The Easel

20th November 2018

Ancient or modern? The perplexing case of indigenous art

Indigenous art sometimes gets the lame description ‘outsider art’, implying it has little in common with western art. This view would have greatly surprised Picasso and Matisse, among others. So how do we describe the relationship between indigenous and western art? Morgan Meis takes a close look.

“The fact remains – a great many of the artists [including Picasso] who are celebrated in the galleries and museums of Modern art were utterly discontented with the boundaries of “the Modern,” of which they are often considered the exemplars. Fascinatingly, for our purposes, they would replace the Modern idea of art with something more akin to what the Aboriginal artist has been doing all along: making sacred and ritual objects that mediate between human being and cosmos.”

Colour Blast

Tempted though she initially was by photography, Grosse succumbed to the allure of painting. Her “absurdly” large fabric installations, painted in riotous colours, are all impact and have no narrative structure. “My task is to propose images, painted images … for how we can expand our imagination. That’s what artists do, we make proposals to expand the imagination.”

Paula Rego: Cruel Stories for Curious Women

Rego loves folk tales but her paintings give them a dark twist. In some works the relationships between her figures seem troubled. Her paintings of Little Red Riding Hood even go so far as to allude to a rape. “Rego is a story-teller of tales with enigmatic endings, not parables and nothing quite comforting but possessed of a bewitching otherness”.

Chairpersons: The World of Charles and Ray Eames

It is suggested that every American has, at some time, sat in an Eames chair. Charles and Ray Eames focused on looks and utility in a way that reflected, and brought into the mainstream, the ideas of the Bauhaus. Not that they saw themselves in such grand terms “We don’t do ‘art’ – we solve problems” declared Charles Eames. A discussion of some of their main designs is here.

Jack Whitten

Jack Whitten was best known for his abstract paintings. Unbeknownst to most, he also put time into sculpture. He was in pursuit of a big idea, to connect ancient African, Mediterranean and African American aesthetics. Contrary to our inclination to recognize the culture of each ethnic group, Whitten was reaching for a global aesthetic, “a story of black classicism”

What Vivian Meier saw in colour

Meier’s day job was as a nanny but her passion, discovered only after her death, was street photography. Control of her archive is under dispute but the quality of her work is very clear – “images of sublime spontaneity, wit, and compositional savvy “. The one subject she seemed to conspicuously avoid was herself. “I am sort of a spy” she said. More images are here.

Everything is Connected: Art and Conspiracy at the Met Breuer

This review is a hoot, liberally sprinkled with paragraphs of ‘conspiracy think’. Some artists back conspiracies that prove well founded while others fall under the spell of “fever dreams”. “Do artists receive the benefit of the doubt because, deep down, we still cling to a Romantic belief that the artist is the conduit for higher truths?” An interview with the curators is here.

13th November 2018

There has been no greater artist since Andy Warhol than Andy Warhol

An imminent Warhol retrospective in New York will unleash a torrent of reviews. To kick things off this appreciation helps pinpoint the salience of Warhol’s art. “He changed what art is … and where it resides within culture. He fused … popular culture … with fine art, forever repositioning both. A profound and relevant artist”. (Note: Schwartzman is a senior executive at Sotheby’s)

Klimt/Schiele review: Protégé steals the show in tale of two great Austrian artists

A head to head of Viennese modernism. Klimt was older and established, a mentor to Schiele. He produced ravishing female images that are all beautiful, flowing curves. In contrast, Schiele’s drawings are angular, gaunt, “unremittingly electric” His images, in particular, raise difficult gender issues. Nonetheless they are “amazing paintings of human existence.”

Pots, pans and pondering in Chardin’s domestic scenes

One of the year’s more elegant essays. At a time when history painting was the zenith of artistic ambition, Chardin chose humble domesticity. His painting is distinguished by “a capacity to render the everyday charismatic”. In some works exquisite still life objects are put together with distracted humans, showing “both depth and surface … a conjuring of concentration out of emptiness.”

Tintoretto’s drawings bring new surprises and scholarship to his 500th birthday celebrations

Titian bestrode the Venetian art world and did not appreciate the young Tintoretto’s lack of deference. Unbothered, Tintoretto developed his own style – “in-your-face energy”, full of muscular bodies – in contrast to Titian’s “mood and movement”. And he focused on the day to day lives of the poor. An admirer of Titian, for sure; an acolyte – never. More images are here.

Largest collection of Mario Merz igloos pop up in Pirelli HangarBicocca

Not the greatest review, but the show itself is important. Igloos fascinated Merz. They are a nomadic home which reflects our “very temporary era”. They are ambiguous, expressing both individuality and collectivity. And he thought them enigmatic, leading him to write in neon lights “do we go around houses or do houses go around us?”

Russia: Royalty and the Romanovs at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace

Centuries of shared self-interest between the Romanovs and the Windsors led to a tradition of lavish gift giving – including lots of art. It stopped abruptly with the Russian revolution. British public opinion, unsympathetic to the czar, prevented any offer of sanctuary. The royal family was promptly murdered, ending the dynasty. Those dazzling gifts now memorialise the friendship.