The Easel

22nd June 2021

Want to go deep inside a great artist’s mind? MoMA’s Cézanne exhibition is the one to see this summer

This “staggeringly beautiful” show highlights Cezanne’s “weird” experiments in composition. He wanted a way of using “color and rhythm” to give an image stability and order, qualities he felt the Impressionist’s work lacked. If expressing a “logic of organized sensations” meant sacrificing legibility, then fine. His focus was to “re-create the structure of experience out of the units of that experience”. And the result of these weird, abstract labours … the foundations of modern art.

Charlotte Perriand: The Modern Life at the Design Museum

Perriand’s contribution to design reads like modernism’s ‘Top 10’ ideas. Open plan living. Adaptable domestic spaces. The idea of equipping a space rather than decorating it. A flexible relationship between indoor and outdoor areas. On top of all that, she designed or co-designed iconic pieces of furniture, including some modular designs. Says the writer “a visionary who softly changed the world for the better”. Some designs are detailed here.

Could Paris Challenge London as Europe’s Future Art Capital?

For now, New York and London sit atop the art world tree. Might Brexit allow Paris to displace London? The debate allows a glimpse of the inner workings of the art world. Paris has art-hungry billionaires, a surge of new galleries and (perhaps) tax advantages. London, on the other hand, has deep expertise in every conceivable art world specialty, endless institutions and galleries, famous art schools and one’s financier just down the street to conjure up the cash.

The fantastic animals of Lalanne come back to life in the gardens of Versailles

Les Lalanne were a French husband and wife sculpture duo prominent last century. While they worked separately, both featured nature themes in pieces that were “often figurative, and sometimes functional”. Most notable were their surrealist influenced bestiary such as a hippopotamus sculpture that opened to reveal a bathtub. The linked piece is not great; this short article by their gallery helps. (Blame Google Translate for the gender confusion)

The Brooklyn Museum Tells a Fascinating New Story in Its Decorative Arts Galleries

In newly renovated galleries the Brooklyn Museum is displaying its decorative arts collection in a “less Eurocentric” way. Not easy when everyone wants to see pieces by Tiffany, Bauhaus, Memphis. The influence of Japan (see the ‘Ginza Robot’ cabinet), China, and women all get more fulsome recognition. There is also an effort to highlight today’s social equity debates. Just as is happening in the painting galleries, it’s a “a stab at rewriting history”.

The Two Frenchmen Behind America’s Leading Symbol

The back story to the Statue of Liberty. An anti-slavery lawyer came up with the idea and a sculptor produced the design. Plans to model the figure on a Delacroix painting were rejected, so the sculptor turned instead to his mother and his girlfriend. At over 100 tons, the serious structural issues were successfully solved by one Alexandre Eiffel, whose ideas were based on bridge pylons. His profile thus enhanced, his next project was a certain tall steel tower.

15th June 2021

The Madman and the Dwarf: Van Gogh and Lautrec

An odd friendship between “freakish outsiders”. Toulouse Lautrec was aristocratic, witty and “grotesquely ugly”. Van Gogh was socially awkward and mentally fragile. Somehow they clicked, recognizing each other’s talent. “[Lautrec] found Vincent’s gaucheries and wearisome habits appealing … [they were] familiar partners in the bars and cabarets of the Butte.” Lautrec suggested that Van Gogh try the “brilliant atmosphere” of Provence. Van Gogh went.

The clay’s the thing – Ceramic: Art and Civilisation, reviewed

A new book describes ceramics as “‘a vibrant enabler of civilisation”. Modern art ceramics is diverse, “a contest between functionalism and aestheticism”. What links modern and ancient works is that the skill of the potter is paramount in determining the power of a piece. “One’s first instinct with a good Roman red-gloss pot is to eat it. Or at least lick it all over.”

How the Dutch are facing up to their colonial past

Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum has boldly chosen to tell the “social story” of Dutch colonialism. Systemic racism came out of colonialism and “permeated every level of society”. Looking closely at its collection, the museum found traces of colonialism everywhere. For example, Marten Soolmans – the subject of Rembrandt’s “magnificent” portrait – became rich buying sugar from slave-based plantations. “[Dutch] people were not unaware of what was happening.”

The pleasures and denials of window-shopping

The shop window is a realm where the “ever-wanting imagination” confronts possibility. That makes it a psychological space and a happy hunting ground for photographers. Retail displays indulge fantasy, tempting us to believe. “Sidelong glances, longing stares and small noses pressed against glass … illustrations of the idle pleasures of browsing, as well as reminders of distance”. And shoppers want to believe, too.

The Inheritance of Nations

The Horses sculptures in St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice were looted from Constantinople. Napoleon later looted them to Paris. And after Waterloo, The Horses returned again to Venice. Turkey has never sought their return – does that extinguish their entitlement? Restitution cases like the Benin bronzes seem clear cut; so many others are not. “Who owns the inheritance of nations that no longer exist? Culture is an elastic concept. An active heir is a rightful heir.”