The Easel

13th August 2019

Bridget Riley, Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, review: eye-scrambling insights into the workings of a truly great artist

A piece just out from behind a paywall. Riley went from doing Seurat-like pointillist paintings to black and white op art pieces in just three years. She realized that “although Seurat’s dot is comparable in its simplicity, the line has fractionally more going for it.” (Fancy that!). Restricting her focus to just a few visual ideas set Riley on a path to being “one of the very few living British artists who genuinely deserves to be called great.” Images are here.

Full of wonders: Takis at Tate Modern reviewed

Takis died last week, just after the opening of his “epic” London retrospective. Labelling him a pioneer of kinetic art scarcely does him justice. Some of his abstract sculptures use lights while others make strange sounds. Most famous are works that use electromagnetism to suspend objects in mid-air, “frozen in constant, unbearable, unbreakable tension.” Better than an obituary is this video (6 min).

teamLab’s Tokyo Museum Has Become the World’s Most Popular Single-Artist Destination, Surpassing the Van Gogh Museum

An otherwise standard London show on technology had one standout item – an interactive installation by Japanese collective teamLab. Said one critic “the most genuinely interactive, and certainly the most mellow and blissful, I’ve ever experienced.” This is background for the news that teamLab’s Tokyo museum is the world’s most popular “single artist” museum. Food for thought for sceptics of multimedia / video art.

Stick ‘em up! A surprising history of collage

An exhibition claims collage has a lineage of 400 years. Really? The gluing on of scraps of paper is venerable and yes, Victoriana “scrap work” was varied. But collage in the hands of Braque and Picasso (and the surrealists) was light years away from what came before. Beyond this art history squabble, collage is entrenched as a creative – and disruptive – force in our visual culture.

London’s Turbulent Russian Market

Dizzying auction prices obscure the reality that markets are social, that is human, institutions. Take, for example, London’s low profile and low-priced Russian art auctions. “The lead-in is … a Friday evening party held at Shapero Rare Books, opposite Sotheby’s. Christie’s, on Saturday night, have the best cocktails; MacDougall’s, on Sunday, the best music … Bonhams stood out – by hiring the London Russian Ballet School to perform dances”.

Can performance art be owned? Why the genre is often missing in museum collections

Performance art is “low down on the totem pole” of museum priorities. What does it mean to collect something that is so ephemeral? Apparently, an acquisition involves buying the concept and any documentation – plus a moral obligation to have it performed now and then. A few major museums are keen collectors, many not. Are these purchased works covered by copyright? Its “problematic”.

6th August 2019

On Excavation: The Paintings of Mark Bradford

Bradford says some of his abstract works start as a kind of map and “on top of it I lay art history and my imagination”. His works combine painting and collage, the thick surfaces then sanded back to reveal their multiple layers. It’s a kind of excavation, just as looking at art involves “a subtle excavation: we sift through associations and memories [attempting] to move from our own experience more fully into the space of the artwork”.

The variegated symbolism of gardens in art

Everyone enjoys a garden. A Berlin show intrudes on such happy thoughts, suggesting gardens have a “rich metaphoric ambiguity”. Tranquility is achieved by the exclusion of others. The ubiquitous lawn is “imperious in its consumption of space and resources”, troubling at a time of climate change. Gardens show how humans see their place in nature, for better or for worse.

Ilya Repin’s Art and Construction of Russian-ness

Often absent from Western art history books, Repin is a central figure in Russian art. A nineteenth century social realist, his astute portraits of Russian luminaries are acclaimed and his genre paintings of late-Tsarist life even more so. These works have influenced “contemporary Russians’ perception of themselves … [helping to answer] the question of what Russianness means”.

An Indian Master of Fiber, Clay, and Bronze

Sheer originality puts Mukherjee in “a class of her own”. Inspired by Indian temple carvings, she made sculptures from hemp that she knotted to create three-dimensionality. Despite the humble material, these works have a “modernist formalism” that places them outside Indian art traditions. One critic gushes “one of the most arresting museum experiences of the season … an astonishment.” A video (4 min) is here.

Where Women Outpace Men in the Market

A recent Easel essay highlighted the low prices for works by female artists. Is that beginning to change? Recent auction prices of works by women have risen faster than for men, a marked change from “the last 50 years”. Still, over 90% of auction revenues come from works by male artists so they “need not fear a drastic loss of market share to female artists anytime soon”.

It Ought to Be Gothick

Debate rages over Notre Dame cathedral. Some, viewing it like an artwork, demand faithful replication. However, conventions about treating damaged art vary. Sculptures usually don’t get repaired whereas paintings do. Anyway, Notre Dame has mixed design elements resulting from multiple constructions. Overall, tepid support for the view that “whatever its exact design, it ought to be Gothic.”

Adversarial Art Worlds: A Report from Christie’s Art + Tech Summit

Maybe the revolution of algorithm art is less than imminent. Google likes the idea of AI art because it helps “humanize” AI. However, their engineers are not interested in claiming authorship of AI paintings. For them, art is just more data. That’s a problem. Christie’s – indeed, all the art world – sees “the hand of the artist” as paramount. “Christie’s thrives on scarcity. Google does not.”