The Easel

24th September 2019

Albrecht Dürer: The painter with ‘a magic touch’

The Albertina has a “once in a lifetime” exhibition of Dürer works. Perhaps history’s finest ever draftsman, he was also astute in using ravishing detail to serve a larger narrative. Dürer’s “miracle” portrait of a hare is without background, transforming it into “something mystical … a fiery figment of the imagination”. Concludes one writer “the Renaissance does not belong entirely to the Italians”. A video (3 min) is here.

Damien Hirst Butterfly Genocide

Hirst has the critics riled up – again. New works riff on the religious mandala, using not paints but butterfly wings. Thousands of them. One critic is delighted though more are not. Says one of the  naysayers – “it’s not shocking, it’s not clever and it’s not good.” Staying calm, the above writer suggests a connection to Hirst’s earlier work: “the butterfly, while visually seductive, always carries the inference of death.”

Mona Hatoum interview: ‘If everything is predictable, then it’s not interesting’

Hatoum was studying in London when stranded by war in her native Lebanon. Her work is not a literal replaying of her experience of displacement. Nonetheless, a theme that pervades many works is precariousness. “I’m really interested in modern ruins … even those structures that are supposed to be solid, to contain you, they can collapse.” Last week, Hatoum was announced as a Praemium Imperiale winner.

What’s at Stake for the Art World in Embracing Pace Gallery’s Colossal New Space

Critics seem un-nerved by Pace’s new eight story gallery in New York, complete with five concurrent exhibitions. Pace wants its galleries to be spaces where people want to congregate, “like church.” So what’s it like? “[I]t feels oddly akin to visiting an upscale department store … floors often have designated specialities or sections … the only certainty I saw was the unfathomable scale of coming change.”

Sir Antony Gormley’s art explores an interior realm

Gormley’s trademark work is the expressionless metal body form. Often based on molds of his own body, these figures appear in all sorts of situations, most famously his Angel of the North atop a hill in northern England. One view of a large survey show is that it is “too unfocused, and ultimately too polite”. The more positive view is that Gormley’s work is a sustained exploration of the body as a place “of memory, emotion and imagination”.

Museums Say They Are Paying More Attention to Female Artists. They Are Not.

Dismal reading. Art world declarations about redressing the gender imbalance are nowhere near being put into practice. Over the last decade just 11% of acquisitions by major American institutions were works by female artists. Further, only 14% of exhibitions were given to female artists. One curator is blunt – ““The art world is simply not [what] it imagines itself to be and you can’t solve a problem you can’t own.”

How six female artists in post-revolutionary Mexico broke down the borders between fine art and design

Mexico’s influence on modern art goes beyond Kahlo and Rivera. Clara Porset was a well-connected designer whose US training was heavily influenced by Bauhaus ideas. Returning to Mexico, she fused those ideas with Mexico’s pre-Colombian geometric aesthetic. Famous names like Anni Albers, Ruth Asawa and others followed her lead. Mexico, says the curator, “has never been an isolated place”.

17th September 2019

Robert Frank Revealed the Truth of Postwar America

Frank was widely regarded as the “most influential living photographer “. The Americans, published in 1958 to mixed reviews, is now celebrated as a masterwork. Its sometimes rough, personally expressive images “shaped the trajectory of 20th-century photography” as well as “embedding “the snapshot aesthetic” into visual culture”. Some of his most renowned images are here.

William Blake: The greatest visionary in 200 years

Blake was baffling two centuries ago and, it seems, remains so. His poetry is dense, his iconic paintings “small and dark and hard to interpret”. Often considered together, the prevailing view is that Blake was primarily a painter. Perhaps we shouldn’t try too hard at interpretation. Perhaps it’s enough that this “isolated visionary” helped inspire English Romanticism and somehow still has resonance today.

The American realism of painter Amy Sherald

Having painted Michelle Obama’s portrait, some things follow – notably higher expectations. Sherald doesn’t seem fazed, holding fast to the idea of painting people like herself “just being themselves … [not] about identity necessarily”. The Obama portrait is about a specific person but her other portraits are less about individuals and more conceptual, ““archetypes” of black experience”.

Winslow Homer was sentimental, and that’s a good thing

Rehabilitating sentimentality. Modernism brought the view that art should be individual and tough. It was not always thus. Nineteenth century artists like Winslow Homer strived for sentimentality and its constituent emotions like compassion, affection, patriotism. Says one  writer, such emotions provide “a sense of connectedness to others and to place. [T]he sentimental is at the core of much of the art we admire and enjoy the most”.

The Disturbing Greatness of Hyman Bloom

With admirers like Pollock and de Kooning, Bloom seemed destined for fame. It didn’t happen. One reason was his choice of still life painting with an odd subject – bodies and body parts. Bloom’s “autopsy paintings”, executed with beautiful colours and technique, are “paradoxes of sensuality and repulsion”. Great they may be but they were never going to be competitive with the exuberance of abstract expressionism.

What the Rise of KAWS Says About the Art World’s Ailments

KAWS, who makes cartoon-based figures, boasts auction room clout and museum shows. Perhaps he will lead street art to credibility, just as Warhol did with Pop. Fine with popular culture icons being used in art, the writer argues that KAWS isn’t “doing a very interesting job of it. KAWS purges the intelligence of popular culture … Unintimidating to viewers and flattering to institutions, [these works] embody art at its most docile”.