The Easel

3rd March 2020

David Hockney: Drawing from Life review – stripping subjects down to their gym socks

A few critics’ quibbles (too many Hockney shows, “the polished sweetness of Ingres”) don’t reflect the majority view. “Postwar art’s greatest draughtsman” says one. This writer agrees. “Hockney is a graphic master … the most dazzling display of his art I have ever seen. The intensity of Hockney’s self-inspection, fag in mouth, bears comparison with Rembrandt.”

Lynda Benglis Pours One Out

A notorious 1974 nude portrait in Artforum announced Benglis as a provocateur. Over a lengthy career, she has stayed faithful to type. Early poured-latex sculptures shook up sculpture. Her video art was disruptive. She used shamelessly bright colours at a time of “revered monochrome”. So, provocateur – why not? Artists get recognition “because they’re not just making objects to be seen, they’re making their beliefs as they feel them”.

The cold, imperious beauty of Donald Judd

Realising that his paintings were a bit so-so, Judd switched to 3-D “objects” (boxes to you and I). Even though abstract expressionism was dominant, this work made a big splash. This New York retrospective acknowledges that Judd’s minimal aesthetic is now so influential it is “engulfing”. Still, his objects are visually austere. “I would tell you my emotional responses to the gorgeous [Judd] works … if I had any”.

The Layers of History Behind Raphael’s Tapestries at the Sistine Chapel

Michelangelo was irked by Raphael. Compared to the former, Raphael was just an upstart. Yet somehow Raphael won a papal commission for a set of tapestries. Those tapestries were recently reunited in the Sistine Chapel, for just one week. “[Their] overall effect is sumptuous, even awe-inspiring, and their level of detail is astonishing. [They reveal] the Sistine Chapel not just as a complete work of art, but as a complete cultural artifact”.

World-class photography, born under the roof of apartheid

Mofokeng was “man of our messy present”. Firstly a street photographer, then press photographer, his reputation blossomed as a member of a group that documented South Africa’s political life. He avoided violence, instead showing ordinary township life with “fluidity and poetry”. There is, says the writer “a persuasive case for Mofokeng’s place in the pantheon of greats. Not just in South Africa, but globally.”

‘Vida Americana’ Is the Most Relevant Show of the 21st Century

After the Mexican Revolution, leading artists such as Rivera, Siqueiros, and Orozco left for the US. There they greatly influenced artists like Jackson Pollock and Phillip Guston who were “looking for a way around Picasso”. A “stupendous” show acknowledges their contribution. “Siqueiros [works] … are among the most physically original and innovative paintings of the 20th century.” A video (6 min) is here.

Death of a wannabe “mega” gallery—was the closure of Blain Southern an outlier or the canary in the mine?

Regarded by some as “one of London’s best”, Blain Southern gallery has closed, midway through its expansion into New York. Further evidence that smaller galleries cannot survive? Not necessarily – Blain Southern was hardly small. Any lessons are likely prosaic. First, look after your big-name artists. Secondly, if you have an ambitious expansion in mind, have deep pockets.

25th February 2020

Steve McQueen tells us about the lesser-known details behind his films

Having won both the Turner Prize and an Oscar (12 Years a Slave), McQueen is a maestro of film. His retrospective in London has been acclaimed – “a brass-knuckled punch of reality in the face of everyday complacency”. Better than most reviews, which seem not to have the knack of discussing the moving image, is McQueen’s own commentary. “I don’t know what the truth is. I just want to be naked and things to be raw.”

Warhol by Blake Gopnik, review: a monumental portrait of the art souperstar

A new biography of Warhol is out, based on open access to his archives. Old debates are revived – the most important artist of the 20th century, or just “a creepy commercial artist who got lucky“? The big picture ideas coming out of the book also sound familiar: “there was an emotional vacancy in Warhol … [he] remains, as he doubtless would have wished, essentially, brilliantly, unknowable.” (This link may help with navigating the Telegraph paywall)

Hammer Museum’s ‘Paul McCarthy: Head Space’ draws a revelatory picture of L.A. artist

McCarthy’s own gallery describes his oeuvre as “anarchic”. So where should a retrospective focus? Hammer Museum chooses drawing, a constant in his long career. Surrealism and Expressionism were formative influences. Unifying McCarthy’s diverse output is his constant attention to one key theme: “overwhelming physical, psychological and emotional toxicity within a culture that elevates beastly male power above all else”.

EU Brings Greek Demand for Elgin Marbles Into Brexit Talks

The EU wants its trade negotiations with Britain to be contingent on repatriation of “unlawfully removed cultural objects”. That’s code for Greece wanting Britain to return marble carvings that had, for 2000 years, adorned the Acropolis. British officials are dismissive of this move, perhaps confident that possession is 9/10th of the law. An interesting podcast is here.

Shifting sands: An art exhibition, a desert landscape and an insight into Saudi society

Saudi Arabia doesn’t do things by halves. It plans to develop an area the size of Belgium into an arts hub and conservation area. A key event will be Desert X AlUla, an exhibition of “grand-scale art” in the striking desert landscape. Can a society that restricts freedom of expression foster a vibrant arts community? “[Y]es, but only up to a point. [The work] is often visually spectacular but feels ultimately insubstantial.”

‘Just Plain Ugly’: Proposed Executive Order Takes Aim At Modern Architecture

Political leaders have long expressed particular architectural preferences. Perhaps President Trump is one of them. Critical of Brutalist and Modernist styles, a proposed Executive Order requires new Federal buildings to use Classical designs. That means lots of Greek columns. Architects of all stripes are outraged. Sneers one writer, “a return to the cultural aspirations of Camelot.” Background on the issue is here.

Dhaka Art Summit 2020

Bangladeshi artists joke that, with local philanthropic support scarce, they only see each other when invited to Europe. Dhaka Art Summit is trying to change that. Unlike an art fair, DAS is “entirely non-commercial”, focused on building links across artists of the region. Naturally, the show has a bias toward local artists. Says the curator “The immense amount of local traction is what enables the summit to be what it is.”