The Easel

22nd October 2019

Nam June Paik review

Anticipating the internet, as Paik did, clearly makes him a visionary. Further, with his often lighthearted works that combined electronics, engineering and what we now call IT, he pioneered the genre of video art. Some of his work was obvious but the best scintillating, foreshadowing that what he called the “electronic superhighway” would unleash a torrent of images and remake our culture.

MoMA’s Art Treasure, No Longer Buried

Reviews of the “new” MoMA are numerous and positive. Its much enlarged building is slick, a bit like an Apple store. Art by old white males is less dominant. Critically, MoMA has discarded its view of art history as an inevitable, cumulating sequence of art movements in London, Paris and New York. Great art, it now thinks, happens everywhere. “The museum could be on its way to its second round of greatness.”

Resilience: Philip Guston In 1971

In 1970 Guston was an esteemed abstractionist – but he wanted out. He returned to figuration. His first show of that work caused such uproar that he fled to Rome. There he was prolific. Unflattering drawings of President Nixon; deliberately clumsy paintings of lumpy figures and lumpy objects. The paintings, now famous, have a human feel but are obscure. Guston agreed: “I look at my paintings, speculate about them. They baffle me, too.”

What lies beneath

There can be costs to being good at just one thing. Stubbs’ paintings of horses were of unparalleled anatomical accuracy and notable empathy. When he brought them to London he was a hit with wealthy horse owners. He liked their horses more than he liked them. They noticed. Britain’s greatest painter of the equine form was pidgeon-holed a “sporting painter”. Full membership of the Royal Academy was denied.

Who is Michael Jang?

Three cheers for municipal arts programs. As a student, Jang’s hobby was street photography. This interest was crowded out as his career in commercial photography developed. Decades later, an astonished local art curator came across Jang’s early work, leading to exhibitions and, now, a monograph. Ever-modest, Jang thinks his work is dated, but then wonders “Maybe they’ll be like Twinkies and will last forever”. More images are here.

Where Is the Audience for Art Criticism Now?

Some puzzling about a subject dear to this editor’s heart – why is there so little good writing on art? Have (online) editors “given up on criticism”? Is the critic a doomed species in “a multi-voice universe”? Surely there is a healthy demand for good writing, particularly in the face of boundless online dross? And, the critic’s job spec is not unreasonable; “some insight … written in a distinctive and pleasurable style.”

15th October 2019

Gauguin Portraits review – a buttoned-up, nervous and nude-light cop-out of a show

Gauguin’s reputation rests heavily on his Tahiti portraits. Why then are so few included in this major show? This writer suspects a “nervous cop-out” to avoid controversy coming from their evident misogyny. That’s a disservice to Gauguin. To his credit, these works show his respect for Polynesian culture, in the face of prevailing European colonialism. “If we can’t see art, we can’t debate it”.

How Charlotte Perriand Rose to Become Design’s Most Unexpected Luminary

Working with Le Corbusier was, for Perriand, a mixed blessing. Her work opportunities broadened but the downside was that he claimed all the credit for her designs. Some of these designs are classics, reason enough for an “epic” retrospective in Paris. In rejecting decorative Beaux Arts styles, she pioneered modernist interiors that are “efficient, as well as comfortable, elegant, and intimate.” Images are here.

‘Art & Race Matters’: First Comprehensive Retrospective of Robert Colescott Opens at CAC Cincinnati This Week

Colescott didn’t mind tackling difficult topics like racism one little bit. Besides his use of saturated colours, he wielded another weapon – incisive wit. “The vibrancy of his works’ seduced from afar, eliciting an ‘Oh wow!’ from viewers who might then mutter ‘Oh shit!’ when [looking] up close.” He was, as one writer notes, “always playing for more than seems apparent.”

Curation as Creation

Who assigns “meaning and importance to new art”? It used to be artists, via self organized exhibitions. In the mid twentieth century the exhibition-making role shifted to professional curators. Even as scholarly interest in their work persists, are curators being eclipsed? Competition is various – “megashows” like Documenta and Venice Biennale, Instagram, and the oracle of our age, the auction room.

Under a new anti-fascist Culture Minister, Eike Schmidt’s contract at the Uffizi has been renewed for another four years

Only in Italy! Schmidt joined the Uffizi museum in 2015 as part of sweeping reforms to Italy’s museum system. By one count it was the eighth attempt at museum reform in a decade. Schmidt has proved a “relentless modernizer” and produced strong results. Recent political machinations looked certain to ensure his premature departure and the reversal of other reforms. Suddenly, to the relief of many, his reappointment has been confirmed.

The Medieval Myth of Notre-Dame

Engineering is the least of the challenges facing the Notre Dame cathedral restoration. Which of its “hodgepodge of styles” should a renovation emulate? Does its burned spire – a “fake” – merit rebuilding? Will donations for the rebuild from France’s wealthiest revive it as a symbol of power? Politicians are doing what politicians have always done with Notre Dame, “constructing a past suitable to their modern moment”.

More Than 30 Acclaimed Collages By Legendary Black Artist Romare Bearden Reunited For First Time In Nearly 40 Years

Having made it as an artist, Bearden decided to paint his own story. The resulting series of pictures does not yield a simple narrative. Bearden was a light-skinned African American, middle class and broadly accomplished. Although anchored in African American culture, his life was multi-layered. This series, says one writer, “undermines the exhausted premises of 21st century identity politics.”