The Easel

4th October 2022

Do Ho Suh’s Translucent Architectures

“Home”, says Suh, “is what we carry with us”. That’s a neat introduction to his distinctive sculptures of house interiors and household objects that he makes with transparent polyester fabric. His pieces are often at a 1:1 scale, a rather sharp contradiction to their “diaphanous” appearance. Says the reviewer, “You feel joy being near one of Suh’s [houses], as well as a certain alarm … we recognize Suh’s structures as architecture, even as we see them as insubstantial, kite-like entities”.

Sculpture: An Art of Craft and Storytelling

Both mass media and abstraction, it is argued, have contributed to an “erasure” of communal narratives. As a result, sculpture, traditionally a story telling medium, lost momentum. Recently, though, sculptors have returned to traditional craft techniques – textiles, ceramics and woodworking for example – to enhance the cultural resonance of their work. Rather than a new “conservatism”, this greater use of craft is something that helps us “get our bearings [by] telling us where we’ve been”.

Berlin’s controversial Humboldt Forum is finally complete—but ‘the work inside begins now’, German Culture Minister says

Can you spend €800m on a new museum and have misgivings? Well, consider the lavish Humbolt Forum, just opened in Berlin. Built to resemble a Prussian palace, its design, says one critic, is “like an imposing Disneyland castle minus the fun”. Inside, it’s an “ethnographic museum for the 21st century”, showing items assembled during Germany’s imperialist era. Some are viewed as looted art. One official says it is “not a conventional museum but a place of negotiation”. Indeed!

The mysteries of Mondrian

“Mondrian’s uniqueness” says this reviewer, made him “solitary but not lonely”. He was actually gregarious, frequenting nightclubs and jazz joints. Jazz was a particular source of inspiration, fueling an “organized looseness” in his compositions. Does an acclaimed new biography unlock Mondrian’s compositions for the viewer? Not really.  Mondrian said that the way he thought and the way he painted were different and the thoughts behind his radically modern paintings remain out of reach.

How an Architect’s Endless Pursuit of Artistic Perfection Drove Him To Despair

A love letter to the Baroque master Borromini, and to Rome. In 17th century Rome, Borromini and his fierce rival Bernini vied for architectural commissions from the Pope. Bernini got the best, producing designs of “dramatic simplicity”. Borromini, in contrast, loved “complexity”. His small San Carlino church has a geometric floorplan but a façade that is a “lusty carnival of curves”. Once it was finished, Borromini committed suicide. San Carlino is a key part of his legacy, widely seen as “the icon of the Roman baroque”.

Whistler’s ‘Peacock Room’ Open After Weeks of Restoration

Asked to decorate a dining room in the house of Frederick Leyland, a shipping magnate, Whistler got carried away. What started out as a “very slight” request resulted in a “showy chamber of blue and gold”. Whistler was thrilled but not his patron. Their confrontation contributed to Whistler’s subsequent bankruptcy. Leyland learned to live with the room and it is now regarded as “one of the masterworks of late 19th-century art and design”. A virtual view is here.

27th September 2022

William Kentridge, Royal Academy, review: An overwhelming, operatic epic from the South African giant

A solo show at the Royal Academy’s main gallery is an accolade that comes with high expectations. Reviews of Kentridge’s show are curiously scattered, as if critics somehow can’t find its epicentre. Is it his animated films, his charcoal drawings, his sculptures or his paintings of flowers? The writer approves of this diversity which gives the show an “operatic” feel. Another critic is less enthused – Kentridge’s erudition is “alienating … he creates with too much head and not enough heart”.

Crushed between the fronts

To the relief of many, this year’s Documenta, the highly influential five yearly survey of contemporary art in Germany, has closed. From its beginning in June, organisers, German politicians and the press have traded accusations of antisemitism and racism. Listening to the curators, it seems likely that they and the organisers had divergent objectives. “It’s a dreadful embarrassment” says one critic. “The whole thing has rotted into a festival of bad faith and victimology”.

Shockingly, Brad Pitt turns out to be a very fine sculptor

You cannot accuse the editor of not having a sense of humour. Pitt began artmaking as a form of therapy after his divorce from Angelina Jolie. Sent to review Pitt’s debut exhibition, this esteemed British critic admits to having had low expectations. Instead, he found works that are “powerful, worthwhile”. They include a neoclassical frieze and a worked metal coffin, all loosely connected to themes of pain and violence, that the actor says were a product of “a radical inventory of the self”.

The Art World in an Age of Rage

A fiery essay on how fraught race relations in the US can impact art museums. (Its inclusion does not imply that The Easel endorses its views.) When museums ignore work by artists of colour or don’t hire qualified curators of colour, they are asking for trouble. Ditto for the work of female artists. What’s the solution? The writer thinks that “race-based expectations” could have a “paralyzing” effect on museums. Yes, just as does the persistent exclusion of groups of artists from museum walls.

Korean Modern art gets its long-overdue spotlight at LACMA

When Korea’s “isolationist” Joseon dynasty fell in 1905, it was the start of transformative changes – WW2, the Korean War, partition. Culturally, “things Western became equated with things modern”. Initially, the art that followed was, complains this writer, “derivative”. Perhaps, but deeper changes had begun. By the 1970’s, Korean monochrome painting (dansaekhwa) emerged to great acclaim, foreshadowing the global cultural powerhouse that is now modern Korea. More images are here.

Michael Heizer’s Empty Empire

Heizer located City, his monumental land artwork, in the Nevada desert because “there isn’t anything else there”. That perspective betrays a “baffling incuriousness” about the larger history of Native American occupation of that land. Not all Native Americans are offended by the artwork. However, it is “comically obvious” (indeed, ironic) that the “interconnection of self and land” never occurred to Heizer as he laboured for 50 years creating the work.

“An Eye at the End of My Pencil”: Bridget Riley’s Drawings

It’s easy to see why Bridget Riley admires Seurat. His pointillist paintings clustered dots of colours to create the impression of some other colour. Such explorations of perception are also at the heart of Riley’s art, both in her shimmering monochromatic lines and in her colour juxtapositions. As a Chicago show makes clear, behind these abstractions are her drawings, the “seeds” of her art, where she labours to answer the question that Seurat posed – “what is it that we are looking at”?