The Easel

26th June 2018

Georg Baselitz is an overrated hack. Art collectors fell for him – but you don’t have to

Ouch! After positive reviews in Switzerland the Baselitz retrospective has opened in Washington to an absolute pasting. Decrying Baselitz’s “bloated reputation” and odd decision to display his works upside down, the writer continues: “[H]is sense of color is haphazard and his drawing weak … he has never quite managed to tie his influences … into taut and commanding art.”

Think of Harald’s Position: Weighing Szeemann’s Obsessions in L.A.

An early Szeemann exhibition variously involved molten lead, damage to permanent walls and smashing up the outside plaza. Over many important shows he redefined what curators do – show the “unpredictable path of art”. Much better than the above review, though, is an earlier piece. “Curating a show in which nothing could fail was, to Szeemann, a waste of time.”

The London Mastaba, Serpentine Galleries review – good news for ducks?

A couple of years ago it was suggested to Christo that he had avoided London. His response to that remark is, for the next few months, floating in the Serpentine lake. Christo has assured the locals that “Any interpretation is legitimate, critical or positive” Such works may be temporary but, as one writer observes, “the ambition behind it is boundless”.

5 Things You (Probably) Don’t Know About Georg Jensen

Many illustrious design studios, such as the Bauhaus, struggled for profitability. Jensen avoided this fate by finding a broad clientele and having a distinctive aesthetic – “combining gleaming sculptural forms and lush ornament. Hammer marks are a unique part of what the house does … [it] almost gives the pieces a little bit of a soul as opposed to bling.”

Thomas Gainsborough: Experiments in Drawing

Facing huge demand for his society portraits, Gainsborough relaxed by drawing landscapes. And he wasn’t just doodling. Unlike highly geometric French landscapes, he showed “picturesque” nature – irregular and meandering. It was a new vision of nature making him the “progenitor of an English landscape tradition” carried forward by Constable and Turner. “He was a one-man avant-garde.”

How to spot a perfect fake: the world’s top art forgery detective

As art prices rise, so too do the temptations of forgery. Nowadays, both forgery and forgery detection use “serious technology”. “For most of a day, he scanned the painting. Finally, embedded in a speckle of blue, he found a slim fibre … and subjected it to infrared spectroscopy. The fibre turned out to be polypropylene. Perhaps someone had worn a polar fleece while painting the forgery?”

Photography and Social Change: Dorothea Lange and the Politics of Seeing

Dorothea Lange was not an obvious candidate to trailblaze documentary photography. She was an upmarket portrait photographer before taking government assignments during the Depression. Her images were sensationally powerful and now form part of America’s visual history. “A camera is a tool,” she once said, “for learning how to see without a camera.”

19th June 2018

Egon Schiele’s God of Desire

Schiele’s works still shock. They exude a sense of angst that somehow prevails over the eroticism and nudity. “Klimt [Schiele’s mentor] suffused his pictures with the heady, aphrodisiac perfume of fin de siècle Vienna, while Schiele scraped the era’s fecal underside.” More and more, says the writer, history’s judgement is appreciating the latter. More images are here.

In Iranian art show at LACMA, the past wrestles with the present

A big show in LA seeks to introduce the art of Iran. A key idea is that Iranian visual arts have always merged historical and modern imagery. “By evoking the past, Iranian artists create new visual metaphors to describe their present day.” Fine. But if you are not an expert, and without explanatory wall texts, grumbles the reviewer, many pieces are ”insular and unengaging”.

Ed Ruscha Still Has Plenty More to Say About America

Appreciative bio piece on the American artist who is currently enjoying a high-profile year. His reputation rests on an ability to pinpoint commonplace words or objects that are more than they seem. ““I like any attention given to something that doesn’t require attention” … He showed me a recent work with the phrase MOP UP ON AISLE TWO. “I heard this in a department store””.

Tomma Abts @ Serpentine Sackler Gallery

Tomma Abst’s paintings – abstract, with just a hint of representation – have brought her acclaim and a Turner Prize. Modest in size, they are pure combinations of colour and line. Or, in the writer’s words, “[each] a distinct and powerful colour world … an image of nothing but the creative process itself.” A good video (3 min) of the artist is here.

Make America decay again – Thomas Cole and Ed Ruscha review

Cole’s five paintings, The Courses of Empire, are a highlight of 19th century American art. They depict the rise and fall of a grand empire, telling a story of transience. In the same exhibition is a contemporary homage to these works by Ed Ruscha. “The doomed empire Cole imagined inevitably looks like the USA … Ruscha [has] a colder eye. [He] shrugs and walks on”.

John Elderfield with Phong Bui

Reflections on Cézanne as a portraitist. These works were his own initiative – rather than commissions – where he was trying to work through ideas and issues. “There is a point at which you feel some works just got away from him. But I do not think that Cézanne was in pursuit of perfection. It was rather a pursuit of order, which acknowledged the existence of the unordered.”