The Easel

21st April 2020

Virus Void

Well, its happening. With galleries having shut down, there are no new shows and reviews are petering out. Some writers are trying to review online exhibitions, with so-so results.
What to do? The challenge, even more than usual, is to find quality pieces. As long as worthwhile pieces continue to be written I will pick them up, even if that means a skinny newsletter with just a few items Just as galleries are putting real effort into their online presence, perhaps writers will find more compelling ways to write about it. Let’s hope.
If you come across particularly good online offerings, or have other suggestions, please drop me a line at


Mortality and the Old Masters

Once museums re-open, will we see our favourite works in the same way? Will we still resonate to the “soulful heft” of Old Masters works, made when pandemics were a constant worry? “I’m interested by an abrupt shift in my attitude toward [Velazquez’ Las Meninas. It] suddenly casts a shadow of … death and disaster. There would never be another moment in the Spanish court so radiant—or a painting, anywhere, so good”.

The art world goes virtual

Galleries are getting serious about online. New offerings – exhibition walk-throughs, restricted access sales, even robot led tours – are all being tried. One gallerist expects smaller art fairs to be hit but change might be broader than that. Says another gallerist “I don’t believe [the gallery] model will cease to exist but the scale on which we were all operating may well.” A sample of current online shows is here.

Painting After All: Authors Sheena Wagstaff and Brinda Kumar on the Gerhard Richter Book and Exhibition

Curators of the Gerhard Richter show in New York explain Richter’s belief in painting. He has a “deep-seated mistrust” of photography. It cannot capture a sense of realism and is “ultimately not about truth in any direct way”. Painting, in contrast “has more of a singular presence and relevance to our actual living moment. After everything that has happened to humankind … painting is still there as evidence of our collective endurance”.

Eileen Gray’s Deco Designs Launched Modernism. That Was Just the Beginning

Eileen Gray is being restored to her rightful place in modernist history. She was a rarity – a female designer working before WW1. Having been exposed to Le Courbusier’s modernist ideas she applied them to interior design. Gray then designed the E1027 house in France, widely considered a modernist masterpiece. Little recognized by male contemporaries, she is now being acclaimed as “the mother of modernism”. A background bio is here.

Visions of the implausible

When this show was mounted in Paris, it mystified. It mystifies in New York, too. Lecqueu trained as an architect and moved to Paris just before the French Revolution. His perfectionist, grandiose designs “fizzled”, his career as well. He also produced equally meticulous, “unnerving” erotic drawings. Where does this leave us? “[T]he appeal of his art is, in fact, its impossibility. A little of Lequeu goes a long way.”

So you mean it’s not so repulsive after all?

Museums in financial trouble sometimes sell items from their collections. Problem – it upsets people. Now that many museums are worried about survival, surely more will do so. Long standing opponents to this practice are bowing to the inevitable. One observer, noting the current dire circumstances, says “the notion of a “public good” has become nothing but academic and journalistic fodder.“

14th April 2020

What Alexander Calder Understood About Joy

Having moved to Paris, Calder started his art-making with some unusual pieces – miniature model circuses. Playful, yes, but not trivial. Calder’s biographer reasons that they were an “experiment in spatial relations”. Soon after came wire sculptures and then the mobile, the fullest expression of Calder’s artistic vision, “an art not of isolated or singular objects but of a dialogue between objects”.

(Morgan Meis will be interviewing Jed Perl about his Calder biography next month. – Ed)

Art is a collective experience. It’s also a deeply private one

Gallery openings and art fairs offer collective enjoyment of art. Now this is off limits there is an opportunity to focus on “pleasures we cultivate in isolation”. One part of this is awareness of our “isolation and smallness in a grandly scaled universe”. This “fundamentally private” insight can be learned in a crowd “but you can also learn it alone, and there’s no time like the present”.

The Dizzying Experience of Visiting Virtual Museums

Humorous stumblings around Google Arts & Culture during lockdown. “If you press a single arrow key long enough, you can set a gallery to spinning like a top. [In] the Uffizi in Florence, I kept having a problem centering myself, so I would slam into windows like a confused bird. Still, if you accept that a Google Arts & Culture tour is nothing like walking through a museum, it has its own strange pleasures.”

The architectural tragedy of the 2019 Notre-Dame fire

An interesting update. A year ago this week, fire ravaged Paris’s Notre Dame cathedral. Work since has revealed how little of the structure is truly original. Does this change the dilemma facing the project – faithful restoration versus modern adaptation? Perhaps, suggests the writer, there is no choice: “[R]estoring a work of architecture [may mean] giving it an imagined completeness which may never have existed.”

Lygia Clark: Painting as an Experimental Field 1948-1958

Starting out in Rio de Janeiro, Clark was a figurative painter. Tuition from Ferdinand Leger during a sojourn in Paris changed all that. What Clark responded to most was not his Cubism but his instinct for geometric shapes. Geometric abstraction quickly became her signature style, a style increasingly devoid of colour. Observing her stark shapes, she famously said “What I seek is to compose a space”.

Bamboo crafts: Woven into Japan’s art history

Eye candy. Bamboo weaving is a centuries-old tradition in Japan, rooted in the crafts of basket weaving and utensil making. The early 1920’s saw local craftsmen begin to explore more refined, aesthetic forms. Excitement has grown among Western collectors in just the last few decades but greater recognition in Japan is happening only slowly. Images (2 min) are here.

Weegee: Photos of a seedy underworld

The New York tabloids had a saying: “if it bleeds it leads”. Weegee’s sensational images for these clients brought him renown. What sets his photography apart is an evident empathy for those who lived in New York’s teeming tenements. It allowed his images to tell a bigger, human story which is his legacy. One follower was Diane Arbus: “[they] occupy some of the same mental space – the underworld, the real fringe people”. A video (8 min) is here.