The Easel

25th June 2019

Geoff Dyer on the poetry of motels

Beautiful writing. Old style Las Vegas motels are celebrated in a recent photography book. A straightforward review is here. The linked piece is something else. It starts as a review but untethers, becoming a reverie.” The defining architectural feature of the motel — no need to go through a public lobby to get to your room.  [But] romance shrivelled the moment you entered the room. The smell …” More images are here.

Interpreting Oscar Murillo

Murillo is going places. Backed by a prominent collector he can boast notable auction results. He has frecently been nominated for Britain’s Turner Prize. However, only a few critics have reviewed his current show, one of them describing it as “rubbish”. A reaction to unfamiliar art? If so, this reviewer shares it, saying the work is “perhaps Murillo’s means of dealing with [his] anxieties”.

Bartolomé Bermejo: Beat the Devil

The art world in the fifteenth century was focused on Italy. Spain, provincial, was ignored. Bermejo took advantage of this to develop his own style – somewhat similar to Flemish masters like van Eyck. His works show intricate detail and a mastery of oil painting. One work, recently restored, is “one of the supreme works of art produced in all of Europe in the fifteenth century.”

Sotheby’s gets a new owner

Blanket coverage of the takeover of Sotheby’s makes the topic hard to avoid, but is it such a big deal? Sotheby’s and Christie’s together sell over 80% of artworks valued above $1m. The deal should help Sotheby’s to compete so margins will probably shrink. Public information will likely reduce. Detailed analysis of the deal is here but the linked piece is succinct: it’s just “capitalism”.

The Colorful Waves Generated by Mohamed Melehi and the Casablanca Art School

Hard-edged abstraction, as Frank Stella conceived it, was macho. Melehi, part of the same New York circle in the early 60’s, saw something different – a resonance with “the abstraction inherent in Islamic art.” Back in Morocco he pioneered an aesthetic that married abstraction with Berber craft motifs. A new chapter in the culture of independent Morocco had begun.

Photographing the Otherworldly and the Abject

Surely photography cannot get further away from the ‘decisive moment’ than Ess’s images. They are blurry, indistinct, cheap, sourced from pinhole cameras and surveillance footage. Their allure is that they deter interpretation, thinks one critic. Or do they entice us look even harder for meaning? Says Ess, these images have the “capacity to transform the ordinary into the symbolic”.

An answer to Roberta Smith’s “Stop Hating Jeff Koons”

An essay about Koons (see The Easel, May 28) has brought out warring camps. Some supporters put Koons on an equal footing with the celebrated Marcel Duchamp. An outraged artist is having none of it. “There is good art and bad art; Koons’s falls into the latter category. To my mind, calling a Jeff Koons “beautiful” demonstrates only a lack of understanding of the word’s meaning.”

18th June 2019

Gerhard Richter: Seascapes

Given the numerous Richter exhibitions, what can yet another one say? This show assembles the best of his meticulous photorealistic seascapes. It reveals his strategy quite clearly – avoid copying a photograph while striving for an “autonomous image” devoid of a personal style. However, something distinctive does emerge, “a strangeness and unease and that is stylistic in itself.”

Dame Paula Rego: Will Gompertz reviews Obedience and Defiance in Milton Keynes

Paula Rego doesn’t do mild. Intense is closer to the mark, especially works dealing with issues – like abortion – that affect women. In these works, and others, her female figures seem empowered. The renowned “dog-woman” series shows female figures in dog-like poses, yet all possessed of an indomitable spirit. As one critic says “exhilarating, at times alarming”.

Museums’ Recent Tech Obsession Does Not Compute

Technology is a trendy subject. However, not for the first time, a prominent show on the topic fails to excite. While individual works are “interesting”, the show is “incoherent”. Too many works “divorce us from the reality of how intertwined our physical and virtual worlds have become. [Why warn about a] dark and dangerous other world?… the thing is, we are already in that other world”.

Where In the World Is ‘Salvator Mundi’? Kenny Schachter Reveals the Location of the Lost $450 Million Leonardo

Possibly well-informed art market gossip. Where is Salvator Mundi? (On a luxury yacht – where did you expect?) Does recent scholarship support attribution to da Vinci? And, has anyone noticed the scale of investments in art in the Middle East? Abu Dhabi’s Louvre, Qatar’s National Museum and Saudi Arabia’s planned cultural precinct are a “headlong shopping spree for international cultural capital”.

Shades of grey – the austere artistry of Vilhelm Hammershøi

Hammershøi is often compared to Vermeer because both painted interiors. From that point they diverge. Vermeer showed a moment’s stillness amidst daily activity. Hammershøi’s interiors are all quiet greys and pallid light, clutter conspicuously absent. Figures have their backs turned. Is everything OK here? “He observes rooms with the attentiveness of one watching for changes in the weather.”

Modernism’s Debt to Black Women

Museums have only recently shown real interest in black artists. Likewise, “rigid” art history has blatantly ignored black figures that appear in European paintings (see The Easel, January 22). “Even basic facts about the relationship between blackness, black culture, and certain Modernists, like Manet and Matisse, have been omitted from the timeline of art history.”