The Easel

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28th December 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.”

Not just for “nerds”: vivid stories from the Old Masters

Why do we still pay attention to Old Masters paintings? There are a handful of famous names – Rembrandt, Vermeer, Velázquez, Michelangelo – toward whom adulation seems obligatory. Yet, walking the galleries of a major museum, you quickly realize there are many others. With their ornate gilded frames and often perplexing subjects, why should their works command modern attention? Indeed, why do museums continue to acquire them?
Keith Christiansen, a self-confessed addict of paintings by the Old Masters, is the John Pope-Hennessy Chairman of the Department of European Paintings at New York’s Metropolitan Museum. Recently Morgan Meis, Contributing Editor of The Easel, talked to Keith about the modern relevance of these works. Keith’s response to the topic was, well, emphatic.