The Easel

13th April 2021

Alexander Calder: Modern from the Start

New York’s MOMA and Alexander Calder were best buddies. MOMA promoted Calder in key exhibitions while he enabled the fledgling institution to boast a modernist American artist. Calder was their “household god”. The museum’s marketing blurb says that this exhibition celebrates this decades-long relationship. Does it, or is it just a lovely show that will tempt cautious people to visit? Who cares? “Nobody doesn’t love Sandy Calder”

Curator Laura Hoptman Reflects on Meeting Artist David Hammons and Organizing New Show at Drawing Center, the First Museum Exhibition Dedicated to His Body Prints

Despite being personally reticent and his work being enigmatic, Hammons is “America’s most important living artist”. The virtue of the linked piece is that it addresses a new show of his iconic body prints. An overview of his work argues that these body prints communicate a sense of black “vanishment”. Hammons has subsequently addressed “blackness” less directly – his art is still about black identity, but “blackness is both everywhere and nowhere”.

The story of the supposed ‘caravaggio’ that revolutionized the art market and hung in a Madrid salon

Irresistible. Two elderly sisters living in a Madrid suburb sent to auction a painting that had been on their walls for decades. Images of the work circulated on WhatsApp and were noticed by an Italian expert. She (not he, as the story suggests) declared it to be Ecce Homo, a lost Caravaggio and “the most beautiful and important discovery in the history of art of the last three decades”. Its value? Assuming it is by Caravaggio, think of any huge number and double it!

In the kitchen of art

Art restoration – “the kitchen of art” – has long been a battleground. Art historians emphasise context and expert judgement. However, due to perceptions of elitism, they have lost ground to conservators and their dazzling technologies. Conservators now realise that “brutal cleanings” have damaged many works. A reconciliation of sorts emerged with the “spectacular success” of the century’s greatest restoration – the cleaning of the Sistene Chapel ceiling.

Every Dealer’s Nightmare: The Inevitability of Fakes

Why do we worry about art works being “genuine”? We assume that only genuine works allow us to ask questions like “What does the painting reveal about this [artist] and how does it make its revelation?” What happens, though, if experts disagree about a work? What if a forgery is masterful? Questions about authorship rest on expert judgements which are “always uncertain.  This uncertainty … follows from the nature of art. Much about every work of art is up for grabs”.

What does Warhol “fair use” ruling mean for artists and copyrights?

When is appropriating an image a ripoff? The Warhol Foundation has lost a court case about Warhol’s use of a photographer’s images, with the court ruling that his use was not sufficiently “transformative”. Protests Warhol’s biographer “we need parody, we need criticism and … we also need this stuff called appropriation art. When you take a soup label … and bring it into the museum, you’ve done a really profound transformation.”

6th April 2021

Waldemar Januszczak on identity issues in the art world

An English defence of identity politics in art. Women have spent decades pushing the art world for recognition. Now, people of colour are making similar demands. It’s “exhilarating” says this writer, because it is forcing art back to basics – “image-making, painting, storytelling”. That’s why figurative painting, especially that dealing with black lives, is currently so vibrant. Where does this leave art museums with collections that focus on white men? “In a bad place”.

Better than Cadbury

The first of the Romanoff Imperial Eggs was made in 1885 to celebrate Easter. Over the following decades, fifty were made, all modest in size, of which 43 survive. They are the “absolute summit” of craftsmanship, examples of jewelry as a decorative art “unequaled since the Renaissance”. Given that it’s Easter time, feast your eyes on history’s most beautiful eggs.

Indulging in the oxymoronic appeal of MoMA PS1’s latest Niki de Saint Phalle exhibition

De Saint Phalle’s early performance art works are probably seen as her most innovative. By mid career she had moved on to making huge female sculptures. These in turn were gradually displaced by fantastical sculptures for parks and playgrounds. A Gaudi inspired sculpture park took up the last decades of her career, reflecting perhaps her discovery that “there is nothing more shocking than joy”.

Feminist art historians get Artemisia Gentileschi wrong

Los Angeles’ Getty, which can afford whatever it pleases, has purchased a newly discovered Gentileschi. Gentileschi’s celebrity is so recent that her oeuvre is “a mess”, with attribution of key works still in dispute. Is the ‘frenetic” enthusiasm just because her assertive female protagonists appeal in our #metoo moment? “All this exaggeration … is truly a shame because Artemisia’s talent was real”. The Getty collection now boasts two oil paintings by female artists!

The Glamor of the Department Store

Department stores once had allure – “glamor, status … endless possibilities for life improvement”. Now they seem so, well, 20th century. Their ability to survive the onslaught of Covid and online shopping seems questionable. These images, culled from the Magnum archives, thus have an unintended air of melancholy.