The Easel

19th May 2020

Nicolaes Maes: Dutch Master of the Golden Age

Maes had Rembrandt for a teacher and Vermeer as a contemporary. How could he not be overshadowed? Still, he had accomplishments. Maes innovated in genre painting, deftly inserting a narrative into images of middle-class domesticity. And then he moved on, to (more lucrative) portraits. Not Vermeer, who saw untapped potential in what Maes had been doing. The rest, as they say, is history.

Sarah Sze: The Importance of Impossible Ideas

A bit cerebral, but interesting too. Sze calls herself a sculptor but uses multiple media in her vast, elaborate installations. In many of them she juxtaposes physical objects and digital images to explore how images impact our perceptions of the physical world. “What the digital does in many ways … is it creates a kind of longing. That is very much how the web operates: around a

Winning Hand

New York Interior (1921) is Hopper par excellence – calm, focused on the commonplace. What makes it a favourite of the writer? “It’s a painting that … takes great bother to extend the tradition of Velazquez and Vermeer – oil painting as a portal to serenity and stillness, to inner life. It has something to do, I think, with the absent needle and thread and with an idea of repair. And it has to do, I feel sure, with people … unseen… unknown.”

Midcentury artist Lenore Tawney offered a radical vision of what weaving could be

In weaving, the grid of warp and weft threads literally holds everything together. Quotidian items like placemats show how this structure can limit the final form. Lenore Tawney had grander ambitions. Technical ingenuity, artistic innovation and her “singular devotion” led to “woven forms” that redefined the limits of weaving. Some “looser, more expressive” works resemble abstract paintings; others “trespass into the realm of sculpture”.

The greats outdoors: How Thomas Cole shaped the American landscape

1830’s America was slowly evolving into a distinct society. Cole, founder of the Hudson River School, is now seen as the first identifiably American landscapist. His masterpiece, The Oxbow, expresses a young nation’s optimism. It’s panoramic valley and sunlit plains, unmarked by “old” European civilisations, shows “an American Arcadia, all neatly tended fields, careful husbandry, peace and prosperity”.

The Burning Purity of Zarina Hashmi

Zarina’s family was ravaged by the partition of India and Pakistan. That anguished process gave her oeuvre its focus – a contemplation of home and “in-betweenness”. Memory, she wrote “is the only lasting possession we have”. Her austere monochromatic aesthetic resembles minimalist abstraction, but is “resolutely rooted in the Indo-Persian tradition … step wells, niches and arches”. Images are here.

Luchita Hurtado’s Persistent Perspective

This show, acclaimed in London, has been cut short in Los Angeles. It gives the reviewer space to considering Hurtado’s own arduous story. She was in her 50’s before identifying as an artist and yet more decades before any acknowledgement from the art establishment. Has being female cursed her art career? “[Its been] an obstacle but also a source of insight and even artistic liberation … seclusion allowed Hurtado to create art unencumbered.”

12th May 2020

Lucas Cranach’s Gothic Carnality

Centuries after his life in stern Northern Europe, Cranach remains influential. Central to this are his luminous female nudes. To promote Protestant morals, he made his women dangerous – slim, pale, erotic. They are timeless images of temptation and its consequences. Add his shimmering depiction of furs and jewelery and you have a “precursor to Klimt’s Viennese fantasies.” A virtual tour (17 min) is here.

The Pleasures of Home Viewing

Well, here’s a different voice! Lockdown has its compensations if you are not enamored of the art world’s “society of private views and dinners”. Making art available for home viewing is inherently “democratic”. Even if it is online, art can pack a punch – “art is robust enough to survive not only translation into a portable, reproducible and affordable medium but also the distraction of my flatmate boiling the kettle”.

‘A giant of Italian art’ – on Germano Celant (1940–2020)

In 1967 the 27-year-old Celant coined the phrase arte povera, literally impoverished art. The strident justification he provided, and the supportive response of Italian artists, created a movement that drew international attention. An influential international career followed as a curator and art historian though the themes of arte povera were never far from Celant’s mind. Says this writer “a giant of Italian art.”

Sylvain Bellenger on the online future of museums

An American running one of Italy’s largest museums expects the crisis will change museum attitudes to their online presence. The virtual is its “own dimension … not a substitute for reality’, partly because “our way of seeing changes with technology”. Digital photography, for example, reveals tiny details that signal “the intentions and desires of the painter. The worst mistake would be to think we can go back to normal.”

Alina Szapocznikow’s Radical Instability

In 1960’s New York, “emotionless” minimalist sculptures were all the rage. Some European sculptors wanted the opposite – sculpture that expressed emotion. Szapocznikow was one. Her sculptures, “awkward objects … that capture the fleeting moments of life” included body parts, cast in unconventional materials like resin. Her works are of their time but “contributed significantly to redefining the visual language of sculpture today”.