The Easel

2nd July 2019

Cindy Sherman’s first UK retrospective

This exhibition, a lap of honour for Sherman, tells an important art story. Sherman doesn’t try for excellent photography. Her work shows the “gestures and tropes of womanhood” and is a commentary on images. As one writer puts it “Her work signaled the arrival of photography on art’s main stage … There is no real Cindy Sherman, only infinite characters who reflect the countless mediated images that bombard us daily”.

Willem de Kooning: Acrobat with a Paint Brush

De Kooning brought with him from Europe a decent art training. What he did with that training was remarkable. He used it to bring formal structure to his works. Yet he somehow remained open to the influence of American culture. He remains an artist who resists precise categorization – a radical who “refused to be pinned down … as either “representational” or “abstract”.”

Exhibiting Change: When Some of the Best-Attended Exhibitions in Museums Are Protests, Where Do Institutions Go from Here?

Museums should serve their communities. Multiple recent protests about museum practices suggest there is room for improvement. A broader focus than white male artists would be a good start, though only a “drop in the bucket”. One museum director advocates abandoning “the old model of museum as temple … the most important book a museum director should be reading is the census”.

Lubaina Himid’s colorful paintings explore the influence of the African diaspora

Himid has the voice of an activist. She charges that Britain’s “selective version of the past” erases black people. To make that point with her art, she has drawn on the work of satirists like William Hogarth. Himid often puts her figures in formal groupings, in the style of eighteenth century paintings. Satire, she says, helps with the “task of taking apart old ways of holding on to power.”

Cutting Edge: Modernist British Printmaking, Dulwich Picture Gallery review – a cut above

Print making has been popular for centuries. After WW1, the linocut was briefly all the rage. While not requiring the skill of, say, etching, it was ideal for the bold colourful style of British modernism. Municipal entities used linocuts widely in promotional materials to convey the speed and optimism of the burgeoning metropolis. Sadly, that mood and linocut’s popularity disappeared as peace came to an end. Images are here.

Renoir the sensualist, and the pleasures of paint

Some call Renoir a ravishing colourist. More often, critics praise is sparing. This writer says of one work “it has little to tell, and everything to show.” Renoir’s sin – “lush, gorgeous escapism”. At a time of wrenching social change he focused on “the pleasures of color and light, flesh and form.” An excuse, of sorts, is offered up – Renoir was simply an artist for whom “subject was secondary, and painting was all”.

When Gekko Collects Art

The art market’s expansion is significantly due to greater participation by finance executives. They see the finance and art markets as having “similar principles of evaluation and pricing”. Their “flexible aesthetic preferences” favour contemporary art where connoisseurship plays a lesser role. Factors like “brand power” and celebrity mean the art market “increasingly resembles … professional sports.” Reasonable people may disagree.

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.”