The Easel

14th September 2021

9/11: Trials And Triumphs Of The ‘Tribute In Light’

Each year on the anniversary of 9/11, two towers of light are switched on in New York city. These “ghostly columns” shine from dusk to dawn and are a notable piece of public art. Leaving aside the squabbles about who first came up with the idea for the memorial, what stands out is the idea that, in a crisis, people wanted “a powerful artwork”. One writer, looking at the square rigs of spotlights, says ”I could not avoid the sensation that it was a church”.

A Conversation About Joan Mitchell

The abstract expressionism style clearly rubbed off on Mitchell. However, those artists didn’t believe in paintings having a subject. Mitchell did. Her enduring loves were poetry and nature and a big retrospective shows just how much they figure in her work. Not literal still lifes or landscapes, but the moods they convey. “There is no word for the territory she created … she straddles and defies both abstraction and landscape … a beautiful/ugly duet”.

With Pleasure

This exhibition of Pattern and Decoration works was praised when shown in Los Angeles. Less so in New York. The 1970’s movement opposed the austerity of Minimalism and the claimed superiority of fine art. Some works have merit, concedes the writer, but many pieces would suit “hotel gift shops”. And even Japan, with its long craft tradition, still distinguishes between that and fine art. Still, whatever you make of these arguments, “decoration is worthy of admiration”.

Pipilotti Rist’s MOCA Geffen takeover is a sensuous pleasure trip you don’t want to miss

To host a Rist retrospective, you need lots of room. In LA she has been given it, filling a “cavernous” space with videos, large scale installations, sculptures and other highlights of a 30-year career. It’s an “engulfing” experience that showcases Rist’s interest in using vivid colour and light to affect our emotions and to create shared experiences. Overall, the show “is an overdose … a welcome overdose.”

How Paul Sandby painted Britain as he saw it

This profile of Sandby, an early Romantic era British artist avoids an obvious question – was he second-rate? Trained as a draftsman, Sandby made his name as a watercolour landscapist. Turner, younger by a just few decades, brought drama and emotion to landscape painting. Sandby brought … accuracy; he showed the facts of a landscape. When art history considers which artists should be deemed great, skill is perhaps necessary but is certainly not sufficient.

7th September 2021

‘I’m not a nice girl. I’m a photographer. I go anywhere’

After WW1, cameras become smaller and cheaper. Women, emboldened by education, new job opportunities and (imminently) the vote, took to photography in significant numbers. Across multiple countries, they were technically and aesthetic innovative, bringing a more nuanced approach to “social documentary” and “gender representation”. This groundbreaking exhibition has, according to one critic “the weightiness of a new definitive history” of photography.

Appreciating the poetic misunderstandings of A.I. art

Just three years ago the first AI-generated artwork was sold at auction. Now, images can be generated via a Twitter account. Is this image making any more than a gimmick? It’s not clear. Many images are techno mashups, reflecting “the collective unconsciousness of the Internet”. But some have “incoherence” or “poetic misunderstandings” that are unmistakably non-human. What can we expect as AI tools improve further, as they will? “A cool civilisation”.

In the Late Hung Liu’s Historical Portraits, Layers of Joy and Struggle Are Exposed

Liu grew up in the shadow of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Although later emigrating to the US, her art drew on old photos from that era, as well as Dorothea Lange’s ‘dustbowl’ portraits. What inspiration was she tapping into? ‘To show the truth, and the truth is that many people struggle … still today.” Liu died last month, just before becoming the first Asian American woman to have a retrospective at Washington’s National Portrait Gallery.

The Modernism of Hector Guimard

Art nouveau was all the rage in 1890’s Paris and Guimard was its key figure. His buildings, subway entrances and domestic furnishings were stylistically innovative and promoted a harmony between building design and interior decoration. By 1910, the new century’s taste for functional simplicity was apparent and after the war, art nouveau was completely eclipsed by a modernism that it had helped create. Images are here.

New dealer partnership between Lévy Gorvy, Salon 94 and Amalia Dayan hints at post-pandemic shift in traditional gallery model

Covid-related losses and competitive pressures are leading to strange-looking deals. Small specialist galleries are bulking up. Auction houses are adding services that overlap with art fairs and galleries. Now a group of galleries and art advisers are merging to create … what? “A hybrid” admits one participant, one that creates more shows but reduces artist representation. “Perhaps [this] means the end of the traditional gallery as we know it.”

How Contemporary Art Became a Vibe

Streamed music and “ambient TV” are soothers. The writer worries that art is going the same way. Yayoi Kusama and teamlab, to name some names, are but two artists whose immersive work demands little of the viewer – “visual muzak”. Unlike the focus needed to read a book, such works cater to “diffused attention”. Some artists and curators appear now to prioritize Instagram opportunities over an intellectual challenge. “It’s chilling”, says the writer.