The Easel

27th March 2018

At the Gardner, the colors of heaven in Fra Angelico exhibition

This show is a big deal. The Renaissance painter, Fra Angelico, painted four reliquaries depicting the life of the Virgin Mary. For the first time in centuries they have been reunited. “The pieces gleam with gold, ultramarine, and vermilion … they seem to pulse with centuries of accumulated attention and reverence. It’s an energy some would call holy.” Images are here.

Jenny Saville’s Work is Put in the Frame in Scotland

Saville admits that when she paints the art history books are often open. Most notable for her is Rubens – one of art history’s “top five” for nudes. Her own nudes are sometimes described as showing his influence – “unflinching paintings of fleshy, un-idealised bodies”. The linked piece is somewhat scrappy; a better description of the artist’s work is here.

Eli Leon, 82, Dies: Champion of African-American Quilt Makers

Eli Leon was browsing in a local flea market in the 1980’s when he stumbled across a quilt. What some viewed as an improvisational craft he saw as an authentic art form. Due in no small measure to his promotion and scholarship, quilts have found recognition in the decorative arts and now appear in both private and museum collections. Quilt images are here.

Damien Hirst at Houghton Hall: As if painted with a throbbing hangover

Nothing like a new Hirst exhibition to agitate the critics. Where to start – the venue? One of Britain’s most elegant country houses, it gives Hirst “class” while he gives it “sex appeal”. And the paintings? His studios have to date produced over 1,400 of these ‘Colour Space’ spot paintings. “They are… pleasant …  have jolly colours and jazz up the joint”.

Goldblatt: the right South African photographic word

Goldblatt is sometimes criticized for doing too little to oppose apartheid. His response is that “photography is not a weapon”. His “politically committed documentary” style is widely acclaimed as he bore “realistic witness“ to the “complex realities” of apartheid. More images are here and a video (43 min) of Greenblatt reviewing his work here.

20th March 2018

Picasso’s nudist streak

In 1932 Picasso had sex on his mind – a new affair with a young lover. History is not censorious because his art was scintillating. “His private life was complicated … his relationship to surrealism [undecided]; in many ways one feels Picasso was in a moment where he really had to clarify his position, in life as much as in art”. An excellent video (5 min) is here and images here.

Suburban Gothic: An Interview With Eric Fischl

After noting that he didn’t sell at auction for as much as Koons, Fischl was told by a collector  ‘let’s face it, you didn’t make the cut’! Fischl is widely admired (and collected) for his paintings of striving American suburbs. Why isn’t he more of an auction room star? Perhaps it’s that the optimism of his suburbia no longer quite gels with the country’s present mood.

joan jonas has been a pioneer her entire life

Getting a retrospective at Tate is a big deal so why the critical  hesitation about Jonas? “Complicated viewing … an art of constant interruption, spillage and surprise” says one critic. For another it’s the “grand narrative of dualities … stillness and movement, object and image, ancient and modern.” Perhaps it’s best to just watch this survey video (6 min) and judge for yourself.

The toxic colour that comes from volcanoes

A hymn to the colour orange. Until modern pigments, orange came from processing the sulphurous deposits around volcanic vents. Laden with arsenic, the substance was dangerous to process, but in high demand. “A savvy arbiter between resolute red and unyielding yellow, orange is a pigment that pivots … between contrary states of being – this world and another, life and death”.

After “Open Casket”: What Emmett Till Teaches Us Today

A painting of the black victim of a 1950’s lynching, included in the 2017 Whitney Biennial, was bitterly controversial. Debate continues, at a lower volume. Some see the core issue as “treating Black pain as raw material”. The artist thinks the painting is being viewed “out of context”. Perhaps the question they are all getting at is – “who gets to tell a community’s story”.

Grant Wood at the Whitney Both Thrills and Disappoints

When first shown “American Gothic’ was celebrated as an ode to regional conservatism. Is that what Wood really thought? Most likely he was gay. His landscapes “imply a freedom that Wood rarely had. It has to be significant that he’s airborne in these views, floating above the earth, maybe even escaping the fraught region that was his life.”  More images are here.

Attraction Pricing

New York’s Met has introduced compulsory admission fees. Doesn’t it still believe in “the general mobilization of the mind”? ‘User pays’ seems part of the answer. And then there is the cost of the Met, a history-focused institution, getting into contemporary art. Absent this venture, the Met “could have [allowed] nonmandatory admission fees … for all visitors, forever.”