” the only way to view an artist’s work?

Charles I – King And Collector at Royal Academy review: A show fit for a king

A visit to the Hapsburg court made Charles 1 want what they had – a stonking art collection. Over his 25 year rule he acquired just that – and it was promptly sold after his beheading. Magnificent though they are, these paintings were flattery. “Everything that looks good in a Van Dyck picture of Charles on horseback 10 feet high supports the idea that the king actually is good, the almost ultimate good next to God”. More images are here.

Georg Baselitz, upside-down artist of international renown, at 80

The fuss over Baselitz’ 80th birthday demonstrates the high regard in which he is held. Not only did he face up to the challenge of addressing Germany’s Nazi past but he did so using a unique visual language. Whether the controversy that he courts adds to his reputation is a matter for individual judgement. This video (2.40 min) does a nice job of putting his work in a broader context.

Rubers: The Power of Transformation

A whiff of disapproval seems to attach to Rubens. Is it his prolific use of studio assistants, all that voluptuous flesh, or his borrowing of other people’s ideas? He was, of course, a product of his time. Aspiring artists went to Rome and then liberally referenced others’ works as a sign of new erudition. It wasn’t considered plagiarism. Indeed, it’s what marks Rubens as special – he could take the ideas of others and improve on them.

23rd January 2018

Divine Lust

Unlike a previous review of this monumental show, this piece puts Michelangelo’s art in a biographical context. At age 30 his drawings for a fresco The Battle for Cascina constituted a “zenith”. Thereafter his art became more personal, seeking to express the dreamlike but unattainable “unbodied beauty” of the human form. “Hence the air of melancholy and sorrow that pervades so much of his art.”

Art museums should sell works in storage to avoid raising admission fees

As widely reported, the Berkshire Museum is in a dispute over the sale of key works. Adjacent to this is perhaps a more important public interest issue – should museums sell artworks that they rarely, if ever, put on display? Why not deaccession the “bottom 1%” to fund free admission?  “[Museum directors], how much more art that you can’t afford to conserve, and have no space to display, do you really want?”

A Slice of Life

Something of a reminiscence of 1960’s California, and Wayne Thiebaud’s emergence as an important artist. Being labelled (incorrectly) a Pop artist probably helped draw some attention but the appeal of his art was evident almost immediately. Commented one critic “the world … isn’t perfect, except perhaps one little part of it, to which we can briefly retreat via these paintings and glimpse the way all things ought to be.”

Monochrome: Painting in Black and White

Painting in black and white helps draw attention to a subject or technique. Originally conceived of for religious works, grisaille is now just another part of the artist’s toolkit as a London show demonstrates. The show includes a light installation by Olafur Eliasson, a room lit in sodium yellow which suppresses perception of colour, thus creating a monochrome world. An exhibition review is here.

Falling in Love with an Empty Man: The Work of José Leonilson

Leonilson died young, suffering not just from AIDS but also loneliness. He had come to prominence in post-dictatorship Brazil by giving his work a uniquely personal tone. Then came an AIDS diagnosis and his work focused even more closely on selfhood. He “frequently framed imagination as fact and fact as imagination, all while maintaining the confessional or diaristic tone of his autobiographical project.”

Crossroads — Kauffman, Judd and Morris, at Sprüth Magers

A current exhibition of minimalist art, notes this writer, has nothing whatever to say about the art world’s topics du jour – gender, identity, politics. What a relief! “[T]here is nothing minimal about minimalism. Colour and shape — the essential building blocks of art — are a bottomless box of Lego. I came into art to see things that have not been shown before, not to be lectured by unhappy curators with identity issues.”

The 2018 Outsider Art Fair, a Preview

Outsider art goes back at least to Jean Dubuffet’s Art Brut and probably earlier. It’s the work of artists – variously self-taught or suffering from particular ailments – who sit outside the mainstream. Their art, too, is unorthodox but often astonishingly imaginative. Few of these artists, it seems, transition into the mainstream but that hasn’t stopped this category of art enjoying growing recognition.