The Easel

29th May 2018

Before photography, the silhouette helped leave an impression

Until photography arrived around 1850, the silhouette was ubiquitous. “Like so many cultural habits of early America, the making and collecting of silhouettes was often wild and strange and slightly surreal.” Often dismissed as simplistic folk art, this art form now provides a window into the great social issues of the day – not least of which was slavery. Images are here.

Edward Burtynsky: ‘The technical revolution has turned us into a virus’

Burtynsky’s star continues to rise, most recently with a nod from Photo London. Like the German photographer Andreas Gursky, Burtynsky uses aerial photography to show a large-scale view of parts of the planet. In his case, he has turned his “painterly eye” to areas of environmental despoliation. Ironically “in Burtynsky’s vision, the apocalypse has its sublime moments.”

Is it really a Leonardo?

Experts have recently verified that a sketch found in France is by Leonardo da Vinci. To non-experts such connoisseurship can seem a bit like discerning “the vibe” of a work. “For all the technical gadgetry available, art-world decisions still rest largely on the subjective conclusions of individual, ultimately fallible, specialists. Forensics merely help matters along.”

Are Auction Guarantees the New Private Sales? Yes, for Art Sellers Who Don’t Want to Get Ripped Off

For art market buffs. Auctions are a great way to sell expensive art but have a drawback – price uncertainty. Arrangements similar to underwriting help manage this risk. The added complexity is such that it “defeats the purpose of hiring an auction house in the first place. In a sense, then, the real purpose of going to auction is increasingly just rip-off insurance.”

The Days of Duveen

From the New Yorker archives, a gorgeous essay on Joseph Duveen, the legendary art dealer. Of a year long campaign to sell some busts to John D Rockefeller: “In all love affairs, there comes a moment when desire demands possession. For Rockefeller, this occurred on the day before the option expired … he informed Duveen that he was buying the busts at a million and a half.”

Versailles for Sore Eyes

Versailles, thinks the writer, is “not nearly as good as it looks”. Louise XIV wanted a grand palace that displayed the power of his realm. Alas, attention to detail was not his forte and the architecture is uneven. Nevertheless, the interiors are fab (in places) and the gardens an inspiration to town planners everywhere. Multiple images are here and video (3 min) here.

22nd May 2018

The Hyperreal Meets The Slightly Unreal At Met Breuer ‘Life Like’ Exhibition

New York’s Met is focused on the historical but wants the crowds that contemporary art attracts. A current show combines the two. One critic is appalled – “politics by other means … indifference to distinctions of high and low art.” More, however, side with the writer: “a marvel … it’s disarmingly appealing to indulge in a show that is so rooted in pure aesthetic”.

Adrian Piper: The Thinking Canvas

The critic writes of a “fierce, steady logic” to Adrian Piper’s career. And fierceness was probably needed given her focus on racism and sexism. Her art is varied – graphics, performance, film – and tough. An unusual choice for MoMA, which has “tended to shave off the awkward corners of art … In this case, the corners and edges stand firm.”

Joseph Beuys review – a show steeped in fat, felt and fiction

It’s not a criticism to call Beuys’s art elliptical. One critic suggests it looks “more found then formed, as if dug up somewhere”. Beuys wanted to revive German art after the horrors of Nazism. He succeeded, inspiring a new generation of artists. “Yet he was also a bullshitter, a fake prophet” who propagated myths about himself and his art. An excellent video (5 min) is here.

The Art of Looking at Art

Just for fun. Between assignments, noted photographer Elliott Erwitt would sometimes go to museums and record the behaviours on display.  The result are some droll images and a few conclusions. “Art is a good way of looking at nudity without embarrassment”, and “in the end all museums are interesting. Even when they’re not.”

German Art Without Jews

It is hard to look at 1930’s German art without searching for hints of the disaster to come. Yet there is little sign of prophesy in these works. The prevailing style – “New Objectivity – was rooted in the politics of the day, if not the ghosts of WWI. One commented later that catastrophe was not suddenly visible; it revealed itself slowly through the details of ordinary life.

Art dealer discovers unknown Rembrandt missed by Christie’s

A grimy old painting caught the eye of a dealer who bought it at auction on a hunch. After much research experts have now confirmed it as a previously unknown Rembrandt. A rueful auction  underbidder admits – “I thought on seeing the picture that it had an excellent chance of being by Rembrandt. The brilliantly painted collar in particular I thought was almost as good as a signature.”