The Easel

15th October 2019

Gauguin Portraits review – a buttoned-up, nervous and nude-light cop-out of a show

Gauguin’s reputation rests heavily on his Tahiti portraits. Why then are so few included in this major show? This writer suspects a “nervous cop-out” to avoid controversy coming from their evident misogyny. That’s a disservice to Gauguin. To his credit, these works show his respect for Polynesian culture, in the face of prevailing European colonialism. “If we can’t see art, we can’t debate it”.

How Charlotte Perriand Rose to Become Design’s Most Unexpected Luminary

Working with Le Corbusier was, for Perriand, a mixed blessing. Her work opportunities broadened but the downside was that he claimed all the credit for her designs. Some of these designs are classics, reason enough for an “epic” retrospective in Paris. In rejecting decorative Beaux Arts styles, she pioneered modernist interiors that are “efficient, as well as comfortable, elegant, and intimate.” Images are here.

‘Art & Race Matters’: First Comprehensive Retrospective of Robert Colescott Opens at CAC Cincinnati This Week

Colescott didn’t mind tackling difficult topics like racism one little bit. Besides his use of saturated colours, he wielded another weapon – incisive wit. “The vibrancy of his works’ seduced from afar, eliciting an ‘Oh wow!’ from viewers who might then mutter ‘Oh shit!’ when [looking] up close.” He was, as one writer notes, “always playing for more than seems apparent.”

Curation as Creation

Who assigns “meaning and importance to new art”? It used to be artists, via self organized exhibitions. In the mid twentieth century the exhibition-making role shifted to professional curators. Even as scholarly interest in their work persists, are curators being eclipsed? Competition is various – “megashows” like Documenta and Venice Biennale, Instagram, and the oracle of our age, the auction room.

Under a new anti-fascist Culture Minister, Eike Schmidt’s contract at the Uffizi has been renewed for another four years

Only in Italy! Schmidt joined the Uffizi museum in 2015 as part of sweeping reforms to Italy’s museum system. By one count it was the eighth attempt at museum reform in a decade. Schmidt has proved a “relentless modernizer” and produced strong results. Recent political machinations looked certain to ensure his premature departure and the reversal of other reforms. Suddenly, to the relief of many, his reappointment has been confirmed.

The Medieval Myth of Notre-Dame

Engineering is the least of the challenges facing the Notre Dame cathedral restoration. Which of its “hodgepodge of styles” should a renovation emulate? Does its burned spire – a “fake” – merit rebuilding? Will donations for the rebuild from France’s wealthiest revive it as a symbol of power? Politicians are doing what politicians have always done with Notre Dame, “constructing a past suitable to their modern moment”.

More Than 30 Acclaimed Collages By Legendary Black Artist Romare Bearden Reunited For First Time In Nearly 40 Years

Having made it as an artist, Bearden decided to paint his own story. The resulting series of pictures does not yield a simple narrative. Bearden was a light-skinned African American, middle class and broadly accomplished. Although anchored in African American culture, his life was multi-layered. This series, says one writer, “undermines the exhausted premises of 21st century identity politics.”

8th October 2019

What the Hell Was Modernism? The Museum of Modern Art tries to open itself up

Last rites for the monarchy of modernism. New York’s MoMA was founded on the view that modernism was the zenith of all art. Major changes in the display of its collection, about to be revealed, are a de facto admission that modernism is just one of many art movements. Expect art that is” less than a century old, less white, less male, and less [American] … the monolith of modernism is gone.” Expect more on this topic.

Kara Walker debuts monumental fountain in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall

Kara Walker is having a moment in London. There is a survey of her acclaimed films that deal with slavery in America’s Antebellum South. A newly commissioned sculpture looks, at first glance, like British Empire bombast. Closer inspection shows it to contain figures that speak to Britain’s colonial past – “playful and inviting, yet brutal in its core.  A video (4 min) is here.

Street art is a crime

The case against street art, at FULL VOLUME. Three charges are made. It is anti-social, “a chronic lack of consideration for anyone else”. Further, it looks awful, “a suffocating and imposing pox on the urban landscape”. Worst of all is its legitimisation by “metropolitan and creative elites”. (That means you, The Guardian and Tate Modern.) Their motivation for doing so – to appear “culturally relevant”.

The Social Sublime: Decoding Courbet’s Burial at Ornans

Courbet was uncompromising. He determined to paint the things that really exist, excluding the Romantics painterly allusions. Burial at Ornans, one of his greatest paintings, does exactly this. Criticized at the time for being “ugly and crude”, it portrays a real funeral and the ordinary people who likely attended it. This is Courbet the Realist, the “proto shock-jock”, telling it the way it is.

How Cuba’s Cold War graphic design found humour in propaganda

Russia’s Cold War propaganda sometimes used “muscular” socialist realist imagery. Without an equivalent homegrown style, Cuba’s artists improvised, often using the tools of advertising – strong images, simple slogans, bright colours, mimicking Pop art. Innovative, without a doubt, though in the fullness of time, it went the way of all Cold War propaganda. More images are here.

Who’s Afraid of the Baroque?

Canova was born soon after the death of Bernini, Baroque sculpture’s great genius. His early works share Baroque’s ornamentation but that style was under attack. “Revolutionary energies” were afoot, not least from independent America. Canova captured these perfectly, becoming the pioneer of neoclassicism. His figures “are dry, airy and delicate … a singular attempt to communicate recognizably modern desires and fears.”

Paris will install controversial Jeff Koons gift on the Champs-Élysées

Jeff Koons has gifted a sculpture to Paris to honour terrorist attack victims. Controversy has dogged the project and, now unveiled,  its public reception is mixed. Initially intended for a location close to upmarket shopping, it has instead been placed in a public garden “partly obscured from view by trees.” A city official observes “some excess in a beautiful place – that represents Paris pretty well”.