The Easel

6th December 2022

Ukraine’s Modernist art has defied censorship and missiles

The battle over Ukrainian identity is long. European modernism put down early roots in the Ukraine, where radical art was fused with local folk and decorative arts. Much of that output was confiscated by the Soviets and the artists declared public enemies. Recently, even as missiles flew overhead, many of those same works were secretly trucked from Kyiv to Madrid for exhibition and safekeeping. Says a curator “If we do not preserve Ukrainian culture, we will not preserve Ukraine.” Images are here.

Ruangrupa in first place in the “Power 100”

Power in the art world, says ArtReview, means an ability to influence the art being shown globally. The magazine’s  power ranking is “not smooth or consistent” and includes the ability to “disrupt”. Top spot went to ruangrupa, the Indonesian art collective that curated Documenta 15. At 100 is a curator of indigenous art in Western Australia. In between is an eclectic mix of artists, gallerists, academics and curators. Not a critic to be seen. Make of it what you will!

Aline Kominsky-Crumb

A critic described Kominsky-Crumb’s pioneering autobiographical comix as “loaded with ugliness”. Her renowned cartoonist husband R Crumb responded that her untidy graphic style simply showed she was free of “comic book banalities”. Recognition did arrive, helped by an eminent critic linking her “emphatic” style to German Expressionism. Mostly, Kominsky-Crumb was a feminist hero for her “unprettified” portrayal of women that posed the question “Okay, I’m disgusting, will you still love me?”.

How and why Pantone picked ‘Viva Magenta’ as its 2023 color of the year

Pantone, a colour technology company, each year selects a colour to match the zeitgeist. In a decision anticipated by many, it has announced Viva Magenta as the colour that chimes with 2023’s “heightened appreciation and awareness of nature”. Pantone explained its choice thus: “It is assertive, but not aggressive. Viva Magenta cloaks us in both power and grace and sends us out into the world with the verve we’ve yearned for.” The “magentaverse” is upon us!

Denver Art Museum’s new look at Flemish old masters

Around 1500, and coming into its pomp, Antwerp prized the exquisite detail of Flemish gothic art. That is, until Italians started centering their art on the human figure. Flemish art gradually followed. This, together with newly developed oil paint that enabled greater tonal nuance, set the stage for the golden age of Dutch art. Stars like Rubens, van Dyck and Wautier drew on their traditions of careful observation to produce contemporary art that expressed “the vivid actualities of life”.

Aubrey Beardsley

Beardsley was gleefully transgressive and feasted on prudish Victorian England. Caricaturist, cartoonist, book illustrator, poster designer and, of course, artist, his career lasted just seven years. His love of the grotesque led a contemporary to accuse him of “blasphemies against art”. Yet his drawings and “serpentine” line remain instantly recognizable, as does his mixture of “coyness and acid observation, of tender description with shocking incident”.

29th November 2022

Things, Musée du Louvre, Paris review – the still life brought alive

Still life, a genre that goes back to the ancient Greeks, is sometimes thought of as the study of inanimate things. A “stupendous, exhilarating” exhibition in Paris demonstrates that, irrespective of their subject, these are works that throb with life. They are made vital by our ideas about things – “our attachments, our hopes, our whims and our follies”. In that sense “the world of things … is always alive”. Multiple images are here.

Painting is having a special moment: look at Amy Sherald

With her first solo show in Europe, Sherald wins a new fan. In the flesh, her portraits are full of subtlety and reveal her to be a “daring colourist”. More than that, though, they are about “strikingly and profoundly black” subjects, a group woefully absent from the art canon. These works “pull you in and make you imagine things about this modest but gripping cast. It’s what great portraiture has always done.  [They are] exceptional art” A recent interview is here.

GDR art is dead. Long live East art!

When Baselitz and Richter left East Germany for the West, each disparaged the artists who remained. That Cold War mud has stuck, especially against visual artists. Some groups, like musicians and writers, avoided such criticisms and East German architecture – “Eastern modernism” – is attracting growing interest. The writer predicts “a fundamental upheaval … with dwindling resistance [from] former opponents … and the next generation plowing other fields.“ (Google Translate)

The story of architecture in 100 buildings

We all use buildings. That makes architecture “the art form most pregnant with meaning”. Further, the peak achievements of a culture are expressed in its “best” buildings. A new book tries to explain why these structures impress us. It offers one rule – “comfort is to architecture what justice is to law”. Beyond that, though, its not clear if “buildings [are] famous because they are great or great because they are famous”. The same, of course, might be said of great art.

This devastatingly brilliant and unconscionably awful book will delight and appall

After “failing” as an artist, Jerry Saltz drove trucks. After that, he started writing art criticism. He is criticized for being insufficiently knowledgable of art history, too “woke” and prone to exaggeration. He also is highly influential and writes in a passionate yet accessible style that has won him a Pulitzer prize. His new book gets a mixed report card. Saltz’s vision is so “clouded by superlatives” that his writing sometimes resembles a press release. But, “he seems like a perfectly nice guy”.