The Easel

21st November 2017

How Modigliani’s Jewishness Informed His Art

An exhibition of Modigliani’s drawings focuses on the issue of identity. When he moved to Paris, Modigliani encountered anti-Semitism for the first time. This experience changed his art. Subsequent portraits of friends “conveyed … a degree of masklike opacity. In the artist’s late paintings, there are those who see, those who do not see, and those who cannot be seen or known.” More images are here.

Vision Quest: The Berkshire Museum Will Stop at Nothing to Sell Its Art, Including a Masterpiece by Norman Rockwell

Plans by the Berkshire Museum to sell the cream of its art collection (covered in an August newsletter) has been halted by the courts. Everyone agrees, in principle, that deaccessioning can occur – but should this apply to the best works in a collection? What if a museum faces a “donor drought”? As this admirably balanced writer observes “deaccessioning … cuts to core issues about the public trust and nonprofit stewardship”.

Carolee Schneemann Finally Gets Her Due

Carolee Schneemann is not your average painter. Often referred to as a “first generation feminist artist”, she has long focused on how men and women view their bodies differently. She commonly appeared nude in her early works in order to present the female body as other than the object of male desire. After decades of critical disapproval, this year’s Venice Biennale recognized her with its lifetime achievement award.

Face to face with Murillo at the Frick

Just over a dozen of Murillo’s portraits survive, a handful of which are on show in New York. They are celebrated for their lively, naturalistic style. Included are two self-portraits – intended as advertisements of artistic prowess. One shows him young and in his pomp; the second as a weary single parent. Technical virtuosity is evident in both but the older image has a rarer quality – truthfulness. An excellent video is here.

31st October 2017

Sleeping By The Mississippi

As a young photographer with “nothing to lose” Soth did a road trip down the Mississippi. The resultant book, just re-printed, is regarded as one of the “great representations of the United States”.  “Charles – with his aviation gear and model airplanes – represents a “humble search for creative exploration”. Sleeping by the Mississippi, [is] a lyrical way of moving through the world that hints at sleep and dreams.”

Murakami Deftly Modernizes Japanese Art in MFA Exhibit

A new perspective on the puzzle that is Murakami. Eccentric humour is a long standing tradition in Japanese art. Boston’s MFA is using its collection of historic Japanese masterpieces to place Murakami squarely within this tradition. Criticism of Murakami – that his art is too decorative – perhaps fails to take account of these foundations. The curator notes “He said to me, ‘There’s a need for play. It’s just fun.’” A video (2 min) is here.

Saul Steinberg’s View of the World

Steinberg aimed to draw like a child. Easier said than done over a decades-long career. Magazine drawings, which brought fame, ran in parallel with a diverse artistic career that ignored boundaries. Steinberg was aware of the category confusion – his self-description was “a writer who draws”. And his description of his work also had a certain innocence: “[my hand explains] to myself what goes on in my mind.” More images are here.

Image: Saul Steinberg Foundation