The Easel

5th July 2022

Bah Lumbung: Kristian Vistrup Madsen at Documenta 15

Documenta, the famed art mega-event in Germany, has always been Eurocentric. Handing over this year’s event to Ruangrupa, an Indonesian collective, was intended to break that cultural monopoly. It has, with an unusual and diverse programme in which “ethics matter more than aesthetics.” The skeptical writer grudgingly admits that it offers “relief from years of accumulated biennial fatigue”. Says another critic, “We are fortunate to witness so much imagination, so much flourishing”.

In the Black Fantastic review: A beguiling survey of Afrofuturism

Black Fantastic, says the curator, is not a movement but a way of seeing. He is referring to black artists who use “speculative fictions” to address racial inequality and the legacy of slavery. Noting the plentiful surrealism at the current Venice Biennale, the writer suggests “the fantastic” is “an emerging generational sensibility”. The show’s exuberance can be a bit much, at which point one can’t help but focus on “the hard and tangible realities beneath”.

A Remembrance of  Places Both Empty and Full

Adams’ images convey a silence, an objectivity. This “isn’t a lack of emotion” says one critic, but “a kind of etiquette. The polite thing to do”. He is regarded as a seminal figure in contemporary photography and, as the linked piece, shows, his quiet images can create a strong emotional response. “The human drive to create order … feels like a losing game. The little church in Ramah … is trying so hard to stand steadily there in its place, even as [it shows] vulnerability to weather, to age, to time.”

The Blue Garden

The Blue Garden is “one of America’s great private residential landscapes”. It was created in 1913 when Newport was the favoured playground of Gilded Age magnates. Its formal layout resembles the floorplan of a cathedral, and originally needed the services of 40 gardeners. It contains “plants of purple, lavender, gray, and white hues that become a shimmering evocation of sky and water”. Recently re-created, it is “a unique expression of the art of landscape architecture”.

Cheech Marin’s Long-Awaited Museum for Chicano Art Opens in California

Hispanics comprise 40% of the population of California and Texas, yet little of their art appears in public museums. The comedian-actor Cheech Marin has collaborated with a local government body to change that by creating a first, a museum dedicated to Chicano art. A formal review of the collection is here but the happy vibe is best captured in the local press. An artist exults “Chicano art – it’s positive, and it’s truthful, and it’s beautiful.” Marin adds “[it] reveals the sabor (flavor) of the community.”

28th June 2022

What Sally Mann’s Work Says About Art and Motherhood

In 1992, Mann’s photobook Immediate Family, created a storm. It included images of her infant children nude, raising issues of informed consent and sexualizing children. Decades later, now things have calmed down, this writer offers a quite different take. These famous images show that raising kids is “as unsettling, and thorny, and as important as any other aspect of human experience. [Her photos show] the pleasure in simply allowing life to unfold and having the mastery to capture evanescence”.

Visual artist Sam Gilliam has died at 88

The tale goes that Gilliam saw washing on a washing line and adapted the idea. What he produced was his signature “drapes” where unstretched canvasses were soaked and painted with brilliant swathes of colour. Hanging  from hooks on a wall, they are mid-way between painting and sculptures. After representing the USA at the 1972 Venice Biennale, the art world mostly forgot about him for 40 years. And then, suddenly, acceptance. A review of his final survey show is here.

Cecilia Vicuña’s Guggenheim exhibition captures the lost art of the Quipu

Vicuña is known mainly as a poet, but also produces paintings and woven sculptures that highlight Chilean indigenous knowledge and spirituality. Suddenly, she is being feted with prizes, exhibitions and more Why now? Is it art world guilt for ignoring her “quiet eco-spiritual sensibility” for so long? One critic admits that “puzzlement permeates the show …[have] these institutions discovered something profound or … developed a sudden need for an oracular sage?

Forget the masters, this artist’s work is breathtaking. We need more shows like it

Shiota’s work presents a challenge to the critic. Can her other-worldly installations be linked to Duchamp, or maybe Marina Abramović? Or are they just the workings of an offbeat imagination? Whatever, her large intricate “webs” of coloured wool are arresting visualizations of the relationship between mind and body. Having previously been featured at the Venice Biennale, her work combines “high theatricality with a sense of intimacy [while] the shadow of death is everywhere”.

The women’s lips are pursed; the men’s are kissable: Glyn Philpot at Pallant House

The writer reads Philpot’s repressed sexuality like a book. Philpot had replaced Sargent as London’s favoured society portraitist, but lacked Sargent’s swagger. There is “a chill about his paintings of women”. Where he really excelled was painting the men in his artistic milieu. By 1930 the world had moved on and his “silken party people” were no longer so silken. A late shift toward modernism was cautious, leaving the question “would [he] have dropped his guard if he’d been able to come out as gay?”

“William Klein: Yes” Takes the Artist’s Work Beyond Qui Êtes Vous, Polly Maggoo? and the Pages of Vogue

In Paris as a student, Ferdinand Leger directed Klein toward photography, saying “be part of the city”. Back in New York, Vogue was attracted to his images that didn’t seem too concerned about sharp focus. The resultant career spans documentaries, feature films and, most importantly, the many modes of photography. Says the curator, “artists like Klein, who avoided specialism, are key to understanding the culture of the last century”. An interview with Klein is here and images here.