The Easel

21st June 2022

Taste, Figures, Images

Perhaps this writer was triggered by last month’s speculation-driven art auctions. Whatever, he gradually loses some writerly cool. All art is now experienced on computer screens. Because bad taste no longer exists, “high art” blurs into general image making. And much image making is “pitched against nature, against beauty, aesthetics, against the real.” Rembrandt, he protests, “never painted a raccoon”. If you don’t know what Imagen is, you definitely should read the essay.

Mighty brave

In 1911, Delaunay’s cubism-influenced abstractions made her a noted modernist. Applying these designs to textiles put her ‘serious’ art reputation at risk. Delaunay insisted there was “no gap” between her art and her “so-called decorative work” and described her dresses as “living paintings”. Still, a century later, a “rehabilitation” is apparently needed to win back recognition for her pioneering colour abstractions and “visionary practice” as a cultural entrepreneur. Images are here.

At the Serpentine Pavilion, Theaster Gates Offers Monumental Intimacy

Given the sought-after Serpentine pavilion commission, Gates has responded with a “minimalist” silo-like structure built from low cost timber paneling and roofing materials. The polymathic Gates seems unfazed by those who think it dull, confident that its qualities as a “sacred space” for public events will be apparent to audiences. It reminds the writer of a “simple shed”, but he admits “when reverberating with song, the chamber should be spectacular.” It will be dismantled at the end of summer.

The birth of Gothic: building heaven on earth

The first identifiably gothic structure was the church at St Denis, north of Paris. Its components – pointed arches, flying buttresses and rib-vaulted ceilings – already existed but when used together, proved distinctive. Soon, ambitious 11th century churchmen everywhere wanted what only gothic could provide – height (at least 100m. please) and light. Itinerant stone masons were happy to share the new technology and, across Europe, religious architecture had its most defining era.

Ruth Asawa: Citizen of the Universe

Asawa was taught as an art student to respect the integrity of her materials. She tried painting, producing leaf shapes and blobby biomorphic forms, before discovering wire and its potential to be woven into expressive sculptural forms. Early recognition in New York faded once she moved to the west coast, some no doubt sensing a “craft” element in her unconventional work. Now resurrected, her work is featured prominently in this year’s Venice Biennale. A recent biography is reviewed here.

Uffizi sells digital works. And the Ministry intervenes to block everything

The Uffizi, like many museums, owns the rights to images of the works in its collection. Reportedly, it sold an NFT attached to a Michelangelo. Considerable hyperventilation has ensued. Far from risking cultural heritage, the Uffizi has merely sold a digital copy that has limited uses. No wonder other Italian museums are following suit. All of which prompts one despairing writer to add “nobody needs to control these images.” (Google Translate)

14th June 2022

Paula Rego: Yes, With A Growl

Of the many obituaries to appear following Rego’s death, this is among the best. One critic notes that she “uncovered a type of female experience that no one had depicted before.” True, but how? The best discussion of her work (by far) is Morgan Meis’ 2021 essay. “Rego believes in stories [yet] her paintings do not deliver clear-cut narratives. Her greatest paintings [veer] between obedience and defiance. Paula Rego once said, “To be bestial is good.” And yet, potential degradation lurks here too.”


Think Gaudí, think the huge Sagrada Familia! Huge yes, but he was also a fiend for detail. Early career house designs reveal that he was greatly influenced by art nouveau and its mantra that architecture and interior design be unified. He specified the smallest details, including wall panelling and furniture, all showing art nouveau’s sinuous lines. Likewise, the Sagrada Familia and its “extravagant” detailing. One reason, no doubt, it has taken so long to build. More images are here.

Senegal’s Dakar Biennale: From red swimmers to floating teapots

The Dakar Biennale bills itself as West Africa’s top contemporary arts festival. With a 34-year track record and a roster of hundreds of featured artists, it seems a reasonable claim. Africa’s dark history of colonialism is a recurring theme across many shows but so too is exuberance and optimism. Says one artist of the event, its “a sort of beautiful disorder”. Background on some prominent artists is here, here and here.

Polymath Artist Frank Walter’s Paintings Shine at David Zwirner Gallery, Curated by Hilton Als

When it first participated in the Venice Biennale in 2017, Antigua featured landscape artist Frank Walter. His landscapes are “off kilter”, taking the perspective of “an insect or a person who is lost”, implying that nature should be “a part of us”. They differ sharply from the European tradition of man ascendant over Nature. Walter’s works have been treated as “outsider art”, a categorization that is quite unhelpful. Judge art solely on its aesthetic merits, argues one writer – “would this be the worst thing?”

The plaster cast collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

If students of sculpture want to learn from canonical works, what do they do? Look at a plaster cast! The opening of a major collection of casts, near Budapest, may have one asking whether they belong in a museum. These are “dignified substitutes” that offer “excitingly unfamiliar perspectives” – casts of Michelangelo’s works are placed alongside casts of the classical works that he studied. Many other famous names are also represented, all “legitimate sons” of distant wonders.

A stolen, horribly damaged De Kooning gets the Getty treatment

No wonder this epic tale has been turned into a film. De Kooning’s Woman-Ochre was taken by thieves in 1985 and serendipitously recovered in 2016. Substantially damaged during the theft, a restoration of nearly three years has returned the work to a “state of remarkable cohesion”. Now back on display, debate over the alleged misogyny of the work will probably resume: “Woman-Ochre will return to being its troublesome self – a picture loaded with sexual anxiety”.

Rejecting the Standard

As “dashingly radical” modernist art raced ahead in early twentieth century Europe, many American artists liked what they saw. Here were new ways to express the exuberant social change happening around them. Plenty of their works were “duds”, says one critic, too reliant on following Europe’s example. Overall, though, a show covering this period, with its roll call of overlooked artists, has real charm. It portrays a “less-than-coherent time” that saw “the ascendancy of abstraction” in a nation becoming modern.