The Easel

27th February 2018

Brassaï, The Photographer of the Paris Night

This “unprecedented” survey probably says nothing new about Brassaï. But then it doesn’t really need to, such is the fame of his images of 1930’s Paris. Acclaim came quickly as Brassaï showed the artistic potential of photography. He described his artistic impulse as seeking to show “a sense of the magic beneath the surface of reality.” More images are here.

Betty Woodman’s Path to a Revolution Made of Ceramics

Of the key obstacles to her acceptance – gender and being a ceramicist – Woodman felt the latter was bigger. “When I started out, ceramics was not even a material you made art out of”. In her hands the humble vase morphed from domestic object to art piece. She was the first living female artist to get a retrospective at New York’s Met. A superb video (20 min) is here.

Picking apart the Internet: An exhibition that addresses the elephant in the room

In 1991 the internet was just text and hyperlinks. Now it is so all-encompassing it influences our sense of ourselves, our sense of the truth. The art that it inspires has “alternative narratives”, suggesting experimentation more than consensus. “In many places, the exhibition is hard-going. The wall labels, inevitably, are Proustian — in length if not in spirit.”

The Impossible Task of Photographing Afghanistan

Which photographic approach better captures the ‘truth’ about Afghanistan– focusing on its stark beauty or the ravages of its war?  Two recent books differ. Of the more prominent book “The question as to whether McCurry’s beauty illuminates or obscures remains open. To me, his pictures’ unbroken radiance appears suspect.” More images are here and here.

Design Luminaries Remember The Extraordinary Wendell Castle

Did Castle make furniture or sculpture? He didn’t think there was any difference. His vision of “sculptural furniture” started with creations in laminated wood but blossomed with a move into bright plastics.  His signature creations were sinuous, biomorphic chairs and tables. In the view of one commentator “the most important post-war American furniture designer by a long shot.”

New Museum Triennial

The New Museum Triennial disappoints different critics in different ways. One grumbles that it “keeps its voice low”. Another says the show is “a glass one-quarter full”. A source of this irritation is its belaboured politics. It is “easy listening art … letting us bask in feel-good consensus.” Overall, there are too few works that “are satisfied to be artworks, not instigations.”

When Artists Move from the Margins to the Center

‘Outsider art’ is a slippery concept. As the writer suggests, it mostly refers to artists who, because of poverty or institutionalisation, are at the margins of the art world. More important, though, is what our eyes see: “exemplars of vitality, ingenuity, sincerity, and a bracing lack of polish … It’s inconceivable the significance of outsider art will ever recede from view.” Multiple images are here.

20th February 2018

The Obama portraits are direct, vital, and above all, cool

The “immensely striking“ presidential portraits have unleashed a deluge of commentary, a fraction of it about the art. As Morgan Meis argued last year, figurative art is having a renaissance because of its narrative power. Kehinde Wiley in particular exemplifies this. His portraits of black men striking Old Masters’ poses redistribute “the aesthetic power of art … [the Obama work] has the aesthetic effect of a baroque portrait”.

The thrill of light that you can touch

McCall showed his early “light sculptures” in lofts and warehouses. Fancy galleries however posed a problem. Without dust and smoke the light sculptures could not be seen. Haze machines and digital projectors have solved those problems splendidly – “the shafts of light are rendered with the same sense of form as a sculptor might imagine marble or bronze” An excellent video (4 min) is here.

At The Prado

Being labelled as “exclusive” runs a risk that one’s coterie may move on. The most celebrated of 19th century Spanish artists, Fortuny’s work was technically outstanding – and expensive. However, the Moorish themes that so appealed to American collectors in particular, dated quickly. By 1900 this “watercolourist of genius” was forgotten outside Spain. More images are here and a nice video (6 min) here.

The biggest takeaways from Dhaka Art Summit 2018

This local review describes the challenge facing South Asian art as developing “infrastructure for the arts for a place already intellectually charged, but lacking global connections”. A London review thinks differently – the challenge is steering clear of bigger players – the west, China and India. Whatever your view, it is notable that senior representatives from MoMA and Tate, among others, travelled to Dhaka for the event.

Joseph Cornell: how the reclusive artist spread his wings

When reticent Joseph Cornell came across a painting by Juan Gris – the master of analytical cubism – it really struck a chord. Cornell subsequently created over 20 of his art boxes, his “poetic theatres”, in homage to that one Gris work. Why do most include the image of a cockatoo? Many objects in his assemblages are odd. Perhaps, as one critic mused, it’s “the emblem of a presence too elusive or vast to be enclosed in a box”

Emil Nolde: an artist ‘more inclined to contrast and discord’

Nolde believed in the expressive power of colour perhaps even more than other German expressionists. His belief in German leadership in art would, he thought, recommend him to the Nazi’s. They proved less keen, labelled him a ‘degenerate’ and thus saved his reputation. Today’s assessment – “one of the leading German artists of his time, an evaluation that still holds, despite his perverse selfishness and moral failings.”

The Harvard Art Museums present Inventur—Art in Germany, 1943–55

Amidst the reckoning in German society after WW2, what was happening in art? Harvard art museums thinks this a “missing chapter”, a period not of apathy but highly charged art making. Individuals grappled with national guilt, ruined cities and an approaching cold war. No single style predominated but collectively they articulated themes such as commercialization and technology, themes that still loom large in German art.