The Easel

24th July 2018

The Door Policy

So-called “outsider” artists are rarely shown in museums. The outsider label implies that these artists “lack the agency or self-awareness of their educated peers.” An outstanding Washington show reveals that such art actually has “overwhelming strength. By showing us the dazzling pluralism of the past century [the show weaves] a richer tapestry of American art history.”

Rethinking the utopian vision of the Bauhaus

Bauhaus – perhaps the most hallowed name in architecture and design – espoused an egalitarian modern life. On closer examination, a new book argues, it actually pursued “an elitist, aristocratic notion of taste.” This contradiction hastened the school’s demise but its wonderful modernist ideas lived on, eventually finding a market – in distant, wealthy post-war America.

Henry Taylor’s Promiscuous Painting

Elegant background essay on an artist who, in the blink of an eye, has gone from ‘recognised’ to ‘high profile’. Taylor’s portraiture is wildly divergent – from the famous to the homeless. Its common thread is “the African American aesthetic tradition” and his empathetic eye. Smith puts it succinctly “Other people look: Taylor sees”.

New York’s MoMA Shines a Light on Socialist Yugoslav Architecture

The former Yugoslavia ended badly. Yet, after its expulsion from the Soviet bloc, it enjoyed an optimistic outlook. The architecture was remarkable, a far cry from the drab constructions elsewhere in Eastern Europe. There was “an abundant presence of design culture… in a socialist country. It was an aspect we tended not to see.” More images are here.

Punch and injury

Jordan Wolfson wants us to feel more. His latest work ventures into “emotional mechanics” – a two metre puppet connected by chains to a moving gantry. “It is difficult not to feel something, and just as difficult to think that such feeling is pointless. Isn’t this kind of emotional response and lingering fascination one of the things we desire most from art?”  A video (5 min) is here.

Norman Rockwell: America’s storyteller

Being called a ‘commercial illustrator’ is sometimes a sly put-down. Rockwell was an illustrator and his work has its faults – “it often lacks nuance or subtlety”. However, he was brilliant at communicating an idea succinctly. His “Four Freedoms” series of paintings appeared first simply as magazine covers but they “profoundly altered the course of the war”.

Meet Baroque’s Leading Lady Michaelina Wautier, the Art Market’s Latest Rediscovery

In 1979 when Germaine Greer wrote a history of women artists, she credited just four paintings to the Baroque painter Wautier. That number is now 30, including works previously credited to her brother. Their quality has earned her a first ever survey show. Such “rediscoveries” reflect the efforts of many, including a group focused on identifying Renaissance women artists, described here.

17th July 2018

The Utopian Vision of Bodys Isek Kinglez

Kingelez desired a glorious future for Kinshasa. It inspired him to build imagined utopian cities out of cardboard, Styrofoam and scavenged materials. His “extreme maquettes” display “the rigor of an aesthetic as sophisticated as that of an Alexander Calder or a Joseph Cornell … [and possess] the invincibility of uncompromised, unflagging, sheer desire.”

New Brighton Revisited by Martin Parr, Tom Wood, and Ken Grant

New Brighton is a beach resort in England with faded prospects. Photography of its decline has been controversial. Parr, the first to show the seismic changes occurring in this part of Thatcher’s Britain, was accused of “defeating” the town. Others have trodden more carefully, perhaps at the cost of self-censorship. Ironically, some locals hope to regenerate the area through the arts.

Michael Jackson: On the Wall, National Portrait Gallery, London

A London show claims to examine Michael Jackson’s influence on contemporary art. Does it do that or is it just a summer crowd-pleaser? The writer’s assurance that the show “isn’t all wall-to-wall kitsch” doesn’t dispel the skepticism. Few works pay attention to the contradictions and darker corners of the pop star’s life. “Transparently a fan’s show”, is the conclusion.

The Serious Charm of Edward Bawden

Bawden doesn’t fit the usual categories. He ranged across commercial and fine art as a master printmaker, illustrator, watercolourist and designer. Describing his work as “charming”, says the writer, is an unwarranted put-down of someone so widely imitated. He had “formal brilliance [and] a tender, amused feeling for the value of all life” A background video is here.

When Female Artists Stop Being Seen as Muses

The status of muse is hard to transcend. Gabriele Münter expected to be remembered merely as “an unnecessary companion of Kandinsky”. In fact she helped form the influential “Blue Rider” group as well as developing her own bold, experimental style. Kandinsky’s interest in colour was learned from her, later admitting he no longer believed in ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ painting.