The Easel

30th January 2018

Jack Whitten: once neglected artist lately the toast of the art world

Despite getting an early career solo show at New York’s Whitney, Whitten struggled all his life for recognition. It is now starting to arrive, belately, after a long career of sustained innovation. His “visually arresting [work] can feel like a missing link between the abstract expressionists of the postwar years and the minimalists and conceptualists”. He died last week. An excellent interview with the artist (2.50 min) is here.

Chuck Close is Accused of Harassment. Should His Artwork Carry an Asterisk?

Accusations of sexual misconduct against American portraitist Chuck Close have led Washington’s National Gallery of Art to cancel an exhibition of his work. Is this the right response? Cancellation of the show is a gesture of support toward his accusers. On the other hand, many esteemed artists are on display, despite deeds that are far worse. Is “the prism of reprehensible behaviour” the only way to view an artist’s work?

23rd January 2018

Divine Lust

Unlike a previous review of this monumental show, this piece puts Michelangelo’s art in a biographical context. At age 30 his drawings for a fresco The Battle for Cascina constituted a “zenith”. Thereafter his art became more personal, seeking to express the dreamlike but unattainable “unbodied beauty” of the human form. “Hence the air of melancholy and sorrow that pervades so much of his art.”

Art museums should sell works in storage to avoid raising admission fees

As widely reported, the Berkshire Museum is in a dispute over the sale of key works. Adjacent to this is perhaps a more important public interest issue – should museums sell artworks that they rarely, if ever, put on display? Why not deaccession the “bottom 1%” to fund free admission?  “[Museum directors], how much more art that you can’t afford to conserve, and have no space to display, do you really want?”

A Slice of Life

Something of a reminiscence of 1960’s California, and Wayne Thiebaud’s emergence as an important artist. Being labelled (incorrectly) a Pop artist probably helped draw some attention but the appeal of his art was evident almost immediately. Commented one critic “the world … isn’t perfect, except perhaps one little part of it, to which we can briefly retreat via these paintings and glimpse the way all things ought to be.”

Falling in Love with an Empty Man: The Work of José Leonilson

Leonilson died young, suffering not just from AIDS but also loneliness. He had come to prominence in post-dictatorship Brazil by giving his work a uniquely personal tone. Then came an AIDS diagnosis and his work focused even more closely on selfhood. He “frequently framed imagination as fact and fact as imagination, all while maintaining the confessional or diaristic tone of his autobiographical project.”

The 2018 Outsider Art Fair, a Preview

Outsider art goes back at least to Jean Dubuffet’s Art Brut and probably earlier. It’s the work of artists – variously self-taught or suffering from particular ailments – who sit outside the mainstream. Their art, too, is unorthodox but often astonishingly imaginative. Few of these artists, it seems, transition into the mainstream but that hasn’t stopped this category of art enjoying growing recognition.