The Easel

25th May 2021

Nan Goldin Gets Your P.A.I.N.

“Flashbulb memory” characterises Goldin’s diaristic photography – a way of remembering what happened the night before. A “vast” show of new work draws not just on the drug-addled 1980’s but also on more recent photography. Her work blurs into her anti-opioid activism but this does not stop them adding significantly to “the requiem-like power” of her oeuvre. Showing the “wonder and untold dangers” of addiction is a “reason the camera was invented”.

Reflections on Elsa Peretti, the Visionary Who Changed the Way We Wear Jewelry

At a guess, a good chunk of the population has an emotional response to beautifully designed jewellery. No less an authority than Vogue says Peretti was the most successful jewellery designer ever. That success came from innovative designs (sensuous but disciplined), her passion for craft and a long relationship with Tiffany. And the emotion her pieces create? “They serve as a kind of armor and give me a sense of power”.

Tony Cragg is the star of Houghton Hall’s summer sculpture exhibition

Houghton Hall is a magnificent English country mansion that hosts an annual solo sculpture show. Only superstars get invited – this year it is Tony Cragg and his biomorphic, abstract forms. Difficult to interpret, they are Cragg’s take on nature, expressed in form and surface. The works in the show are “elegant … expressions of our current anxieties” but seem optimistic about “our presence in the biological realm.” An excellent backgrounder here.

How Yoshitomo Nara’s Manga-Inspired Paintings Tap Into Universal Feelings of Anxiety

Resist comparing Nara to Japanese “Neo-Pop” artists like Murakami. Yes, both have a cult following and both sell cute, manga-influenced works for millions. However, Murakami’s “superflat” paintings are about consumerism while Nara is focused on expressing emotion. Nara’s figures tap into a universal sense of angst, a mood that, over time, seems to be darkening. Says one critic “one of the most egalitarian visual artists since Keith Haring”.

Stephen Shore: “Photography Isn’t Very Good at Explaining”

Shore came to prominence with images of “what American culture looked like”. That led to a project photographing steelwork towns in the Rust Belt. The resultant series gave a face to large scale industrial decline and the “deaths of despair” that it brought. Shore’s acclaimed deadpan aesthetic captures a sense of sadness among the affected workers who “seem to question the photographer, as if in the hope of a miracle solution”. More images are here.

Make Room, Mona Lisa—Paris Welcomes a New Museum

It’s not often that critics are all gushing with praise. After years of trying, billionaire François Pinault has opened a much-anticipated museum in Paris to display his “legendary” art collection. He has renovated the historic, circular Bourse de Commerce with impeccable taste. And the art – well, it’s a roll call of contemporary art stars, 39 of which are included in the opening exhibition. Post-covid, up to 1m. visitors per year are anticipated. That’s confidence!

18th May 2021

Introducing: Jean Dubuffet

Dubuffet was rebellious, hating academic art theory and rigid art traditions. His aim was to “‘amuse and interest the man in the street”. Child-like figures in his early works, then numerous experiments with “banal” non-traditional materials and, in late career, graffiti-like abstractions. Hockney, Haring and Basquiat are among those to have sung his praises. As for the man in the street, “the success my work has had is quite contrary to the beliefs I hold”.

Atget’s Paris in Sepia

When Baron Haussmann set to remodeling Paris, Atget set to recording the small streets and passageways that were disappearing. His impersonal documentary style showed urban life in an unmistakably modern way. Yet he also showed a way to express “poetry [that] was forged from attention to detail”. Street photography is but one area that reflects his immense influence. Background on Atget is here.

David Hammons ‘ghost pier’ draws lines to Village’s waterfront past

Public art sometimes disappoints but New York now has a piece that is being feted. Pier 52, once a derelict structure on the Greenwich Village shoreline, was both a noted gay haunt and subject to large “cutouts” in its walls by the artist Gordon Matta-Clark. The pier is long gone but an outline in steel now stands on he site as a tribute to this rich social history and to Matta-Clark. Says one critic, approvingly, “its empty of everything but history, light and air”.

Deborah Remington’s Singular Place in Art

Remington trained as an abstract expressionist and her early paintings had the gestural style of that genre. Then she abruptly changed course. Paintings of alien objects floating in three dimensional space, meticulous drawings of vaguely biomorphic and skeletal forms – all difficult to pin down. With such creativity, why has she received so little recognition? Says the writer “When you don’t have a genre, you might as well be invisible.”

Canaletto’s Eternal Sunshine

Wealthy young Englishmen on the Grand Tour wanted mementos of their salad days. Many bought a Canaletto, one of the 18th century’s great scene painters. Still hugely popular, his views of Venice’s Grand Canal have a photographic quality. The artistry with which it is rendered involves “prodigious clarity … a singular gift for detail … silken texture”. Canaletto’s Venice evokes “a sense of serenity, of happiness [that stands] at the heart of the world”.

The Turner Prize’s Radical Chic

A brisk slap in the face for the Tate and its famous Turner Prize. This year’s short-listed artists are all art collectives. Tate says this reflects “the mood” in British art. The writer doesn’t buy it – this is all about Tate positioning itself as “progressive”. It is doing so because of “the fashions prevalent among its institutional curators”. Catering to this group means neglecting the “diverse reality of its wider public” and its own responsibility for “a national conversation about art.”

The Making of Rodin review – not a radical, just a plain old genius

A case of trying too hard? After umpteen Rodin shows, London’s Tate is showing a large array of Rodin’s preparatory plaster casts. Its unclear that they show something new. Repeated use of particular casts was nothing more than standard procedure for the day. Further, Rodin’s mix-and-match method has none of the spirit of today’s ready-mades. We are left with what’s already known – Rodin’s radical vision replaced stilted realism with the expressive modern body.