The Easel

21st August 2018

The Keeper of the Keys Tells His Tale

Da Vinci has been so famous for so long that we tend to see a “deified” version of the person. Martin Kemp, perhaps the most acclaimed da Vinci expert, has written a book that tries to determine where the truth lies. Da Vinci, he says, was “the ultimate outsider … a rather modern, scientific man who looks a lot like us … a scientist doing art [rather than] an artist distracted by science.”

African Iron at the Fowler

A seemingly important show that, with the summer lull, has received few reviews! Iron was first smelted in Africa 2500 years and the aesthetics of iron objects have always been prized. Many objects were created to be both useful and beautiful. In an abbreviated review Holland Cotter calls this “the most beautiful sculpture show in recent memory. “ Images are here and a video here.

The Otherworldly Luminescence of Mary Pratt’s Art

It says a lot for Mary Pratt’s art that, as a female painter living on Canada’s geographic periphery, she achieved national prominence. Pratt painted domesticity – “gutted fish, jars of jelly, unmade beds”, elevating these familiar objects by showing “the drama of light. How it falls, how it alters the ordinary objects it adorns … no ordinary object is without a sublime aspect.”

Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Decisive Moment at the International Center of Photography

Cartier-Bresson is synonymous with the term ‘the decisive moment’. That is often taken to mean a split-second action shot – like his famous image of a man jumping a puddle. But, as a New York show highlights, this view is too narrow. Cartier-Bresson’s aim was bigger; to capture the ephemeral event that revealed a bigger truth, to “”trap” life – to preserve life in the act of living.”

The luminous stained glass of Brian Clarke

Why does stained glass rate so low in art’s pecking order? Not only does it have ancient roots but it was an important part of the work of Mondrian, de Kooning and Matisse. Clark, a leading exponent, believes that stained glass, coupled with architecture, can uplift the urban environment, an art of the whole space. “Once you’ve tasted it, you really want another lick at that lolly.”

Patterns of light and colour that bear endless repeating

Monir has lived a life between extremes. She fitted into the art community in both New York and Tehran. Her artworks were destroyed in Iran after the 1979 Revolution but now a Tehran museum is dedicated to her. And her work spans both the Islamic geometric aesthetic and western abstraction. Notes the writer “it’s not clear that she particularly needed Western abstraction”.

‘Icons of Style: A Century of Fashion Photography’ at the Getty Museum reveals the limits of the art form

A survey of fashion photography exposes some deep fault lines – notably, is fashion photography art? One reviewer makes the case strongly, even while admitting it is the “bastard stepchild of the fine art world”. This writer is unsatisfied. Of course it is art, but “of a distinctly minor sort. As art, fashion photography is thinner than a supermodel. Call it anorexia aesthetica.”

14th August 2018

“I Want to Paint Every Color in the World”

Stanley Whitney’s colour grid paintings have put his star in the ascendant. These grids also feature in his works on paper. They are not “high end copies of his paintings” but autonomous experiments in colour balance and materials. Still, they share the same ambition as his paintings – “I wanted color like Rothko, but I wanted air like Pollock.”

Magic Realism: Art in Weimar Germany 1919-33 review – sex, death and decadence

The aftermath of WW1 was, for Germany, tumultuous – abolition of the nobility, female suffrage, unemployment, social decadence. The art of the period was accordingly fierce. It reveled in “the perverse, the decadent, the depraved … rich and strange fusions of the real and fantastic.” Small wonder that Hitler saw in it an opportunity to discredit the Weimar republic. More images are here.

Paradise Is Found Underfoot in These Majestic Persian Textiles

For Persian royalty in the 17th century, bliss was a walled garden with water channels. Carpets, which they took with them when they travelled, adopted garden design motifs. The legendary Wagner carpet, on display in New York for the first time, is a most spectacular example. Its pattern is fabulously detailed, invoking a well-ordered natural world – “a mirror of heaven”.

What Does it Mean for Art to be “Relevant”?

Jay Nordlinger, a noted US critic, opines on some art sector anxieties. Does society need art? “Society in general would be poorer without art … or at least I think. But it’s a matter of individual choice.” Should art be relevant our current times? “[T]his mania, this fashion, this fad for relevance is bizarre. The best art speaks for all time and is timeless. It’s beyond time and place”.

When a Rock Is a Stone: Finding “Spiral Jetty

An appreciation. Spiral Jetty was built in 1970 by land artist Robert Smithson on the shore of a remote salt lake. Its once pink water has now dried up. “As the jetty coiled leftward into its spiral, I thought of those left-spiraling lightning whelks, gorgeous mollusks … Dante’s pilgrims descend a sinistra — into the funnel of hell. Toward heaven, they ascend a destra, to the right.”

Profit Flop at Sotheby’s: Auction Houses’ Self-Defeating Assumption of Consignors’ Risk

One for art market buffs. Auction houses offer price guarantees to snare prestigious consignments and then share the price risk with others. Are such complex arrangements wise? Only, it seems, if stellar prices are realized. Either way, lovers of auction room drama lose out. Big ticket sales are often “pre-orchestrated charades … The thrill is gone”. (Jargon warning)